by Graeme Gooday
How can we possibly hope to increase the number of women in engineering if we don’t help girls see it as a great career opportunity? The posters produced by girls in Year 7 (age 11-12) at Titus Salt School in Baildon and the Cathedral Academy in Wakefield shows how this process can work.
The University of Leeds STEM Outreach team has been working with those two West Yorkshire schools, arranging engineering department day trips for female pupils with advanced mathematical ability. One chilly day last December, these girls heard the Electrifying Women team talk about the origins of the Women’s Engineering Society and about three great Yorkshire engineering women: Hilda Lyon, Amy Johnson and Laura Annie Willson.
The girls’ imaginations were clearly fired by the challenge of thinking about why those women took up engineering. One pupil said that what she’d enjoyed most that day was ‘hearing about how… women wanted to become engineers and their life story’. How then to build upon such positive engagement – especially when the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic prevented any further visits?
In the lock-down period we developed a poster prize competition, generously funded by the University of Leeds and the British Society for the History of Science Outreach and Education Committee. The idea was for the pupils to use their creative skills to show us what they’d learned about the history of women in engineering, drawing upon the 5 key themes videos produced by the Electrifying Women project.
We launched the competition on International Women in Engineering Day, 23rd June – a point not lost on the pupils that took part. Of the fifteen entries, mostly from girls, the University of Leeds Outreach lead, Natalie Duffield Moore said
We were really impressed with the quality of posters produced and level of research that went into each entry. We were particularly impressed with those that mentioned the skills they have developed while working from home and the impact that the history of women engineers has on us today.
With the permission of both schools, the best five of these posters are given above and below.
For example, a pupil from Titus Salt School produced this hand-drawn multifaceted poster with significant detail:
Some expanded details of this poster were submitted in accompanying photographs to help the judges see what was involved. These are shared below:
Here is a poster from a pupil at the Cathedral Academy which focuses on the job opportunities in engineering created for women in the First World War, and on the present-day celebration of International Women in Engineering Day:
Finally this student from the Cathedral Academy hand-crafted this poster that focused on women’s changing opportunities in engineering, and the historic significance of relatives in enabling women’s participation.
Overall this prize competition reassured us that girls early in secondary education could really take inspiration from learning of women’s historical involvement in engineering. We also hope that other schools will use the Electrifying Women resources to get their students similarly engaged – and maybe become the engineers of the future!