Womens Engineering Society: Inspiring women as engineers, scientists and technical leaders

Magnificent Women of Alton Convent School

Magnificent Women of Alton Convent School

 16 June 2014
National Launch of Women's Engineering Society's Outreach Programme for Schools

As the birds sang their merry morning tunes, something was afoot in the quiet and leafy market town of Alton, Hampshire; as a sea of female engineers inconspicuously made their way to Alton Convent School.

Alton Convent played host to the launch of the Women's Engineering Society's national outreach programme for schools, Magnificent Women (and their flying machines) on 13th June 2014. Thirty three gifted and talented 14 and 15 year old female physicists, from three local schools were surprised and delighted in equal measure as they immersed themselves in the enticing world of engineering.
 

wing building at Alton
Budding engineers from Alton Convent School and Amery Hill make an aircraft wing section
The day began with the construction of aircraft wings, replicating the roles played by female aviation engineers during the First World War. The girls assigned project managers, designers, production staff and planners to deliver their impressive constructions. They were then encouraged to dig deeper to identify pioneering engineers and scientists, with lost heroines being reclaimed such as Maja Mataric, Hedy Lamarr and Katherine J. Blodgett.  
Local organisations QinetiQ and Farnborough Air Sciences Trust supported the event with sessions on aircrew safety, wind tunnels and flight dynamics. Laleham Health and Beauty provided their mechanical engineer, Bath undergraduate Lucie Culliford who delivered an engaging session on Astronautics.
Lucie commented,
'I am passionate about engineering. It gives me a real sense of pride when I have designed and made something. It can also astonish people when you know how things work, such as aircraft. I find aerospace engineering particularly interesting. It has a lot of history, but recent history. It was 66 years from the first powered flight to putting a man on the moon. There will always be a need for aerospace engineering because of the commercial side. It was great to be involved in the event, to share my experiences with the next generation.'

Recent alumni mixed with the girls to share their stories, as did WES role model Charlotte Mercer, a Graduate Electrical Engineer at AECOM. The conversations halted, and the chatter ceased as Jessica Leigh Jones arrived to deliver her keynote. The pupils were spellbound, as Jessica eloquently delivered her impassioned presentation.  
Twenty year old Jessica's credentials are impeccable; in 2012 she became the first female to win the UK Young Engineer of the Year Award for designing a portable electronic foetal contraction monitor in conjunction with Cardiff-based company Huntleigh Healthcare diagnostics. After developing a more versatile fibre optic sensor she was awarded the 2012 IET Intel Inspiration Award for Entrepreneurship was awarded 9 national awards within a 12 month period. Jessica has patent pending status for this technology and is currently attempting to commercialise it.
Jessica provided a fitting close to an inspirational event. The pupil's verdict,
'I didn't realise how diverse, exciting and glamorous engineering could be, it impacts our everyday lives and provides solutions for tomorrow's world. The impossible becomes possible.'
 
Dawn Bonfield, Executive Vice President of WES concluded,
'It has been an incredible day. Currently less than 10% of engineers are female, we are committed to addressing this shortfall. The objective of this programme is to enthuse female engineers prior to A-level selection, before subject choices become limiting. It was a real community initiative with a number of local schools and organisations participating. A special thanks to Alton Convent School for the fervour and professionalism with which they embraced the initiative and all the speakers and pupils who made the day possible. '

Notes for Editors  
About the Women's Engineering Society and the First World War
The onset of the First World War created opportunities for females in traditionally male domains, most notably aviation engineering. Once the war was over there was increasing pressure for these women to leave the workforce to release jobs for men returning from the forces. The Women's Engineering Society was founded 95 years ago in 1919 not only to resist this pressure, but also to promote engineering as a rewarding job for women as well as men.
Despite 100 years passing and a number of eminent female engineers and scientists, the disparity still exists. In recognition of this WES launched a nation-wide outreach programme to promote careers in engineering, science and technology.
This outreach programme to draw attention to the work of women engineers in WW1 is entitled Magnificent Women (and their flying machines) and has received funding from the Royal Aeronautical Society's Centennial Grant and an Ingenious Grant from the Royal Academy of Engineering. Details can be found here www.wes.org.uk/magnificent  
 
About Alton Convent School
Alton Convent School a leading independent school in Hampshire and is currently celebrating its 75th year. The school is co-educational from 6 months - 11 years and girls only to 18.
The school's anniversary appeal is focused on science and engineering, along with fundraising to upgrade the science laboratories. A series of inspirational speaker sessions has been launched which includes Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell FRS FRAS and the Royal Institute. The WES workshop will be an annual event, with different themes for each subsequent year. The programme will also be supported by site visits, careers talks and work experience opportunities.
For the past three years 89% of science A-Levels were A*-B, and 83% of science GCSEs A*-B, with 67% A*/A over the same period. ACS is keen to share this teaching resource, the girls-only environment and the new facilities, when available, with budding female scientists and engineers in the local community.
Pupils from the age of 9 will have regular timetabled lessons in the laboratories, however even 6 and 7 year olds will have lessons in the laboratories. The objective is to inspire and excite the children about science as young as possible. The school runs a gifted and talented programme with 3 partner primary schools, and is working with two local secondary schools.
To mark the school's anniversary a range of fundraising activities have taken place, including a sky diving assistant head, the Head voyaging to the Arctic; and a retired physics teacher who is also a nun, cycled 100 miles over 2 days. The children have also joined in including one pupil committing to ascending 75 peaks, an 8 year old boy cycling 14 miles and sponsored bounce for the babies!
 
For further information about WES contact Dawn Bonfield, office@wes.org.uk, tel. 01438 211403 01438 76550.
 
For more information about Alton Convent School contact Fiona Hopkinson, Development, Alton Convent School fhopkinson@altonconvent.org.uk or 01420 8946901420 8946901420 8946901420 89469. 01420 8946901420 89469www.altonconvent.org.uk

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