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Women in STEM 2020

Using engineering to meet modern challenges

Credit: Engineers Ireland

Roseanne O’Leary

STEPS Team Leader

Engineering is integral to modern life and the importance of engineers to the world is greater than ever.

Engineers are helping us fight coronavirus, they have built ventilators to treat critically ill patients, they are designing diagnostics to prevent the spread and they developed face shields to protect frontline medical workers. We can stay at home yet remain together because of engineers.

They created apps that allow teachers to assign homework, we can work cloud-based and paperless and help to design our favourite social media sites. And engineers are assuming a leading role in the fight against climate change by building homes that are warmer and more energy efficient.

Starting interest in engineering at an early age

We need engineers more than ever before to create preventative engineering solutions. To do that, it’s important we spark an interest in engineering at a young age so that those youngsters can create our tomorrow.

We need to do this as early as possible in a child’s education to ensure that they feel confident that they can pursue a career in engineering.

The perceptions children have about certain jobs and careers are formed – and sometimes cemented – at a young age. Worryingly, gender stereotyping exists from the age of seven.

According to the research compiled by the charity, Education and Employers, the perceptions children have about certain jobs and careers are formed – and sometimes cemented – at a young age. Worryingly, gender stereotyping exists from the age of seven.

Engineering 2020, Engineers Ireland annual Engineering Barometer, reports that only 14% of bachelor’s graduates from engineering-related programmes are women. As well as reaching children younger, we must encourage more girls and close the gender gap.

Working together to engage young audiences

I’m part of the Engineers Ireland STEPS team that promotes interest and awareness in engineering as a future career to school students.

Engineering is for everyone. A passion for engineering can be sparked through multiple interventions and I recommend giving children as many hands-on engineering opportunities as possible in order to break down barriers to entry.

We all need to work together to give children the opportunity to do meaningful engineering activities and I have identified primary key components from the STEPS Young Engineers Award to help:

  1. In order to challenge stereotypes, involve engineering industry volunteers, it motivates children to imagine a future career in STEM and shows them that these careers are a possibility for everyone.
  2. Emphasise the social context engineering has in everyday life. Engineering projects tackle important societal and environmental challenges. The children participating in the STEPS Young Engineers Award addressed problems such as water wastage, healthcare-related issues, technology design developments, school related design and addressing social issues such as homelessness.
  3. Identify that working to find solutions is engineering in action. Children enjoy imagining and problem solving, so tell them what they are doing is engineering. Keep it simple and help children learn the basic engineering concepts, build and test their hands-on activity and improve if there’s a problem.

Finally, and most importantly, allow time to have fun with friends. We interviewed our STEPS Young Engineers Award finalists and asked them what their favourite part was of taking part in the competition. Overwhelmingly, they said working together and spending time having fun with friends.

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