After last month’s focus on diversity in engineering, Annelies Tjebbes, a Social Innovator and Biomedical Engineer, introduces us to a research project that pairs innovative technology with a poignant social issue. Through it, she shows us the extraordinary impact of engineering when interacting with a true diversity of experience and voices.
For example, how often do you get the chance to sit around the room with an artist, a tech wizard, a visionary senior, a rehabilitation coordinator, and a former inmate? For Annelies, it actually happened quite recently.
Letitia Wright with Shell Eco-marathon students (Left to right: Shaniyaa Holness-Mckenzie, Hannah Clark, Letitia Wright, Kim Everett and Olga Posopkina) – Credit: BP
Engineering Real-life Heroes
On Monday (25 June), Shell launched a commendable online film — Engineering Real-life Heroes— as part of their annual #makethethefuture campaign to inspire the next generation of innovators. The film aims to shift current perceptions of STEM subjects and help reduce entry barriers to the sector for young people — young women in particular.
The representation of women in the UK within technical fields compares poorly with the rest of Europe – idling around 23% of the STEM workforce. As Dr Larissa Suzuki — the 2017 WES Young Engineer Award winner — recently highlighted, one of the main reasons for this low entry rate is the scarcity of visible role models in the profession for women.
As we’ve discussed throughout this month, there is a systemic underrepresentation of females, and people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, in engineering. Promoting engineering to a wide audience is important to raise the profile of the profession. However, young people entering high school are one of the key players in changing this underrepresentation, as they can help to produce a generational shift in diversity. Encouraging young people to study engineering, and promoting engineering colloquially, are therefore part of a long lead strategy aiming to tackle this issue. As such, events that create a fun interaction with the field early on in life are therefore central to both improving diversity in the field, and to lessen the skills gap.
Following on from our recent article on SpecialEffect, we now turn to Be My Eyes, a company working on Assistive Technology developed to help visually impaired people. We hear about what they do, what a day in the life looks like for the team, and why they chose to interweave technology with the human connection.
In 2018, perceptions of engineers are highly favourable. Engineering is seen to be solving large-scale issues such as energy efficiency, climate change, building infrastructure, and sustainable agriculture. What’s more, engineers are considered highly valuable to the economy. However, while it’s often overlooked, we need to consider that engineering and technology also play a large role on an individual level – particularly for those living with a disability.
As an example of engineering’s effects on a more personal, individual level, we sat down with SpecialEffect, a company combining engineering with video games to create unique solutions for gamers living with disabilities.
Serena Best is a both a Professor of Materials Science and Fellow of St. John’s College at the University of Cambridge. She co-directs the Cambridge Centre for Medical Materials, holds 9 different patents, and has produced almost 300 academic publications. Serena is a Fellow of both the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (and holds the position of Senior Vice President for the latter). She was awarded a CBE for services to Biomaterials Engineering in 2017.
We sat down with Serena to learn more about her work, what sparked her career, and her thoughts on starting a career in engineering.
My passion for technology started when I was around 9 years old. I was fascinated with the mechanics of things that change state – machines, cars, TV, radio and so on. My main curiosity always centred around what it was controlling these things, and when I started pulling them apart I discovered that they all had a central brain – meticulously programmed to make them behave in certain ways.