ADAmant that we will attract more women into STEM!

Vice principal Jackie Galbraith shares her thoughts on the importance of recognising and celebrating women in STEM in the past, present and future.

It’s Ada Lovelace Day 2016, and Ayrshire College is ADAmant that we will attract more girls and women into science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM).

This is a key priority for us and we are working with schools, employers and national organisations to raise awareness of opportunities for women in STEM sectors, encourage take-up of STEM courses by girls and women, help students succeed on their courses, and connect female STEM students on different courses across the college, with students in other colleges and universities, and with women in industry.

Many people argue that there has never been a better time to be a woman in STEM. There are tens of thousands of high value, high quality jobs in sectors like digital and engineering. Employers don’t just need women to fill these jobs – they WANT them, because of the skills they bring! And, increasingly there are more diverse and equally valued routes to becoming a STEM professional – through college, apprenticeships and/or university.

But, we have a problem.

The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe. The proportion of young women taking STEM subjects at school, college and university is stubbornly low. And, incredibly, there is a smaller proportion of women studying and working in computing and digital technology now than when I was a computing student 30 years ago!

And yet, throughout history, women have played an important role in STEM . However, you need to seek them out! It’s important to recognise women from the past and present to stake our claim in this exciting world. Days like Ada Lovelace Day are about celebrating the pioneering, but often unknown or forgotten, work of women in fields like computing.

Women like Ada Lovelace, the mother of programming born 200 years ago who wrote the first ever computer programme 100 years before computers were even invented! Unlike her mentor Charles Babbage, whose analytical engine was the forerunner of the physical computer, Ada had the vision to imagine that a computer could create images and music, and not just do complicated sums.

Women like Scottish mathematician Mary Somerville (soon to be recognised on a £10 bank note), born in 1780 who, despite living in an age when women were discouraged from studying science, is credited with an instrumental role in the discovery of Neptune. Mary was the young Ada Lovelace ‘s mathematics tutor and mentor.

Florence Nightingale’s infographic

Women like Florence Nightingale, well known for her dedication to injured soldiers during the Crimean War, but less famous for her mathematical ability. Florence’s analysis of large amounts of data, presented graphically ,demonstrated that significantly more men were dying from preventable diseases in hospital than from wounds inflicted in battle. This led to the government allocating funds to improve the cleanliness of hospitals. Hundreds of years before the terms ‘big data’, ‘data scientist’ and ‘data visualisation’ became the latest big things, Florence was a big deal!

It is not just rich, privileged women who have made an impact over the centuries. Jeannie Riley, one of many Glasgow female munitions workers during the First World War, dreamed of becoming an engineer. Sadly, when Jeanie’s husband and other men returned from the trenches in France, the aspirations of women like Jeanie were denied and they had to give up their jobs in industry.

Like Jeannie, American Mary Sherman Morgan dropped out of education during World War II to take a job at a munitions factory. After the war ended, she began working at North American Aviation as an aspiring rocket scientist. In the 1940s, an elite team of mathematicians and scientists started working on a project that would carry the US into space. Eventually becoming NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, what made it unusual was that many of those who charted the course to space exploration were women!

In January 2017, a new film tells the story of African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson and her two colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, whose calculations helped John Glenn became the first American astronaut to make a complete orbit of the Earth. Known as computers, these women played a critical role in space exploration.

It is important to recognise and celebrate the contributions of women scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians in the past. This is becoming easier with films like Hidden Figures and books like Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women who Propelled us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars.

It is even more important to acknowledge and promote women in STEM today. Today’s women in STEM include our own students and staff (click on the links to find out more). They include the STEM ambassadors in schools across Ayrshire, as well as women in STEM industry sectors making an impact on companies in the region.


Tomorrow’s women in STEM are the girls in today’s nursery, primary and secondary schools – some of whom are connecting to engineering, science, construction and technology through activities like Primary Engineer, the Bloodhound Challenge, and Ayrshire College’s Girls in STEM and CoderDojo workshops.

We remain ADAmant that we will challenge gender stereotyping in career and learning choices, and that we will encourage more girls and women to embark on exciting STEM courses.

If you’re just as ADAmant, please get in touch.


Let’s make science the new cookery!

 On Tuesday 13 October in a galaxy not so far away at Edinburgh Napier University, astrophysicist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE delivered the university’s first Ada Lovelace lecture – Women in Science: The Challenge. 

In the audience were Rachel Adamson from the Scottish Funding Council and Jackie Galbraith from Ayrshire College. Here is a summary of what they took away from the lecture.

Maggie talked about her three-pronged approach to encouraging young people into science and technology –

  • Role models – who don’t need to, indeed shouldn’t, be perfect. Maggie believes that the critical skill of a role model is to share experience and knowledge
  • Relevance – where the contribution of science, engineering and technology is demonstrated by meaningful examples which young people can relate to
  • Wonder – encouraging curiosity and exploration of ideas.

But, we have a problem. A problem which Maggie summed up as a ‘societal PR problem’. According to Maggie, science, technology and engineering suffer from an image of being ‘pale, male and stale’, with significant women scientists and mathematicians invisible in most classrooms.

She highlighted the achievements of historical and current day female scientists including Marie Curie, who was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, and the only person to win twice in multiple sciences. 

Possibly more disconcerting and damaging is the image of science, engineering and technology as irrelevant, with the portrayal in this Dilbert video one which many parents and young people identify with.

To overcome these negative perceptions, when she speaks to young people in schools, Maggie shares three things with them –

  1. Why she became a scientist
  2. How she became a scientist
  3. What she does as a scientist

What inspired the 3-year-old Maggie to become a scientist was the Clangers and a desire to travel to space to meet them! 

This desire kept her motivated throughout her school life and, despite having undiagnosed dyslexia as a child, she graduated with a BSc in physics and a PhD in mechanical engineering from Imperial College London. 

As a scientist, she has worked for the Ministry of Defence on projects ranging from missile warning systems to landmine detectors.

Up, up and away!

Introducing her lecture, Maggie said that we live in ‘scientifically exciting times’, which she illustrated very well in her presentation. She concluded that ‘science has the power to unite us’ if we adhere to the statement in the photo below of her daughter.

Food for thought – Could science be the new cookery?

Maggie was hopeful that we could soon see as many TV programmes on science as we currently have on cookery and that there might be as much excitement and interest generated by them! 

But how might such interest come about? 

As Maggie said, we need to address the ‘societal PR problem’. As part of this, Jackie and Rachel are working together with people from across Scotland to develop a Gender Action Plan setting out actions to achieve gender equality within Scottish colleges and universities. 

Some of these actions will be focused on tackling the shortage of women in science, engineering and technology as well as the lack of men in other subjects, such as teaching and early years care. 

With colleges and universities working with schools to provide pupils with positive role models, who show them the relevance of STEM to their own lives and instil in them wonder and curiosity for all things scientific, how long will it be before we have the Great British Science Off

We think Maggie would make a great host!


This Ayrshire Girl Can-Do STEM!

Ayrshire College means business when it comes to addressing gender imbalance in subject areas where women are under-represented. 

The College also supports the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan campaign initiated by the Ayrshire College Student Association, which focuses on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and sport.


An important aspect of our work every year is to promote female students who are building a career in traditionally male-dominated sectors. Find out how Tammy, Carra and Amanda are forging their engineering careers with the help of the College.

Tammy Niven, manufacturing apprentice at  GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Irvine, has just completed her HNC in manufacturing.

“I was in 5th year at school when I saw the advert for GSK apprenticeships and it really appealed to me. As I looked into it, manufacturing was the field that looked right for me, so I applied for that. A manufacturing apprenticeship at GSK is much more than working on a production line. You’re part of a really important process.

“I’m enjoying the course. I really like physics although it is really hard, but I think the challenge is what I like about it.”

Twenty year old Carra Woods is an apprentice fabricator and welder at Wallace McDowall in Ayr.

“When the apprenticeship vacancy came up, I applied for it through the college because I did my SVQ Level 2 there. I’m in the first year of my apprenticeship and come to college one day a week. 

“During the four days in the workshop, it’s constant work – we’re building everything! Although we don’t get to do all the jobs because we’re still learning, we get a shot at most jobs!

“The best part of the job is proving everyone wrong by being a girl! It was scary at the start, but I knew I was going into a male-dominated working environment so it didn’t really bother me too much. I’m just going to prove to everyone that I can do it!”

Before she came to Ayrshire College, Amanda O’Hara worked as a cabin crew member with EasyJet.

“This where my interest in aviation started. When we were working we were always having technical problems, so that got me more and more interested in the engineering side of things. I would ask the engineers what was happening, what was going on. 

“My cabin crew background has been really useful on my course because I already know a lot of the terminology.”


Celebrating women programmers – past, present and future

Ada Lovelace Day – 13 October 2015

Ada Lovelace Day is about celebrating women engineers, scientists, technologists or mathematicians role models who inspire other girls and women. 

This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ada Lovelace who is widely held to have been the first computer programmer. Close friends with inventor Charles Babbage, Lovelace was intrigued by his Analytical Engine and in 1842 at the age of 27 she wrote several early ‘computer programmes’. 

Despite the first computer programmer being a woman and female coders playing a big part in wartime and the post-war era, gender imbalance poses a major challenge in today’s IT industry, where women make up just 13 per cent of tech specialists in the workforce.        

So, on a day dedicated to promoting women in science, engineering and technology, meet Dr Claire Quigley and find out what inspired her career in computing. 

Claire studied Computing Science at Glasgow University. She is a Project Officer for CoderDojo Scotland at the Glasgow Science Centre, where she supports the CoderDojo network of computer coding clubs for young people across Scotland. In partnership with the College, Claire helped to establish Coderdojo Ayrshire, one of the most active coding clubs for young people in Scotland.

Dr Claire Quigley

Her experience includes working at Glasgow and Cambridge Universities, being part of a team which developed and ran an interactive coding experience at CBBC Live, and being one of the authors of a ‘Help Your Kids with Computer Coding’, a book introducing children to programming.

What inspired you to get involved in computing and make a career from it?

I wasn’t interested in computing at all as a teenager – I thought it was all to do with games, which I also had no interest in. It wasn’t until my second year studying physics at Glasgow University that I took an extra course aimed at allowing you to wire up your experiments to a computer and program it to do the measurements. This appealed to me as, while I liked and was good at the theoretical side of the course, I didn’t enjoy the labs and struggled to get my measurements accurate enough.  

After reading a bit of the text book and writing a few programs I realised that programming wasn’t necessarily all about games. In fact it seemed more like a “live action” version of the bits of maths that I enjoyed: taking a problem and turning it round in your head until you saw how all the pieces fitted together. Then writing a program to make the computer do things to produce the answer to the problem. I soon realised I enjoyed programming much more than physics and switched courses to Computing Science.

As a woman in the IT industry, what challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

The main challenge I’ve faced is that people occasionally assume that I’m not a programmer because I’m a woman. However, apart from that, I’ve found programmers to be friendly people to work with from all different backgrounds. Most of them are just interested in getting things to work, and finding new ways of doing that. Gender is not usually an issue at all.

Describe your job on a day to day basis. What are the highlights?

My job varies quite a lot from day to day, which is one of the things I enjoy about it. Tasks vary from emailing people to organising workshops or Dojos, meeting people to discuss the possibility of them setting up a Dojo or working with us on a project, writing code and worksheets that we’ll use at workshops, or actually running a workshop.   

Highlights are probably the days when I get to actually run a workshop I’ve been planning and see people engage with it. I also enjoy working on ideas for projects that combine different areas of science with programming with my colleagues in the science centre or arts with people from other projects in the city. 

What would you say to a girl or woman who was considering a career in IT?

Go for it – and keep in mind that there are more and more careers that use programming. From medicine, to wearable technology, science, games and art, programming is a tool to help you make things happen in the area you’re interested in.  

Inspiring the next genetation of programmers

Ayrshire College holds Coderdojo clubs throughout the year in venues across Ayrshire. Two are now open for booking –

  • Tuesday 20 October at the College’s Kilwinning Campus from 6-8pm  
  • Thursday 26 November at Dumfries House in Cumnock from 6-8pm

If you know a young person aged 7 to 17 who is interested in learning to code, book online at



Finding (and remembering) Ada

What is Ada Lovelace Day?

Tuesday 14 October 2014 is Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in STEM. It aims to raise their profiles, to inspire others and to create new role models for young and old alike. Ada Lovelace Day began as a day of blogging in 2009 and has grown to become a global activity involving thousands of people worldwide.

Who was Ada Lovelace?

Ada Lovelace was a Victorian mathematician, born nearly two centuries ago, who wrote the first computer programme – yet she lived 100 years before the first electronic computers were built! Instead, she worked with nothing more than plans for a mechanical computer called the Analytical Engine, which was being designed by Charles Babbage.


Ada’s deep understanding of the Engine and her imaginative approach led her to write the first computer programme and to describe a future for computing that was both visionary and amazingly accurate. She saw that a computing machine could create images and music if it was given the right algorithms, and not just do complicated sums – a view that was much more advanced than those of her male peers. Despite this, although many people remember Charles Babbage as the inventor of the first computer, very few know about his female accomplice.

Celebrating women engineers

Ada is not the only woman in history whose contribution to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) has been forgotten. In August 2014, the Institute of Engineering and Technology, in collaboration with the Women’s Engineering Society, published the following poster to celebrate women in engineering over the past 100 years.


In May 2014, the British Computer Society ran a month-long campaign to encourage women of all ages to consider a career in IT. Throughout the month influential women in IT acted as role models and, through blogs and video interviews, shared their stories and thoughts about the profession.

Women have made significant contributions to science, engineering and technology for hundreds of years and, despite low numbers of women in the STEM sector, they continue to make an impact today.

Ayrshire College challenging gender stereotypes

One of the six goals in Ayrshire College’s strategic plan is Tackling Inequalities and a key objective identified for achieving this is to challenge gender stereotyping in career and learning choices. One aspect of this is highlighting the success of female students who choose STEM courses, apprenticeships and careers, which helps other women and girls overcome negative perceptions of what are seen as male-dominated areas. Here are some examples of former and current female students who have chosen to have a career in STEM.

Yvonne Neil studied at Ayrshire College when she was an apprentice at BAE Systems. Twenty years on and now Chief Design Engineer at the company, Yvonne describes in this blog post what attracted her to engineering as a young girl and how she has progressed in her career. Our female engineering students continue to make an impact on Ayrshire-based companies like GE Caledonian, Ryanair and Wallace McDowall.

As a former student of HND Mechanical Engineering at Ayrshire College, Laura McEwen began her career in engineering as an apprentice for GE Caledonian. Passionate about the contribution that engineering apprentices make to the workplace, Laura’s career has come full circle as she is now the Apprentice Co-ordinator at the company. Laura operates a ‘knowledge exchange’ at the College and visits weekly bto mentor, guide and motivate engineering apprentices. Laura said “There are currently 30 apprentices in the program, all of whom are enthusiastic and excited about their futures and desperate to learn and be the best they can be. I am proud to be helping them on their engineering journey.”

Wallace McDowall recruits its apprentices through Ayrshire College and in June 2014 they started six first year Fabrication and Welding apprentices, including two young women. Shelby Mitchell secured her apprenticeship after completing the NC Welding and Fabrication course. She said “During my work experience week I shadowed welders and learned loads from them. I’m really happy to be an apprentice at Wallace McDowall and the support and encouragement I’ve had so far is fantastic.”

Julie Black was the only female NC Computer Games Development class at the College last year and beat off stiff competition from fellow students to win a Computer Games Design competition. The competition prizes were presented by industry expert Iris Lanny from Oracle UK who said the quality of the submissions from Ayrshire College were outstanding, amongst the best she had seen.

Amie Latona was one of just five women out of a total of 289 plumbing apprenticeship starts in Scotland last year. Amie said “Sharing a class with lots of guys was a little daunting at first but in a way it has been a great driver for me to push myself. There is lots of support available from classmates and lecturers.”

Amie Latona, Modern Apprentice in Plumbing

What can you do to promote women in STEM?

If you have just ‘found’ Ada, remember her and all the other women who have contributed to major developments in science, technology and engineering over the last 200 years. Use the resources referred to in this blog post to share information about what women have achieved in science, technology and engineering, despite the odds stacked against them. Join us in challenging gender stereotypes in career and learning choices in areas like STEM.

Follow Ayrshire College on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and check the News section of our website regularly. And, for more information about Ada Lovelace Day visit the Finding Ada website.