This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Arkwright Scholarship Trust, a charity which provides engineering scholarships to school-age students to help them achieve their ambitions of entering the engineering industry. Design Engineer, Mhairi Boyle, recently became an Arkwright mentor to support future scholarship recipients, and she tells us more about the work of this important charity:
"A question I have often encountered, since starting work as a graduate civil engineer two years ago, is ‘Why did you choose to become an engineer?’
Less than 10% of engineers in the UK are female, so it’s not surprising that I seem to meet this question more often than my male counterparts. However, it’s a question I’m always happy to answer as it highlights an issue that I’m very passionate about; encouraging girls to consider careers in STEM subjects.
In 2006, I was nominated for the Arkwright Scholarship by teachers in the Technology department of my school. The Arkwright Scholarship was established in 1991 by a group of head teachers who wanted to raise the profile of design and technology subjects with the aim of encouraging young people to consider careers in these subjects. The first year of the scheme saw 5 pupils awarded the scholarship, with the number soaring to over 400 recipients in 2016.
The selection process is competitive, but provides great experience for young students and a solid introduction to engineering. All applicants sit a two-hour aptitude exam, however rather than being academic, it focuses on pupils’ creative ability to solve engineering problems. After this initial test, candidates attend an interview hosted at a local university. This is often the first formal interview many of the potential scholars have attended and while daunting, is a welcome challenge.
The benefits of the scheme for the scholar are extensive; opportunities to expand their engineering knowledge, exposure to different facets of the industry, open days at local university engineering departments, financial rewards, both personally and for their school, sponsorship from a commercial company or university, as well as being part of a network of young like-minded people.
A career in engineering seemed, at 16, an enormously unusual and possibly risky option. I didn't know any female engineers, and I didn’t find any reference to women in engineering in any of the career guidance I was given. The Women’s Engineering Society states that the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineers in the whole of Europe. It’s no wonder that a career in engineering can often seem daunting and unattainable for young girls.
As a young female, a great outcome of the Arkwright Scholarship for me was attending more STEM activity days. Working as part of team to solve problems helped boost my confidence in my abilities. The STEM activities were often run by professionals, who gave interesting insights into the world of engineering and exposed me to females working in STEM roles. Another huge benefit of winning the scholarship was the recognition I gained among the teachers at my school. Having their encouragement and support was vital for the start of my engineering career.
Mhairi (left) at work with AWD colleagues
Last year marked, not only the 25th anniversary of the scholarship programme, but also 10 years since I became a scholar myself. To mark the occasion, I have enrolled to become an Arkwright mentor. This new scheme matches previous scholars with pupils who have recently achieved the award with the aim of mentoring these young people and helping them achieve their ambitions in STEM subjects. The opportunity to give back to the programme that was vital to the start of my engineering career is hugely rewarding. Encouraging young people, both male and female, to consider a career in engineering is key to sustaining a dynamic, young workforce.
I hope in the ten years since I began my journey towards becoming an engineer, things have perhaps moved on a little, and the Arkwright programme with its burgeoning success and inclusion in schools, must continue to be part of this work."
For more information about the Arkwright Scholarship programme please visit www.arkwright.org.uk