Imagine if you were faced with a 14-year-old who asked, quite simply, “If you could go back and start university again, would you have done things differently?”. That’s exactly what KBR engineers had to grapple with when they sat down to talk with keen-eyed, enthusiastic high school students and their In2science mentors last month. At first, there was silence. And then, something amazing happened.
Earlier this year, global engineering firm, KBR, who is currently responsible for the removal of a number of railroad crossings in Melbourne, approached In2science because they wanted to be involved in the important work we are doing for high school students across Victoria. This presented an outstanding opportunity for our eMentoring program, as it involves regional students who are often significantly disadvantaged by distance, a lack of role models and a lack of resources.
And so, “Meet An Engineer with In2science” came to be, where early-career engineers could meet with our eMentees and talk about their engineering journeys. After a careful selection of student-mentor groups that we knew would be interested in the opportunities the world of engineering offered, the pilot was ready to launch.
Among the challenges the engineering industry faces, a major one is the lack of female engineers. Currently, women make up approximately 13% of the engineering workforce and only about 16% of students graduating with a university engineering degree are female. This year, Alesha Printz, General Manager, Victoria Division at Engineers Australia told the panel at In2science’s STEM Partnerships Forum that there is a “huge marketing issue for women” when it comes to pursuing a career in engineering. A lack of visible role models is a huge problem across all STEM education and career paths; this pilot afforded the ideal opportunity for female and regional high school students to talk to real engineers.
The brief was simple, get students curious and excited about the diverse world of engineering. Over the course of two weeks, six KBR engineers joined an eMentoring session to let mentors and students glimpse what it’s like to be an engineer. As with many first encounters there was some initial shyness to overcome, but within minutes the awkwardness dissipated, and the stories and questions began to flow.
Relating Minecraft and Lego to bridge building and world-making was a big hit, and students were especially excited when engineers shared projects they were working on because students are not necessarily aware of how many people with specialised skills are needed to construct things in an urban world. One group focused on moving long distances for work and the challenges you face when finishing university in search of employment, while another spent half an hour on the aesthetics of wind turbines and community engagement.
So, if you could go back and start university again, would you have done things differently? Every single session had a question like this one, and in each instance, there was silence at first. Even the mentors were stumped for a few seconds, as the question applied to them as well. It’s a good question. It’s a hard question, and the answer is never simple. However, students were not looking for the correct answer, they were looking for an honest answer, and all the KBR engineers and mentors gave them that. Life journeys change, and almost everyone did not follow the paths they started on at university. However, they all kept doing something that interested them, that made them excited. Each student loved this, and it removed much of the anxiety of choosing the right subjects for VCE or the right university course. It wasn’t about making the right decision for the rest of your life, it was about making a decision that opens doors.
The “Meet An Engineer with In2science” pilot provided high school students with a rare opportunity to speak to professionals on an even playing field and to receive reinforcement that even if life is challenging, if you do something that gets you excited, you are travelling on the right path. More so, our female students could speak to female engineers doing what they loved, showing that engineering is a relevant, attainable and highly desirable career path.
If you are interested in becoming an industry partner with In2science, email In2science Director Dr Alison Every ([email protected])
If you are interested in joining the In2science eMentoring program, Click here!