We recently invited STEM-enrolled high school students from six schools across Ayrshire to attend a careers-in-engineering event at Dumfries House in Scotland, led by several members of the QEPrize Ambassador Network. The event, held in The Morphy Richards Engineering Centre on the estate, provided a series of engaging demonstrations to highlight how engineering is a viable and rewarding alternative to other STEM-related higher education courses that the students may be considering.
Alongside raising the profile of engineering, a key aim of the QEPrize – both operationally and symbolically – is to inspire the next generation to take up the profession and face the challenges of the future. The Morphy Richards Engineering Centre at Dumfries House provided the perfect environment for the occasion, as it runs various programmes throughout the year designed to highlight the value of and exciting career prospects in engineering.
Scotland itself has a proud history of engineering excellence. James Watt, who instituted fundamental change in the industrial revolution with his creation of the Watt Steam Engine; John Logie Baird, one of the inventors of the television; and Anne Gillespie Shaw, whose expertise in time and motion was requested by the government in World War II to augment aircraft production rates, are all prime examples of Scottish engineers whose work has helped to shape the world today.
Throughout the day our ambassadors showed the students that not only is engineering one of the most highly regarded professions globally, but it is one of the most varied. They gave a series of engaging, hands-on, and challenging demonstrations that exhibited the various real-world applications of a career in engineering.
Demonstrations ranged from racing against the clock in a robotics challenge and creating towering structures from edible materials to controlling the rising global temperature using the Global Calculator, learning how to treat aneurysms with synthetic materials, and generating rapid design solutions for the astronauts of the future.
All demonstrations received an overwhelmingly positive response from students, staff, and teachers alike. Pupils said that they enjoyed the hands-on and challenging structure of the event, and teachers noted how charismatic, relatable, and inspirational the ambassadors appeared to the students.
Additionally, HRH The Prince of Wales, who presented the trophies to the QEPrize winners in 2017 and whose charity The Prince’s Foundation is headquartered at Dumfries House, arrived – very much to the surprise of the students – to meet the pupils and hear about their progress, and to speak with the ambassadors during their demonstrations. The Prince has a deep-seated association with STEM subjects, advocating both their value and fundamentality over the years.
His Royal Highness works with a wide range of charities to encourage and promote the value of STEM subjects, including through The Prince’s Foundation and the Morphy Richards Engineering Centre at Dumfries House. The Prince was instrumental in the creation of The Industrial Cadets, of which he is Patron, and is Patron of The Institution of Mechanical Engineers Benevolent Fund. The Prince’s Trust also run dedicated STEM programmes to help equip young engineers with the skills they need.
Lord Browne of Madingley, Chair of Trustees for the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, then closed the event with an inspirational address to the students – reaffirming the value and importance of a career in engineering and challenging them to perhaps win the prize themselves in the future.
Reflections from our ambassadors
“I never planned to be an engineer. My school told me to study Law, and I would have followed that career path had I not encountered the Year in Industry programme. Experiencing an engineer’s career first-hand opened my eyes to the possibilities of a long-term career in engineering, and so I left law behind and studied electrical and mechanical engineering at the University of Strathclyde.
“I’ve since been a passionate ambassador for engineering as a career, not just as an education or training choice, and working with a range of students from disadvantaged backgrounds through to high performing schools only emphasises that engineering equally appeals to all backgrounds. One programme of particular relevance that I became involved in was the Scottish Space School, which I attended as a student and mentored at during my degree.
“Bringing this back to this event – using both my passion for space and the design processes that I’ve learned in Atkins, I set the students a space-themed design challenge. By the 2030s, the first humans could land on Mars and when they get there, they will need infrastructure to survive and explore the red planet. The design exercise that I took the students through, covered the basics of rapid design to generate solutions for the astronauts of the future.
“The students all committed to the challenge and produced rather innovative solutions. The design process helped the students to address some of the challenges that the first people to visit Mars will experience, but I also have to thank Mark Watney from The Martian for providing them with some useful background and a passion for growing potatoes on another planet.
“The chance to help inspire and assist students in making their career choices not only gives you a great deal of satisfaction but ultimately will help address the skills shortages that we’re facing.
“I’m an engineering convert. Thankfully, I realised that engineering can give me an exciting and varied career mid-study. But, as this won’t happen for everyone, I encourage all engineers to join programmes like the QEPrize Ambassador Network and help students understand the opportunities that STEM education can provide.”
“As someone who fell into engineering by accident, I’m quite keen to broadcast the benefits and inspire the next generation of engineers. Taking part in this event ticked that box perfectly for me.
“The energy industry is rapidly changing at the moment, in part due to the efforts to integrate renewable energy and combat climate change. The best way to communicate these challenges, as well as potential solutions, is through the Global Calculator. I used this tool to engage the students with the topic of climate change, which allowed them to make decisions about how we live our lives between now and 2050 and see the immediate changes to the future climate.
“The students had 25 minutes to decide on a range of different future directions: what fuels we use to generate electricity, how big the average homes is, how much public transport we use, and so on. The most impactful lifestyle change was what we eat; the students were surprised to find that reducing the amount of meat consumption will make a huge impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Students found the activity highly entertaining and became intrigued by the other ways that they could optimise various things around them.
“By participating in this event, I have not only developed a tried-and-tested activity that I can use at future events, but I have also made several great connections with equally-passionate engineers in different sectors.”