Should We Allow Engineering to be Rebranded?

Engineering educators must utilise young peoples' passion, interest, and reach out, to their dreams by means of diversifying and inspiring engineering to the next generation of engineers and scientists.

This blog is in response to Prof. Kel Fidler's "Outreach in schools isn't working and engineering should be rebranded" - this time focusing on women & girls' and the disadvantage. A background for discussion.

First of all, why don't we ask our female engineers who are able to share their experiences from a different perspective, especially those who qualified around about the 1980s and 1990s?

Today, we have all seen the transition and changes to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education with a major shift in the way we promote it (and soon arts) to young people, particularly girls' - and children are excited.

As a student engineer in the 1990s. I went into schools, through the Engineering Council to promote STEM, to inspire schoolchildren with, the injection moulding process of polymers, it was all we had, nothing else. And schools were getting bored of the same technology put on them.

Over the years, engineering has been rebranded and streamlined (forcing the education sector to recently reform the UK schools National Curriculum to include computer science) - we have better educational resources to inspire the next generation of female engineers & scientists in schools - for example, Bloodhound SSC, Raspberry Pi, community science projects (charity), gaming and STEM clubs (coding, embedded systems, 3D-printing, robotics and the apps) - all outreach activities.

Also, these resources have been made more widely available through various engineering, science & technology institutions. In addition, when ambassadors (professionals on the ground) go out campaigning in schools we're equipped with a wide range of innovative technology and the young people are enthused.

We see the rise in several women's science & engineering organisations, such as Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) campaign to promote female involvement in STEM subjects.

Back in the 1990s, as a female graduate engineer (you couldn't even proudly call yourself an engineer - due to stereotypes). We did not have a network of women support or mentors, which we have today to retain female engineers, let alone outreach projects and the government then, took no interest - you just get on with it, and be hopeful that one day engineering & science will improve. Nevertheless, we see the fast growing engineering and technological improvement, which has created economic opportunities for qualified female engineers.

With today's new initiatives, there are more girls who are working very hard to become future engineers. But then, engineering educators must also utilise young peoples' passion, interest, and reach out, to their dreams by means of diversifying and inspiring engineering to the next generation of engineers and scientists.

What is an outreach program? Depending on the outreach program, it gives young people the opportunity to get involved with STEM, with so many projects to choose from that will determine their career. Moreover, it can be led by anyone and usually non-profit - some of these young people have gone on to do an engineering apprenticeship.

Consequently, with all these resources available, we are still not tapping into every child.

It's becoming tedious these days having the same issues highlighted in blogs, articles, surveys and the media over and over again, while we also haven't addressed other issues, the underrepresented groups in STEM, that are often overlooked, hence "not for people like me?" campaign.

WISE reported last year, that "female, working-class and some minority ethnic students lack confidence and experience lower teacher expectations of their abilities - even when they achieve well. This is exacerbated within high-status, 'masculine' subjects. The gender, socio-economic and ethnic inequalities in STEM participation are deep seated. They are not simply the product of individual preferences but are profoundly influenced by social norms and processes."

Strange enough, I hadn't read the WISE report until now. Then, as I read through the report, particularly, the above phrase, I was drawn to memories of my own undergraduate student engineering days - so I'm surprised this is still happening in the 21st century.

Scholarships would not solve the whole engineering agenda, as it may be given to the few and people from poorer background will suffer - we need to ensure how we are promoting STEM education to young people is fair, so that every young people can benefit from it, as well as addressing different issues.

However, we can do more to include and target this community of girls and ethnic minorities that are underrepresented, through working together and speaking with one voice.

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