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Inspiring female engineers in Ireland


Sylvia Leatham

Team Leader, Engineers Ireland STEPS programme

Engineers Ireland’s STEPS programme provides young girls with an exciting insight into careers in engineering and encourages them to get involved.

Sylvia Leatham, Team Leader for the Engineers Ireland STEPS programme, says that the initiative tries to provide role models and to make women in engineering and STEM careers visible to young people.

“We run a programme with volunteer engineers around the country who give up their time to go out and meet students in person, in the classroom or at career events. 30 per cent of our volunteers are women, which is a higher percentage than the number of women working in engineering! This shows that women want to share their love of engineering with young girls and give them an idea of the career they could have.”

Leatham says that a ‘person to person interaction’ is influential for young people. “Female engineers talking about their education and career, and what kind of people they are, sends a powerful message to young girls. Meeting women in engineering with successful and rewarding careers lets girls see that they could have that too.”

Getting involved

The STEPS programme is the only national, engineering-focused, outreach programme in Ireland and more and more young people are joining in on the events, with some 73,000 young people engaging with engineers through STEPS in 2016. The programme aims to generate more interest in STEM (science technology engineering and maths) and create more public awareness for young girls in particular.

“We get great feedback from our participants,” says Leatham. “The students have been incredibly positive about meeting the engineers and hearing their individual stories. The feedback we get is that the students – and teachers – learn things about engineering they didn’t know before and are more open to the possibility of an engineering career.”

STEPS’ Engineering Your Future programme, which introduces Transition Year students to hands-on engineering, allows students to experience the many different types of engineering so they don’t just have an image of engineers as men in hardhats.

“The students get an opportunity to get really involved in engineering, with make-and-do activities, company visits, meeting diverse engineers and having fun. This hands-on interaction means young people get to see the world they could step into. We’re delighted that 80 per cent of those taking part said the programme helped them make college choices, while 97 per cent said they would recommend it to their friends.”

Saving the world

Leatham says the world desperately needs more engineers, and the message we need to give girls is that they can help to solve the global issues of today and tomorrow. “Engineering is a really exciting and creative profession to get involved in. You have so many opportunities to go down different career paths.

“Being able to make a difference in the world is a hugely appealing message for girls. It is engineers who will figure out how we address huge global problems, such as the question of clean energy, and engineering offers a chance to create a positive change in society. Since many young girls want to make a positive change in the world, we try to let them see that engineering can be the way to do that.”

Making smart moves

STEPS works in strategic partnership with Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) on Smart Futures, a collaborative government-industry-education programme promoting STEM careers to students in Ireland. The programme is funded by SFI, along with the Department of Education and a number of engineering companies.

“The key to any successful STEM engagement programme is working with partners,” says Leatham. “You have a better chance of making an impact.

“We honestly couldn’t run the programme without our volunteer engineers and supporting organisations. We arrange for young people to have hands-on experiences of the exciting world of engineering and get an insight into possible careers – we couldn’t do any of that without the support of the engineering industry and our partner organisations.”

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