Girls with Grit: Wendy Pring, KCP Ltd

Ayrshire College’s female STEM network – Ayrshire Connects – held its second annual meetup, ‘Girls with Grit’, on 19 June 2017. To continue the theme of the event we will be interviewing a series of ‘girls with grit’ across Ayrshire and beyond.

I am Wendy Pring and I am a mum to three children and a chartered civil engineer who is passionate about the circular economy. I have been doing my current job for 14 years, which is Managing Director of KCP.

wendy sept 2016

We started the business when our two oldest children were little to help manage our childcare issues whilst still using our skill sets from our previous employed jobs. We undertake industrial maintenance across multiple sectors across the UK and have just obtained a UK patent for our fluid transfer system.

Where did your career start?

 I started working during holidays as part of my work experience whilst I was still at university with a small environmental consultancy known as John Dunbar and Associates.  I completed my last exam on the Friday and started work on the Monday with this company. By the time I had graduated the company had merged with two larger organisations to form Crouch Hogg Waterman, incorporating John Dunbar & Associates!  This was a fantastic opportunity for me and my work experience during university shaped the direction I wanted to go in for my career, which was into a more environmental aspect of civil engineering.

I worked with this consultancy for three years and then started to look for a company that I could gain on-site construction experience which was required to become a chartered civil engineer. This provides additional comfort to other people that you undertake your work in an honest manner and it is encouraged with most employers that you continue doing this. This resulted in me moving down to live around Chester/North Wales where I worked for a waste management company for 10 years. I was responsible for all site engineering works and managing all construction personnel in the construction of environmentally safe landfill sites. This was just at the point where legislation was brought in that demanded greater engineering construction design to protect the environment as well as trying to harness renewable energy from these to put in to the national grid.

Did you attend College/University?

I went to Strathclyde University in Glasgow to study Civil Engineering. I had wanted to be a vet and spent most of my secondary years at school and some at primary reading about and volunteering in vets and stables to gain experience with animals!  I didn’t quite get the grades I expected in my Highers and had to return to school for a 6th year. I wasn’t a great lover of school but I did know that I had to do it to allow me to go on and do something that I DID WANT TO DO!  I got some excellent advice from my sixth year physics teacher who told me, “look at this prospectus and see if there is anything that sounds interesting’. I liked the sound of environmental engineering but my physics teacher suggested civil engineering as a broader subject base from which I could specialise.  This is sort of what I have done. I started at university the following year, not really sure what I was studying and in a class of 66 with six girls.

Is there equality in this industry?

 I found in my early career that equality was not present and I did face some unnecessary comments from my working colleagues. Most of these were around the general topic of “you are a woman, how can you be an engineer?”  It was unexpected, as up to the point of my first job I had experienced nothing in my life that would suggest that there was any gender issues with any job.  I did not like it much and I did find a one-liner that managed to dismiss most of it.  I was even told on my first day of a new job, after a two-stage interview and a psychometric test, that they didn’t usually employ female engineers!

I didn’t discuss it with anyone until I was much older as my confidence levels were not that great before then. I received less pay than male counterparts.  However, at a point in the growth of one of the companies I worked for they restructured the company, bought other companies and made some people redundant. I was fortunate that during this period I was promoted to a national engineer for the company.  My advice to anyone is to ignore most of it and share it with those you trust.  Most of it, I know now, was jealousy. I naturally love the type of work that I do and my advice is to look at things that make you gasp or smile and work will seem less tiresome and other challenges will be less important.

Do you have any career secrets or tips?

Take part and network effectively from day one! Not with intention of getting anything but simply to learn. Go along and listen to people at conferences and understand the wider nature of work and life and how you can participate.

I think it is important that girls understand the value that they can offer to the growth, development and protection of our planet. There should be no boys versus girls.  We just have different skills sets.  We are different.  We look at things differently from boys. This is a good balance for any employer to ensure that all options are being looked at and we become a more inclusive, diverse, developed world!

Find out more about Ayrshire Connects and how you can be involved here.

Girls with Grit: Kate Dickens, Dean Castle Country Park

Ayrshire College’s female STEM network – Ayrshire Connects – held its second annual meetup, ‘Girls with Grit’, on 19 June 2017. To continue the theme of the event we will be interviewing a series of ‘girls with grit’ across Ayrshire and beyond.

My name is Kate Dickens, I’m 33 years old and I am a Countryside Ranger at Dean Castle Country Park in Kilmarnock. I deliver environmental education to school and community groups and I lead conservation tasks and events within the Country Park and wider district.

Kate Dickens - photo

Where did your career start?

I started my career at Culzean Castle and Country Park in South Ayrshire. I had just left university in England and, so decided to just go for it and apply for jobs in a part of the world that I knew to be beautiful. I had holidayed as a child in Scotland quite a lot. I was employed as a Seasonal Ranger for 6 months and was lucky enough to get the same job again the following year. Then in 2008, I got the job here at Dean Castle.

Did you attend College/University?

I completed a degree in Leisure and Sport studies at Leeds Metropolitan University. I completed my dissertation on social inclusion within the countryside, focusing on ethnic minorities. The course allowed me to take modules in countryside management and undertake work experience as a countryside ranger with Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council (OMBC). Whilst studying for my degree, I volunteered with OMBC and was mentored by an enthusiastic and inspiring Countryside Ranger called Jane Downall. She had a ‘can do’ attitude and always sought to teach me about the countryside.

Is there equality in this industry?

I believe so.  The park manager is female, my old boss was female, and my mentor was female. You do come across sexism and not just from men. I’ve had experiences where men expect me to be incapable because they’ve never seen a woman achieve and succeed in this field of work and that’s a shame for them. I’ve also had to speak up against women who have fostered sexist thoughts, assuming that men will do the job because I won’t be able to. I’ve found that the greatest way of combatting sexism is to always have a go at a task.  I might not be as physically strong as some men, but there’s so much more to this job than sheer strength. I understand what my limitations are, but there’s no way they prevent me doing a good job and being successful. Always try to conduct yourself with integrity and you’ll get the respect you deserve.

Do you have any career secrets or tips?

The more experience you get, the better your chances are of succeeding. I have to love this job because, at the end of the day, I’m here to enthuse and ignite people’s passion for wildlife and the outdoors. So get out there, look at wildlife, throw yourself into it and always have a go.

I was fortunate to have parents that enjoyed the outdoors. My dad was a keen gardener and birder. I would sit drawing birds out of books and keep a record of what we had seen on trips and holidays. Unfortunately, he died of cancer whilst I was in my first year at university. My dad taught me how to identify my very first tree, a birch. He showed me how to use binoculars to spot birds and wildlife. I didn’t realise it at the time, but he was the one nurturing me for a career in nature. The loss of my dad was traumatic, just like any bereavement can be, but as the months passed it gave me clarity. I came to realise how resilient I could be, how independent I had become and how short life could be. I wanted to spend my time doing something I loved and I love my job.

Find out more about Ayrshire Connects and how you can be involved here.




Girls with Grit: Fiona Phillips , UTC Aerospace Systems

Ayrshire College’s female STEM network – Ayrshire Connects – held its second annual meetup, ‘Girls with Grit’, on 19 June 2017. To continue the theme of the event we will be interviewing a series of ‘girls with grit’ across Ayrshire and beyond.

Hi!  My name is Fiona Phillips and I’m a Senior Structures Engineer at the Prestwick Service Centre, part of UTC Aerospace Systems’ Aerostructures business unit.  This is a nacelle maintenance, repair and overhaul station.   A nacelle is the group of structures which encase the engine on an aeroplane.  These parts play a critical role in the operation of not only the engine, but the aircraft as a whole.

Fiona Philips

My job is to create and approve the structural analysis of repairs to these parts, to help decide if the repaired part still meets design and airworthiness requirements.   It is a really interesting job.  You have to solve problems constantly as the structures are complex and often badly damaged, and it is my job to help decide how to fix them.  Although this sounds difficult, it is very rewarding as it is great to see the components leaving fully repaired and knowing they can safely continue to help carry people all over the world.

I am very lucky that the Prestwick site has such a wide range of capabilities as it means I can work on carbon fibre composites, adhesive bonding and metallic repairs, including those to high-temperature alloys.  Every day is different!

I first started working at UTC (Goodrich at the time) on a summer placement from university.  I spent 3 months here and I loved it.  After university I was keen to return and I have stayed ever since.  Although I have worked in the same place for 11 years now, I have had so many opportunities to travel and learn new things that it hasn’t seemed like a long time at all.

I enjoyed Maths at school and this is what led to me studying Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Glasgow.  This was a tough subject to study. However, once you learn the theory, the practical application of the subject is a lot more interesting.  While working at UTC, I’ve also completed a Masters in Materials Science from the University of Surrey.  I have found engineering is a great gateway into many different subjects.  There is no end to the areas of modern life engineering influences and it offers so many possibilities.

Female engineers are certainly outnumbered currently in the aerospace industry. However, I don’t think this is due to a lack of gender equality.  I think engineering is a challenging job for most people, regardless of gender. . . but that is why it is also so rewarding.  The best way to ensure that you don’t face inequality is to make sure you gain as much knowledge as you can at every opportunity, work hard and never get complacent.

If you listen to colleagues with experience, the mechanics that take on the implementation of what an engineer proposes, and do your best to always ensure the best outcome for a project, this, in my experience, ensures you are treated equally, regardless of your gender.

I recently worked in California for a few months, where there were many more female engineers, so it seems things are definitely changing.  I would urge any girls thinking about a career in engineering not to let thoughts about gender inequality put you off.  It is the most interesting career with so many opportunities and I’m certainly glad I never let being a girl stop me.

Find out more about Ayrshire Connects and how you can be involved here.

Girls with Grit: Melanie Blane, White Rabbit Skincare

Ayrshire College’s female STEM network – Ayrshire Connects – held its second annual meetup, ‘Girls with Grit’ ,on 19 June 2017. To continue the theme of the event we will be interviewing a series of ‘girls with grit’ across Ayrshire and beyond.

My name is Melanie Blane, Founder and Director of vegan Skincare brand White Rabbit Skincare, based in Kilmarnock. I have recently won the Scottish Young EDGE competition, winning up to £10,000 in grant funding.

Melanie Blane

I started White Rabbit Skincare after being diagnosed with the skin condition psiroasos as a teenager. I wasn’t keen on using steroid creams long term, and thought the only way to guarantee the origins, ingredients and cruelty-free status of products was to manufacture it myself! Other than doing chemistry for two years at secondary school, I am entirely self taught in product manufacture and still learning every day – 3 years on!

Where did your career start?

I left secondary school after 6th year, and went on to go to university for four years. Whilst at university I worked as a Technical Records Officer for an aircraft maintenance firm, then moved to England for around 6 months and worked as an office assistant at a food production company. When I moved back home I got a job as receptionist in a welfare to work organisation. I’ve never really known exactly what I wanted to do for a career, but working in different industries gave me great insight, as well as experience.

Did you attend College/University?

Yes – I am a graduate of The University of Strathclyde, and proudly boast a 2:1 Honours Degree in History!

Although I am not doing anything directly relatedly to my degree at present, my time at university taught me:

  •   It’s not what you expect
  •   You’ll become so independent
  •   It’s much more than about ‘the degree’
  •   It’s what you make of it
  • You’ll lose friends, and gain friends – and hobbies!
  • How to be resilient – you can juggle everything and anything!

Is there equality in this industry?

It’s no secret that the beauty industry is geared towards female consumers. However despite that fact, most high-level decision makers in the industry are men. Though the beauty industry fares better in comparison to other sectors such as health, banking, technology and energy, beauty brands still have an average of just 29 percent female leadership across boards and executive teams. I want to help change that, and by directing my own company I aim to inspire other young women to take charge of their own careers.

Do you have any career secrets or tips?

 There are endless amounts of ‘tips’ I could share, but if I had to pick:

  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The best things happen where you are pushed right out your comfort zone!
  • Every new person you meet is a potential route to opportunity. Build bridges in both your personal and professional life and you never know where they’ll lead!
  • Similarly, never be afraid to ask for advice. Create a good network of mentors or acquaintances you can call upon.
  • ‘Thoughts become things’ – believe you are strong, inspiring, open to new opportunities. You can do so much more with a positive attitude than a negative one.
  • There will never be ‘a right time.’ Take chances, live in the moment, and don’t let feelings like ‘I’m not ready’ get in the way.

Find out more about Ayrshire Connects and how you can be involved here.


Girls with Grit:  Dani Horton, Microtech Digital

Ayrshire College’s female STEM network – Ayrshire Connects – held its second annual meetup, ‘Girls with Grit’ ,on 19 June 2017. To continue the theme of the event we will be interviewing a series of ‘girls with grit’ across Ayrshire and beyond.


My name is Danielle Horton is the Senior Graphic Designer for Microtech Digital, a full service Web & Graphic Design Agency that is part of the Microtech Group. Working as part of team of Designers, Developers and Marketing experts – Dani leads the design team and is responsible for creative direction of their clients as well as all companies under the Microtech Group.

DH 2

Where did your career start?

My intention after graduating was to get a job within a graphic design agency, however during my graduate exhibition I was approached by the Editor and Co-Creator of the comic book ‘Who on Earth was Thaddeus Mist’ who offered me my first paid freelance contract. For the next year I kept this momentum by working as a Freelance Designer for Cumbria County Council as well as establishing my own clients, some of whom I still work with today.

After moving back to Scotland, I set myself the goal of becoming a Senior Designer of an agency within five years. Out of 100 candidates applying, I was taken on as a Junior Graphic Designer at Paligap Brands. Thrown in at the deep end, I learned on the job how to design websites and within four months was managing my own clients.

Two years later Microtech offered the Paligap team an opportunity to merge their clients and become the newly formed Microtech Digital – letting me achieve my goal three years early.

Did you attend College/University?

My passion for art, design and communications has always been very focused. Knowing that this is what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to go, I only applied for one course and left school at 17 to study for my BA (Hons) in Graphic Design at the University of Cumbria, Carlisle. To achieve the points I needed to apply, I took on Higher Drama and Portfolio Prep night classes at Ayrshire College as well as sitting some of my qualifications a year early.

Is there equality in this industry?

One of my degree modules was based upon social aspects of design, and we had several talks on feminism and its role in the graphic design community. The web and design industry is still male dominated (even more so for developers) but this is something I chose to disregard quite early on. I have never understood how or why my skillset, work ethic or the ability to collaborate with others would ever be defined by my gender.

When applying for a design job you are judged on your portfolio of work before anything else.  This is a fair, genderless process and a main motivator for my career path.

Although it is a fact that there are fewer women in my industry, my attitude towards this will never change. I set the goals I want to achieve in my life and it is only myself who can achieve them.

Do you have any career secrets or tips?

Always be motivated and proactive in your industry – actions speak louder than gender. When applying for design jobs be sure to always put your work first. Knowing what you want to do is easy, standing out from the crowd of 100+ applicants takes the right work ethic.

You will learn more in those first few months on the job than you have your entire education. Make sure you aren’t getting paid in ‘exposure’ and set clear contract terms for yourself and your client to agree upon before starting work. It is easy to get tempted by developing work for your portfolio but you also need to value your time, education and expertise. However, it is just as important to do work ‘just for you’. Getting bogged down in the corporate world of design can be tedious and unimaginative. Negative feedback, nightmare clients and unrealistic deadlines come with the job, so a thick skin is key.

I was once told to find the smartest person in the room and befriend them. Finding a mentor or surrounding yourself with people within the same industry will only make you better. Competition, stress and conflicting opinions can be a stimulating influence to improve yourself and your work. Be patient, open minded and take advantage of every opportunity presented to you!

Find out more about Ayrshire Connects and how to be involved here.

Girls with Grit: Megan Coghill, Thales

Ayrshire College’s female STEM network – Ayrshire Connects – held its second annual meetup, ‘Girls with Grit’, on 19 June 2017. To continue the theme of the event we will be interviewing a series of ‘girls with grit’ across Ayrshire and beyond.

Hello! My name is Megan, I’m an optical design engineer at Thales in Glasgow where I invent lenses like the ones in professional cameras, except the lenses I design are used in really extreme environments. I had never done anything like this before starting at Thales, but I’ve been lucky to work with really experienced and generous people over the past few years and I’ve learned so much on the job. Never be afraid to apply for a job you don’t yet know how to do – the secret is that everybody starts out as a beginner!


Where did your career start?

I could never decide between art and science when I was in school, so I decided to study Chemical Physics at university in Glasgow but kept working on my artistic side too, so I worked as a photographer for weddings and events and designed posters in my free time. As it turns out, engineering is perfect for people like me! This career really allows me to express my creative side, while still feeling challenged with complex technical questions. I love it!

I took a bit of a detour between finishing university and starting my job as an engineer.  First, I moved to Germany to begin a PhD but realised very quickly that my heart wasn’t in it. So I left after only 3 days! It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make, but I’m still certain that it was the right choice. I returned to Glasgow where I started working as an assistant buyer, sourcing consumables for lots of different biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. One day I could be hunting down very specific and complicated glassware, another day I could be comparing different types of rabbits’ eyes for a customer.  It was a fascinating job! After a year in procurement I was unexpectedly yearning to be back in the world of physics and so I applied for the optical design job at Thales.

I was also really fortunate to try out a lot of different scientific jobs before graduating.  I spent a fantastic summer at the Environmental Research Institute in Thurso – the northernmost town on the British mainland where I grew up – where I was researching how pharmaceuticals make their way into the environment. Then I spent a summer at the Institute for Gravitational Research in Glasgow, building a miniature version of the mind-bogglingly precise instruments that we use to detect gravitational waves (which has to be one of the most important scientific discoveries of our lifetime). After that, I spent a summer in the Inorganic Materials research group at Glasgow University synthesising nanoparticles using normal, kitchen microwaves – it was all a bit too liable to explode for my liking!

Finally, I spent a year during my degree working at a physics institute called AMOLF in Amsterdam where I researched how water moves about inside fuel cells (the ‘green’ batteries used in electric cars). It was at AMOLF that I really fell in love with physics and optics in particular – I built a new laser system while I was there, and it was a great feeling when we got it working for the first time.

I’ve been lucky to travel a lot with my work.  While at AMOLF, I visited Switzerland for a conference, and Finland for a summer school. I still love to travel and in my current role I’ve been all over the UK, France and I’m going to New York this month. If you like to see the world, a career in science or engineering could really suit you! I met my friend Noah from Wisconsin when we worked together as scientists in Glasgow. Two years later, we met again when I visited the USA for a workshop and we spent a week roadtripping and visiting family and friends. We met again two years after that, when he was visiting Japan for a conference and I was visiting my brother there at the same time – this time we spent a week exploring Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo! Science and engineering are truly international and can bring you so many opportunities you might not expect.

Did you attend College/University?

I completed a five year Master in Science at the University of Glasgow in Chemical Physics and really enjoyed it. My lecturers were some of the most dedicated and patient people I’ve ever met.

Is there equality in this industry?

In terms of numbers, absolutely not – less than 10% of engineers in the UK are female. In terms of my experience, yes – I’ve never felt at a disadvantage by being a woman, but it has to be said I’m in the very early stages of my career.

For many years, I wasn’t sure whether I could be myself and be a scientist or an engineer. I thought I might need to be less feminine to ‘blend in’, or more feminine to avoid making people feel threatened!  I’m happy to say I was wrong – I can be myself, my whole self, and still be a capable and credible engineer. It’s because of the pioneering women and men who came before that I’m able to say this.

Do you have any career secrets or tips?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, they’re definitely not a stupid as you think they are and in fact, asking questions has the effect of making the person you’re asking feel flattered and think you’re even smarter!

For really practical and effective advice on CVs, cover letters and interviews, check out The Muse – everything you need is right there.

Find out more about Ayrshire Connects and how you can be involved here.



Meet an Ayrshire Miner

Last year, during the new Kilmarnock Campus Community Open Day on Saturday 19 November 2016, we met a lovely couple who told us all about their working lives in Ayrshire. Mr Findlay agreed to come and visit us again to tell us about life as an Ayrshire Miner.


Jim Findlay

When we were moving into our new campus in Kilmarnock we rediscovered a few treasures. A box of old prospectuses ranging from 1925 onwards found by the Learning Resource Centre (LRC) Team. These prospectuses were created by the Ayrshire Education Authority and the Ayr County Council (Education Committee).

So how much has college really changed since then?

Flicking through the old prospectuses a few courses that we offer here at Ayrshire College could certainly be found: engineering, plumbing, art, joinery, baking, and painting and decorating to name a few.

However, there are quite a few courses that we definitely don’t offer: mining, salesmanship, pattern-making, and perhaps the most significantly different – domestic science – a course just for women to learn millinery, dressmaking, sewing, household maths and laundry skills.

As luck would have it we met a gentleman during the new Kilmarnock Campus Community Open Day who had actually studied mining surveying at Ayr Technical College (now our Ayr Campus) in 1955. Jim and Joan Findlay agreed to visit us again, and Jim told us about college life and working in the mining industry in Ayrshire.

Why did you decide to go to college?

It was part of the terms of my apprenticeship with the National Coal Board that I went to college once a week. I had no working hours in my contract, I worked when I was asked by the Board. I started my Mining Surveying course at Ayr Technical College and finished it at the Royal College of Science and Technology – now Strathclyde University.

What do you remember about the course?

There was 4 main subjects in the course: mathematics, mining surveying, mining technology and geology. I still have one of the textbooks I used.

What age were you when you started the course?

I think about 18 years old. That’s what age you had to be to work underground in the mines.

Was it all men that studied mining?

Women were not allowed underground, so no women could take the course. It was against the law for women and children to work underground.

What did a mining surveyor do?

I used a theodolite or mining dial to make sure the roads (tunnels) were going in the direction indicated on the development plan. We surveyed the workings every three months and updated the colliery plans.

Was there a yellow canary underground or is this a myth?

Yes, there really was a yellow canary underground. The bird would normally be kept in a cage in one of the surface buildings and taken underground if and when required. If the canary passed out it would mean that the levels of toxic gas was getting higher. It would be revived though.

What jobs have you had since your apprenticeship with the National Coal Board?

I was employed by the National Coal Board from 1955 to 1967 based at Lugar, near Cumnock. Around then the coal industry was declining so I decided to move job. From 1967 to 1974 I worked with the Scottish Special Housing Association, I also went back to college and studied Civil Engineering 3 nights a week. From 1974 to 1996 I worked with Ayrshire and Bute Water Board and Strathclyde Water Services.

What made you come to our new Kilmarnock Campus Community Open Day?

Joan and I went to the old campus for the local history group lectures. The group now uses the new campus so we saw that it was advertised and decided to go.

What do you think of the new campus?

It’s very impressive, the sheer space and brightness throughout the building. The number of computers is amazing as well, this was unheard of when I went to college. The seats designed by Cumnock Academy are also great. The difference from when I was at college is huge; we didn’t have a café, outdoor sports facilities and even the number of courses we could take was limited.

If you were to go to college now what would you study?

Civil Engineering I think. I enjoyed being an engineer.

We really enjoyed having Jim and Joan visit us at Ayrshire College and tell us all about college in the 1950s. We look forward to welcoming them and the History Group that meets in the Open Space every Tuesday evening.

Moving further into the 21st century the only mining Ayrshire will be seeing is data mining.