International Day of Women and Girls in Science – The importance of role models

Written by : Carolina Escudero

Edited by: Nausheen Basha

February. The month of Valentine ’s Day, LGBT history month, Carnivals around the world, and if you live in England, not a single bank holiday. However, there is another key celebration in this month. On the 11th February, we celebrate the ‘International Day of Women and Girls in Science’. Did you know about it? I must admit, it wasn’t on my calendar. But why is this? As an engineer and active advocate for women in science and engineering, this should be one of my top days.

As I reflected on this day, I started thinking about my own journey to science and engineering. As a girl growing up in Colombia, I had a great range of role models in my life. My family included doctors, lawyers and businessmen (yes, I chose the word on purpose). But only one of my female family members, my aunt, was an engineer. Growing up, I took very little notice of this. I did well in school in a variety of subjects and as I was deciding what to do with my life, I started contemplating either Architecture or Medicine (to follow the family tradition). However, while researching the topics and skills required for these subjects, something kept pushing me towards engineering. And my first thought was: “engineering is too hard”.

Engineering is hard. Very hard if done right. There is no denying it. But, so are all other subjects. Every single career choice has complexities and a set of skills that need to be developed to succeed in your field. Engineering seemed like such a fascinating and challenging field. When I investigated thoroughly, I found out that it ranged from creating and improving technologies to help the environment, to increasing productivity and optimising social welfare and just general problem solving which are topics that, to this date, still motivate me. Still, I wasn’t sure what to do.

 So, how could I be sure, as a 15 year old, what I wanted to do with my life? I talked to my aunt. She’s a civil engineer (was one of the first in my home city of Barranquilla) and taking a closer look at her house (in one of the many family gatherings) I noticed something. There was a whole wall covered with certificates and degrees all with a single name, my aunt’s. And it hit me. Yes, engineering is complex and you have to work for it, but it is equally rewarding as it is hard. After several conversations understanding what an engineer does and all the different career choices, I decided to become one.

Image removed.Fast-forward to now and I’m an Electrical Engineer with a Master of Science in Sustainable Energy working to shape the future of electricity distribution networks. I’m slowly building up my own “wall of pride”. That's me receiving my Cum Laude Master's Diploma from Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands. This is my story and I was lucky to have a great role model by my side.

So, if I didn’t know that this important day was amongst us, then others probably wouldn’t either. I wanted to take this opportunity to raise awareness of what it means to be an engineer and why motivating girls into a career in STEM is so important. Hence, I met with my colleague Dr. Laura Daniels, a fellow WES member, to explore the importance of role models.

Laura, who is an Electrical Engineer, has a PhD in Technology for Sustainable Building Environment and is an avid cricket player, has been an active STEM ambassador since early in her university career.

Carolina Escudero (CE): What motivated you to pursue a career in engineering?

Laura Daniels (LD): Growing up in the suburbs of London, I studied in an all-girls school and was very good in

Image removed.

maths. For a long time, I was convinced I would study Finance, as all family members that worked (which were all male), worked in the City. Luckily, my maths teacher pulled me aside one day and suggested Engineering as a better option for my skill-sets. I was (and still am) a very inquisitive person and Engineering could be a better fit. I met a fellow member of my Cricket Club who was an engineer and she helped me understand what engineering was and really motivated me to pursue a career in the field.

CE: What motivated you to become a STEM Ambassador?

LD: When I was making one of the most crucial decisions in my life, I had no access to STEM Ambassadors in my school. If I had not had the influence of my Maths teacher, I could have ended up in a completely different career that might not have been the best fit for me. Therefore, since my first year in university, I became a STEM ambassador to motivate others like me and provide them early on with information and access to engineering. 

CE: And, in your opinion, why is it important to motivate girls into science?

LD: Being a STEM ambassador gives you the opportunity to show girls that engineering is an option they can pursue. Some don’t even consider it as they have little access to successful women in engineering or science. By going to schools and talking openly about science, they can see that it’s such a broad field that enables our societal change. However, if that change is not driven by a diverse environment of both male and female engineers, it won’t be successful. I like showing them that our technology is rapidly changing and that by pursuing a career in science you have access to so many different aspects of technology, different partnerships between finance, science, maths and other fields.

CE: What would you say to a girl that is considering a career in science or engineering?

LD: Do it! I would ask them about their interests to guide them to the appropriate path. STEM covers such a wide range of fields that people might not even understand what they entail. I also highlight the fact that it’s hard, but equally rewarding. It’s important for me that they understand that it’s a challenge and that they can talk about their fears and doubts openly, to be able to coach them in the right direction.

CE: Do you have an experience you would like to highlight?

LD: I have been lucky enough to be involved in a great variety of coaching activities, ranging from national to international events. During a career day in a school in Cornwall, I noticed that there was only one girl in attendance (and the rest were boys). She was quite shy and quiet, and as the day started to draw to a close she approached me. She told me about how she was the only girl in her physics class and boys teased her for it. But, she had so many questions about engineering and STEM. We had a long talk and after three months she contacted me (via her teacher) to tell me she was applying to engineering. I helped her by giving some tips to help her application process. Last year I got the news that she graduated from Mechanical Engineering.

CE: And you mentioned about international outreach?

LD: I also belong to an organisation that teaches young people to become a Cricket coaches. In one of our trips to Kenya, we visited a charity organisation that rescues girls from dangerous situations and provides them with top quality education. Although I was there under a “cricket coach” capacity, all the girls were really keen to know what the members of the team did for a living. I explained that I was an engineer and I could see three girls whose faces lit up. They approached me asking me lots of questions about engineering. They too wanted to pursue that path, but faced incredible pushback from their communities that didn’t really appreciate that women can be engineers as well. We spend a lot of time talking and stayed in touch. They also became engineers. It is these type of stories that make me feel proud of being a WES and STEM Ambassador member, as I feel I can contribute to someone’s life in one of the most important challenges they face.

Laura’s experience in both the UK and Kenya, and my experience in Colombia illustrate that the need for role models is not just national, but also an international issue. We need to reach out within our communities to encourage girls from a young age what a STEM career looks like. What better way to be inspired than by talking to a woman that does that for a living!

A recent article written by one of our WES Members, Yasmin Ali, explores the way we can motivate girls into science by reading fun books about what we do. You can find the list here : http://metro.co.uk/2018/01/15/if-were-going-to-get-more-women-into-stem-we-need-to-get-more-girls-reading-about-science-7219759/

 

As part of the Women in Engineering Society (WES) we strongly encourage collaboration amongst female colleagues in all stages of their career. An important goal for WES and other organisations such as STEM Ambassadors is to enable young girls to have direct access to engineers to get them excited about pursuing a career in science. We pride ourselves to serve as an accessible platform for girls and women of all ages, to participate in open discussions on choosing engineering and science as a career and how to continue succeeding as professionals. We are a positive group of women who take time out to celebrate each of our achievements no matter or little or large.

If you or someone you know would like to know more about what engineering is and would like to be mentored or just have a chat, please contact us at WES and we will make that happen. On the 23rd of June, we celebrate the International Women in Engineering Day. This is a great opportunity to attend one of the many events that will be happening in London and across the UK. For more information, please go to our website

http://www.inwed.org.uk/

Happy International Day of Women and Girls in Science!

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Links:

http://www.wes.org.uk/

http://www.un.org/en/events/women-and-girls-in-science-day/background.shtml

http://www.mentorset.org.uk/