Vanessa Madu is studying for her A-levels at Ursuline Academy in Ilford. She is passionate about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and wants to help inspire other young people, particularly girls, to love STEM as well. In 2016, the IET invited a group of young people to join its new Junior Board in a ground-breaking move to tackle the engineering shortage by encouraging input and ideas from the potential engineers of tomorrow, and Vanessa is a new member.
“…Only 9% of engineers are female, and inspiring more young women to take up a career in engineering would revolutionise our progress as a society…”
Joining the IET’s Junior Board to advocate for STEM
My biggest purpose for being a member of the IET’s Junior Board is to be an advocate for the STEM subjects and to inspire other young people to take them up. I also get to help the IET with ideas on how they can reach young people and how they can make STEM absolutely irresistible to those who might not think about a career in engineering.
Showing other young people, and girls in particular, where STEM can take you
I have the most amazing STEM-crazy teachers who have helped me look for opportunities to inspire other young people take up careers in STEM – they let me know about the Junior Board so I applied, explaining why I wanted to become a member and what experiences I had to offer.
I’ve taken part in some amazing STEM activities, so I really wanted to use these experiences to encourage other young people, especially young women, to see why STEM is so brilliant. After competing at the national science and engineering competition, presenting a project I had been working on to HRH Princess Anne and being nominated for a young citizen award for my passion and skills in mathematics, I felt that I was in a good position to show other people just where STEM can take you.
I felt that being a member of the IET Junior Board would give me the best platform to ensure that my experiences and views could be used to reach and inspire as many young people as possible.
Creating formal roles to value young people’s opinions
After attending other events and meetings at Transport for London, the British Science Association and at the All Party Parliamentary Group meeting for Women in Transport, it is obvious that inspiring more young people, particularly women, to take up STEM subjects is a hot topic wherever you go and this is the case for a very good reason.
Only 9% of engineers are female, and inspiring more young women to take up a career in engineering would revolutionise our progress as a society. (Check out the IET #9PercentIsNotEnough campaign to find out more.) However, what really surprised me in some of the meetings about inspiring young people was … the distinct lack of young people! It was great to get involved with the IET’s Junior Board for this reason!
We know what we want and by giving young people formal roles, it allows us to become ambassadors for subjects and role models to those who are younger. Valuing young people’s opinions when making decisions in regard to them is absolutely imperative to whether or not schemes and projects created to attract and inspire them will be successful or not.
Why it’s a workplace myth that wisdom only comes with age and experience
According to the Oxford dictionary wisdom is “The quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement”. Experience, knowledge and good judgement are all acquired traits that take time to learn and master, however, it cannot be said that the only way to acquire such traits is through age and experience.
Women in engineering: Gender stereotyping becomes a problem earlier than we think
I’ve heard a lot of ages bouncing around as to when gender becomes a deciding factor in the career choice pursued by young people. Following my attendance of a meeting on the topic of women in STEM in the Houses of Commons, there seemed reasonable evidence to suggest 12 years old, however, I personally think it is much earlier.
When I was in primary school, my friends’ parents bought them dolls and pretty dresses, while mine bought me Lego and remote control helicopters – seeing the influence that this has had on my life is really quite staggering. Teaching children at the age of four and five that girls should play dress up and boys should play with cars can predetermine what that child will decide they want to do when the decision becomes theirs, and is no longer the responsibility of their parents.
In the case of careers such as engineering, it is because of this reinforcement, that when children reach 13 or 14, girls have already decided that they don’t want to be engineers because they have the misconception that its dirty, and labour intensive, and it is wrongly deemed a ‘man’s job’.
Junior Board ideas taken forward
One major question was discussed at the most recent Junior Board meeting and it was: “What can the IET do to inspire more young people into careers in engineering?” Some of our ideas in answer to this included a virtual reality internship and YouTube vlogs to help young people see what it could be like to be an engineer. I thought this was a great idea because before joining the IET Junior Board, I didn’t know all the careers involved in engineering and this uncertainty may be the deciding factor for some young people.
Providing incentives for teachers to conduct projects and extracurricular activities also proved a popular idea as for a majority of us – an inspiring teacher is what can make all the difference. Since previous meetings, the idea of vlogging and a regularly updated YouTube channel has been taken forward by the IET, as well as an increased social media presence – it’s really encouraging to see young people’s views being listened to and taken into account when making such large decisions.
Inspiring the next generation of scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians
Being a new member to the board, it is very exciting and encouraging to see the ideas and the progress already made by the young people on the board. Moving into the future, I hope to make a start on implementing and developing some of the ideas that were discussed in the most recent meeting, which, if done well, I believe will make an impact on our current young people and perhaps may even inspire a new generation of scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians.
Calling young people, parents and teachers
The IET has many outreach opportunities for young people, such as its Engineering Open House day, for parents and young people, showing them all the different types of engineering.
For teachers and schools, the IET offers a range of resources that can be used to teach the practical side of maths, science and design and technology, as well as kits for science fairs and the resources to organise a STEM challenge day.
I would recommend to anyone who can, to at least take a look, because who knows, you may find a subject area that you never knew existed or may perhaps find a new love for an old friend or maybe you might find a new way to inspire other people but the only way to know is to give it a try!