Tackling gender segregation in the Modern Apprenticeship programme

Alyson Laird is a PhD research student at Glasgow Caledonian University. She works within the WiSE Research Centre which seeks to promote and make visible women’s contribution to Scotland’s economy. Her PhD research focuses on gender segregation in the Modern Apprenticeship programme in Scotland.

Alyson visited our Kilwinning Campus recently to have a chat about our approach to tackling gender imbalance in courses and apprenticeships. We invited Alyson to share the aims of her research with us in our blog.


I haven’t always been passionate about gender equality and feminism, but an inspiring lecturer at GCU encouraged me to think differently about the economy and society we live in. Since then, I have had a desire to be part of the change needed to tackle inequalities in our society, specifically gender inequalities.

My research focuses around the Modern Apprenticeship programme, and more specifically the gender segregation which exists within the programme. Gender segregation is where women and men are more likely to be found in jobs stereotypically associated with their gender. For example, less than 2% of those participating in construction and related apprenticeship frameworks are women – that’s only 77 out of over 5,000 participants! My research asks why this is the case and what is being done to change it.

Is it a problem?

This is a question I hear often. Maybe girls just want to work in childcare and hairdressing and boys want to work on building sites and shipyards? These are statements I hear when I discuss my research with people who aren’t aware of the extent of the problem.

Yes, it is a problem.

It’s a problem because the youngest members of our society are taught from a very early age that there are jobs for girls and jobs for boys. Arguably, things are changing – schools, for instance, are making massive changes in this area. You only have to watch kids’ TV for an afternoon or go into a toy shop to notice that gender stereotyping is everywhere. Girls play with dolls and dress up as princesses. Boys play with Lego and pretend to be superheroes. The world around children at the earliest ages can have an impact on the careers they decide to embark on later on.

It’s a problem because we have a gender pay gap, a situation where women in society are being paid less than men in society and much of this is to do with women and men being in jobs stereotypically associated with their gender. The jobs which women are most visible in are those which typically offer lower pay and are often under-valued in our society. Think of the important work that social care workers do? Why are they not being paid a better wage for the job they do, a job that requires a unique set of skills and recognised qualifications?

I don’t think it is just a case of girls wanting to do stereotypical women’s jobs and boys wanting to do stereotypical men’s jobs. I think there are structural and cultural constraints which influence the choices young people make, and hinder accessibility to certain sectors. And I think the Modern Apprenticeship programme has a massive role to play in helping to eliminate existing stereotypes.

What will I do?

There are over 25,000 young people starting apprenticeships every year in Scotland. The most popular apprenticeships are those within Construction & Related frameworks and those within Health & Social Care frameworks. These occupational groups are also the most gender segregated.

My research is looking at both – challenging what is being done to get more women into construction and addressing the low esteem within health & social care frameworks. I am doing this by firstly talking to as many stakeholders as possible. So, I am speaking to places like Ayrshire College who have been proactive in engaging with both sides of the issue through events like ThisAyrshireGirlCan and ThisManCares. The contribution from stakeholders is valuable, it allows me to explore what is going on in the Modern Apprenticeship programme and enhances my understanding of who does what in terms of funding and recruitment for example.

Secondly, I will chat with Modern Apprentices themselves – firstly through a survey and then through interviews. It is important that the voice of apprentices themselves comes through strongly within this research. The story the apprentices tell about their journey to do a Modern Apprenticeship, who influenced them, what challenges they faced, why they chose that particular route, is one of the most important parts of my research. It tells the real story of what’s going on and how things could be improved from people who have lived the experience.

Finally, I will engage with employers, asking them what they are doing to support apprentices and how they can play a role in improving gender equality within the programme.

Why am I doing this?

Because I want to see change.

The changes happening are too slow, the figures over the last ten years have hardly changed. I wonder why with all the efforts to make young people aware of what’s out there and with all the events which take place to encourage non-traditional careers, what has been missed? Hopefully my research will start to try and answer this question and I can help contribute to positive change for women in our society.

If you would like more information about my research please contact me at:

Alyson.Laird@gcu.ac.uk or follow my Twitter feed @AlysonLaird

 

 

Meet the Apprentice – Eva Mackie, EGGER (UK) Limited, Barony Plant

To celebrate Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2017, we are introducing a number of students who are at various stages of their apprenticeships.

Last up this week, we have Eva Mackie from EGGER (UK) Limited.


2.JPGEva was a dental nurse for four years before becoming an Environmental Laboratory Technician Apprentice with EGGER (UK) Limited at the Barony plant in Auchinleck, Ayrshire.

She began her apprenticeship in August 2016 and is delighted to have made the decision to change career paths when she did.

Eva, 22, said: “I just fancied a total change. I was bored, I didn’t like my job anymore and when I saw this opportunity I thought ‘I like the sound of that’.

“After my first day here, I remember going home and thinking to myself ‘oh no, what have I done’. From the second day onwards, however, that completely changed.  I’ve learned so much and would definitely recommend an apprenticeship to anyone.”

EGGER (UK) Limited’s, Barony plant is a modern, hi-tech chipboard plant which employs over 115 people.

The company has a well-developed apprenticeship scheme, and recruits mechanical and electrical apprentices annually.  However, this is the first time they have employed a laboratory apprentice.

Eva said; “Everyone on the site knows that I’m the first apprentice in the lab, so they always go out of their way to help me. I can ask anybody anything.

“My job involves testing the different surfaces, which I test for moistures, densities and sieves. We get samples every day from the water outlet at the front of the factory, which we are testing for ammonium, formaldehyde, COD and phosphate. We run these tests to ensure we are within the regulations with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

“I see this as a long term career with a stable and sustainable company. There are plenty of opportunities to develop, gain extra training and progress my career.”

Eva is supervised by Wendy Cumming, Quality and Environmental Controller, who Eva calls “a massive help”.

Wendy said; “Eva is a breath of fresh air who is keen and quick at learning, which is important in this job as no two days are ever the same. It’s good to see another female in the production area too.

“Apprenticeships are very important. This is the first year we have had a lab apprentice and it is great to see the Barony apprenticeship scheme developing. In order to support succession planning we need the apprentices of today to undertake our specialist roles of tomorrow, to be more diverse and ultimately they are the future of EGGER.”

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.

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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.


 

10 reasons why you should study Engineering

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1. Solve problems. Engineers encounter a number of complex problems in their daily role, and they are tasked with finding the solutions. Studying engineering will allow you to become the person who designs and builds machines and structures to the best specifications possible.

2. Get your creative juices flowing! Solving these problems relies on a creative mind. Often you will need to think outside the box, so engineering is an excellent career for creative thinkers.

3. Work with talented people. Don’t worry though, you won’t have to fix it all yourself! Engineers often work in teams with like-minded creative thinkers.

4. Make a difference. Solving these solutions often allows cost-effective machines and structures to be created and maintained which benefit communities. You could make a real difference becoming an engineer.

5. It’s a hands-on job. An engineer’s working environment is definitely not like an office job. The job itself involves a lot of practical work as engineers design and build things.

6. You can earn decent money. If you are looking for a career that pays well, then engineering is definitely for you. There are many engineering roles out there that pay handsomely!

7. Opportunities to advance. There are plenty of opportunities available out there to climb the engineering career ladder, too.

8. You can travel the world. High quality engineers are always in demand. An engineer’s skills can be utilised all over the world, so you would have no problems finding a job overseas, if that’s your preference.

9. You can earn as you learn. Over 800 apprentices were trained at Ayrshire College in 2014/15, the latest figures available. Why not become one of them and combine your work with studying?

10. Enjoy your work. Engineers absolutely the work they do. Don’t believe us? Then hear directly from our students, who have spoken about their time working as apprentices in GSK, Prestwick Aircraft Maintenance, Spirit Aerosystems, and Woodward.

10 reasons why you should study Construction

 1. The job market is strong. This is a fantastic time to join the construction industry as there is currently a shortage of skilled workers. There is expected to be more vacancies over the coming years, too.

2. New houses are in demand. There is also an increased demand for new build homes. The number of new houses built in recent years has risen dramatically and that won’t slow down any time soon.

3. You can earn as you learn. Over 800 apprentices were trained at Ayrshire College in 2014/15, the latest figures available. Why not become one of them and combine your work with studying?

4. You can earn decent money. The salaries on offer in the construction industry are quite lucrative – particularly once you finish an apprentice, and especially if you…

5. Work your way up. The construction industry provides ample opportunity to progress up the career ladder, if you choose to.

6. Be your own boss. Many construction workers have decided instead to set up their own business. If you’re confident enough to take on the challenge and manage your own workload, then the potential rewards are endless.

7. It’s a fulfilling career. Imagine working on the new £53m Ayrshire College campus in Kilmarnock. Or the new Mangum Leisure Centre opening in Irvine. These buildings will be around for decades, perhaps hundreds of years, and you’ll be able to say ‘I helped create that’.

8. It’s a hands-on job. Speak to someone in construction about their job and they’ll often say they just could not work in an office. This industry is perfect with someone who likes to be on the move and get their hands dirty.

9. You won’t get bored. Working in construction involves working indoors, outdoors, with your hands, with tools, on the ground, high up…I think you get the idea: there is so much variety within the construction industry.

10. You’re able to travel. You won’t be confined to just one place in this job. The skills you will pick up allow you to travel absolutely anywhere in the world.


Find out everything you need to know about our Bricklaying courses by watching this short film, featuring our lecturer Billy Hutchison. Ready to apply? Click here to view our Construction courses on offer for 2016/17.

Jen is our champion!

Jen WilsonHNC Mechanical Engineering student Jennifer Wilson was recently appointed as the Interconnect Scotland Student Champion for Ayrshire College.

Interconnect Scotland is a network for women studying science, engineering, technology (STEM) and the built environment across Scotland. It encourages students to set up their own networks at their college or university.

Interconnect Student Champions are ambassadors for STEM within their college or university, and promote Interconnect activities locally.

Ayrshire Connects is Ayrshire College’s network for female STEM students and it was launched by senior NASA manager Sarah Murray on 13 June 2016. Ayrshire Connects will connect female students studying STEM, construction and trades courses across the College with each other, with students in other colleges and universities, and with inspiring women in industry.

In this article, Jen talks about what motivated her to study engineering and her new role as Interconnect Student Champion.


My interest stems from school

My interest in STEM subjects started when I was a pupil at James Hamilton Academy in Kilmarnock. I leaned towards technical subjects like Graphic Communications and Woodwork; as well as creative subjects like Photography and Art and Design. I am naturally quite a curious person and enjoy finding out how things work. Design and technology are such a huge part of everyday life now from the technology we carry, to how we travel and create entertainment. Studying these subjects made school a very enjoyable experience for me.

I had a fantastic teacher at school who encouraged me to do my best and I left school with three Highers and two Advanced Highers. When it came to choosing a career path, I looked at teaching as the route I wanted to pursue. I started with a Classroom Assistant course and progressed onto HNC Childcare. However, I soon figured out that this wasn’t the course for me and decided to change direction.

After that, I didn’t know what to do. I became the carer for my grandmother for two years, followed by a period of working for William Hill. After a bad day at work I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to do and decided to find a new career path.

Accessing a STEM career

By this point I felt I had been out of education for quite a long time and wanted to take my time getting back into it. I didn’t have the same confidence in myself about studying and needed time to get back into the student mind set and lifestyle. I thought about my interests in technical subjects and decided to take an Access to STEM course at Ayrshire College.

I knew what to expect at college because I had already been in that environment. However, this time was so much better as I felt I was pursuing the right option for me. I had a fantastic class which made going to college a great experience. My class was evenly split with four boys and four girls who were all as interested in the subjects as me, which meant the atmosphere was great in the classroom.

On the Access to STEM course I studied Science, Maths, Chemistry, Physics and English most of which I hadn’t really studied much of before. I would have really enjoyed some work experience and guest speakers during the course, which is now something I am very passionate about making sure others experience. Indeed it is one of the reasons I decided to apply to be the Interconnect Student Champion.

The new me!

So far from my time at College I have increased my confidence, made new friends, narrowed down what I want to do as a career path and eased myself into the student lifestyle. This year I will be studying HNC Mechanical Engineering at and have deferred entry for next year for the University of Glasgow to study Product Design.

We are the champions

I applied to become an Interconnect Scotland Student Champion after attending the launch night of Ayrshire Connects, the College’s new network for female STEM and construction students. After completing an application form, I was invited to an interview over Skype. I was asked to discuss all the things I would do to get the word out about joining Ayrshire Connects and what kind of events I would like to organise to raise awareness of STEM careers for women.

I am very excited to start my new role as Interconnect Student Champion along with my studies this year. I have a huge amount of passion for STEM and want to make a difference for women in STEM. There is, even in 2016, a very low percentage of women who take STEM subjects at school, college and university or work in STEM industries. It can feel very isolating studying technical subjects at school or college with mostly male students. It’s not necessarily the number of men and women in your class, it’s the knowledge that the industry as a whole is male dominated. I want to be able to bring women together to reduce the feeling of being alone in a course or workplace. I want to get them talking about what we can do to make things better for working in these industries and how we can go about getting more women into STEM.

My first gig

I am looking forward to attending the Scottish Funding Council Gender Action Plan conference in August, where I will have the opportunity to hear from the Scottish Government’s Minister for Employability and Training, James Hepburn MSP. I am sharing the platform with our Vice Principal Jackie Galbraith who is speaking about the College’s approach to taking gender out of the equation. It will also be great to hear from City of Glasgow College about their women-only HNC Mechanical Engineering course they delivered last year to find out how effective this has been.

I’m also really excited about promoting Ayrshire Connects to new students at the Freshers’ Fairs on the College’s three campuses in September.

An exciting future

My future plans are expanding everyday now that I feel I have found what I’m good at and what I want to do with my life. One of the maths lecturers at Ayrshire College, Alan Carpenter, really inspired me to go out and get what I want in my career. He took the time to listen to me and get to know my learning style. It’s amazing how easy and fun maths can be when you get to play games and have the maths related to everyday life. I think in the future I would like to be an Engineering Lecturer and inspire others as much as Alan has done for his students. I want to make a difference!

Want to know more?

Interconnect Scotland: http://www.equatescotland.org.uk/interconnect/interconnect-student-network

Ayrshire Connects: http://www1.ayrshire.ac.uk/students/ayrshire-connects/

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Mission Discovery was out of this world

The space dust has now settled on Ayrshire’s first ever Mission Discovery programme and what an event it was.

200 Ayrshire secondary school pupils and college students came together for the week-long space school, where they worked in teams to create space experiments.

Under the guidance of the International Space School Educational Trust (ISSET) team that included former NASA astronaut Michael Foale CBE, they challenged themselves to think creatively and work as part of a cohesive team.

Using our social media content from across the week, here’s a round-up of exactly what happened at Mission Discovery Ayrshire 2016.


Monday

With our teams in place and mentors briefed, ISSET Director Chris Barber got the show on the road at our Ayr campus!

The Mission Discovery Ayrshire participants were split into 24 teams and their first mission was to come up with team names.

We then had the first sighting of our astronaut! Michael Foale CBE, a recently retired veteran of six Space Shuttle missions and extended missions on both Mir and the International Space Station, spoke to the teams about his journeys into space and the importance of communicating with every member of the team.

Monday 3

Suitably inspired, the teams then got to work on designing a ‘Mission Patch’ to go with their team name. A Mission Patch is a symbol that represents a space team and is an integral part of any space mission.

The Ayrshire College Foundation had tasked primary schools across Ayrshire to design the Mission Patch for Mission Discovery Ayrshire 2016, with Mauchline Primary School’s Kaitlyn Lodge designing the pick of the bunch.

Sarah Murray, NASA’s Assistant Chief of EVA, Robotics & Crew Systems, then gave her first presentation to the group on the importance of teamwork and making sure everyone in the team has their voice heard.

In the afternoon the teams were told they would take part in an experiment called ‘The Mars Lander’. This involved using different objects to safely transport an egg from the top of the Riverside Building of the Ayr campus to the ground. Safely of course meaning that the egg was not to smash.

The groups were given an egg, a balloon, one sheet of A4 paper, a pair of scissor and a ruler to make their Mars lander. They could buy further materials but the winners would be the team who spent the least amount of dollars to land their egg, so they couldn’t be reckless.

After creating their Mars landers, there was only one thing left to do. Throw them off the top of a building.

To finish off the day, the teams were shown actual footage of Michael’s time in space as he talked about what makes a great space experiment.

Tuesday

Day two began with a glimpse into how Michael became an astronaut, featuring tales of living in Russia, meeting President Bill Clinton and how to have fun in space.

After hearing about Michael’s time on board the Russian Mir Space Station when an unmanned supply vessel crashed into it – described this week as the ‘worst collision in the history of space flight’ by the BBC – the groups were tasked with writing a short story about the experience.

Tuesday 3

After a few selfies with their new hero Michael Foale, the teams then heard from Dr Julie Keeble, ISSET’s Chief Scientist, who explained the criteria for experiments at the Space Station.

The teams got to work on formulating their experiment ideas – with the assistance of Michael, Julie and Sarah – before hearing Professor Steve Harridge’s presentation on an astronaut’s muscles in space, via Skype.

Wednesday

Halfway through the week now and the teams were hearing all about the International Space Station, where the winning experiment from this week would be carried out by real astronauts. Michael provided the guided tour as he explained where everything was stored, where the astronauts worked out and even how they slept in space. This was followed by a Q&A, surprisingly featuring plenty of questions about going to the toilet in space…

Wednesday 1

At this stage, most of the teams had proposed two or three ideas each, and this was the day that the teams decided on which of their ideas they would be pitching at the end of the week.

After working on their experiments for a while, the teams took part in the Skittles Challenge.

Wednesday 2

This experiment proved the importance that the sense of smell has on taste. Most people were unable to guess which colour of skittle they had in their mouth when they had their eyes shut and their nose pinched. Within a split second of breathing in through their nose though, everyone knew which flavour they had.

A couple of team members who guessed correctly when at their tables were invited to do it again in front of everyone – unfortunately both participants were incorrect when the pressure was on!

Wednesday 3

To conclude the day, the teams broke up into classrooms for the first time to really get to work on their experiments, before joining back together for a showing of One Direction’s Drag Me Down video. Why? Because it was filmed at the Johnson Space Center!

Thursday

The final day before the presentations. But before they all went off to their classrooms, Ayrshire College’s Developing the Young Workforce Project Lead, Kirsty Taylor, spoke to the groups about Foundation Apprenticeships.

A Foundation Apprenticeship is for S5 pupils and gives them the opportunity to learn both at college and in the workplace to achieve an industry recognised vocational qualification alongside their other school subjects.

Thursday 1

Michael then delivered his final presentation – Earth from Space!

Thursday 2

The main part of the day was taken up by working on their experiments. They weren’t completely left to their own devices though – they could ask Michael, Julie or Sarah a question if they were stuck.

Friday

Finally, we were at presentation day.

Teams were divided into rooms where two judges would hear their initial presentations. Once each team had delivered their idea within the 8 minute time limit, the judges deliberating over which six would make it to the final stage.

Team 2 (with their experiment ‘Nanoparticles’), Team 3 (‘Enzyme reaction experiment’), Team 10 (‘Foam to treat internal bleeding’), Team 14 (‘The speed of slime mould on different materials), Team 19 (‘Flatworm freefall’), and Team 23 (‘Investigating Krill in space’) were announced as the finalists.

The final stage involved delivering their presentations in front of the judges again, but also the 23 other teams at Mission Discovery Ayrshire.

Team 10 got us underway, while Team 14 finished.

And it turned out to be a case of saving the best until last as Team 14, made up of James Abbott, Pip Abramson, Laura Borthwick, Dylan Goldie, Robyn McMahon, Jas McNee, Lynne Mitchell, Ania Myskowska, triumphed!

Friday 3

Their idea will go to the International Space Station within the next year.

In a final treat before the Mission Discovery Ayrshire participants finished for the week, another Skype call was made – this time to Jay Honeycutt, the former Director of the Kennedy Space Centre! Jay had been involved in the Moon landing, so obviously the students were keen to ask him questions about that.

Friday 4

After final presentations were made to the mentors who had helped out across the week and to the primary school pupils who had won the design competitions – that was that! Mission Discovery Ayrshire 2016 was over, with ISSET’s Chris Barber declaring it one of the best programmes they have ever been involved in!

Friday 5

 

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Space women connect with Ayrshire female STEM students

For National Women in Engineering Day 2016, we are delighted to share the thoughts of three leading women in science and engineering who spent all of last week at Ayrshire College with 200 school pupils and students on the International Space School Educational Trust’s (ISSET) Mission Discovery Programme.

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Sarah Murray is Assistant Division Chief of EVA, Robotic and Crew Systems at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). On Monday 13 June, Sarah was the keynote speaker at the launch of Ayrshire Connects – a mentoring network for female STEM students across the college to connect to each other, to students in other colleges and universities, to employers and women in the industry sectors they aspire to enter, and to senior pupils in secondary schools across Ayrshire.

Here’s what Sarah and her colleagues had to say about women in science, technology, engineering and maths.


Sarah Murray, NASA’s Assistant Division Chief of EVA, Robotic and Crew Systems, speaking at the launch of Ayrshire Connects

It was my love of math that sparked the initial interest in electrical engineering for me. When I looked for something to study, the main thing I looked at was ‘where can I use my math?’ And electrical engineering was a great choice.

I am absolutely impressed by how Ayrshire College is engaging with young females into STEM. Especially when looking at the statistics that were shown of the small percentage of women in mathematics, technology and engineering.

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I thought it was a great idea to bring these young women together so they can network and hear my story. If they got something out of it – and it seems like they did – then I’m really glad I was able to inspire them. This is a great venue for an event like this.

If they could take just one thing from my talk it would be: know what your goals are and no matter what bumps you hit in the road, just get over them and keep pushing. You need support, determination, and perseverance to reach your goals. You’re always going to run into obstacles so whether you go over them, under them, or through them, don’t let them deter you.


Rhonda Foale, who worked at NASA for eight years, speaking during Mission Discovery 

I remember Neil Armstrong walking on the moon on my 11th birthday. That was really exciting.

I was really interested in Geology and the University of Houston had Space Geology, which I thought was fascinating. So, when the Space Science programme became known to me I was thrilled about that.

I worked for NASA for eight years in the Remote Manipulator System section. The arm was physically connected to the Space Shuttle and it would be used to lift things out of the cargo bay and then deploy them into space. I worked space missions in Mission Control and I also worked with the Canadians for a visual system that would help the astronauts use the arm to put the Space Station together. I enjoyed NASA very much. NASA has a great, almost family like atmosphere to work in.

I’ve also worked in the oil industry, which was definitely male dominated. It’s really good to just do your best, you don’t want them to treat you differently – you just want them to treat you professionally. Do your job really well. A woman is perfectly capable of doing these jobs. NASA, being a government agency, automatically want to set a good example, so they seek out women and minorities. It’s very fulfilling working on teams towards really interesting goals. Women can do it and it’s very rewarding.

My advice to young women would be to at least consider science and engineering. Because there are fascinating things you can do that can allow you to have a really fulfilling career in many fields. Come to a space school and get a great experience, learn to work in teams and give presentations. It’s something that you can try and be amazed by how much you like it.

I’ve been working loosely with Scottish space schools for about 15 years, and I’ve seen students get really enthusiastic and say “I never even considered this before, I didn’t realise and now I’m so glad I came to this because now I see all of these opportunities that are open to me”. We hear from these students after a year and they’ve just really blossomed and love what they’re doing.


Julie Keeble, Chief Scientist with ISSET, speaking at the launch of Ayrshire Connects

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First of all, I’d like to say this is probably the best Women in STEM event that I’ve been to during my career!

Having someone like Sarah Murray – who’s so inspirational to me (and I’ve been working in space for a while) – there’s no doubt that the students would have got something from it in what you can do if you believe in yourself and you keep on trying. If you don’t give up, and go through every door that opens, try your hardest in any position you do regardless of the tasks, you will get somewhere.

Last week one day I was part of a team scooping eggs off the floor, another week I’m sending experiments to the International Space Station. Working as a team means doing every part of that job that helps the team as a whole – regardless of what level the job is. People notice that you work hard and you never know where that will take you.

Events like Mission Discovery are excellent for young women. These events were not available to me when I was younger and so my career options were very narrow as a result of that – I had to get to university before I knew which options were available. To have young people from schools and Ayrshire College being able to see what is possible is brilliant. It shouldn’t be that you have to wait until you’re in your 20’s before you realise what you want to do. These events help you determine that at an earlier age and then you can look forward to having those aspirations.

The ISSET Mission Discovery programme encourages students to believe in their dreams, to work in their teams and believe that anything is possible. At the end of this week’s Mission Discovery – one of these teams will be having their experiment sent up to the International Space Station. You can’t beat that. What I say to winning students is – when you apply to university and apply for jobs, when they see on your CV that you’ve sent an experiment to the International Space Station – you’re going to get an interview!

Mission Discovery changes lives, regardless of whether the students taking part win the final prize or not. Everyone who enters the programme is a winner because they change over the week. They get team building skills, they increase their confidence, and we have different pupils on Friday to the ones who came on Monday. I still get inspired by Mission Discovery programme, and I’ve done several of the programmes, but it never fails to make me feel like we’re changing lives.


If you would like to find out more about Ayrshire Connects please contact Jackie Galbraith at jackie.galbraith@ayrshire.ac.uk

Raising the profile of our female engineering apprentices

Ayrshire College supports over 800 apprentices each year, mainly in the STEM sectors of engineering, automotive and construction. National Women in Engineering Day is on Thursday 23 June with a theme of raising profiles. In this blog post we highlight some of our female engineering apprentices.

Raising the profiles of women in traditionally male-dominated occupations is very important in helping young girls imagine themselves in those roles. The following film captures how, early on in their education, children already define career opportunities as male and female.

Probably the best way for young women to decide if a career in engineering is the right one for them is to hear from other young women who have made that choice and are building careers in the sector. Click on the photos below to meet some of our science, technology, engineering and construction students.

Want more? Watch these short films.

Abbie Robb, Prestwick Aircraft Maintenance Ltd 

Anna Manson, Spirit Aerosystems

Kirsty Harvey, Woodward Inc.

Chloe Grieg, GlaxoSmithKline

Tammy Niven, GlaxoSmithKline

Megan Forrest, Hyspec Engineering


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Do we give girls a real choice?

Talat Yaqoob is Director of Equate Scotland, the national expert on women in science, engineering, technology and the built environment. Equate Scotland’s team works with colleges, universities, employers, women and girls to increase the number of women studying and working in STEM.

As we approach National Women in Engineering Day 2016, Talat asks ‘do we give girls a real choice?’


For a number of years now, Scotland has prioritised increasing the number of women in science, engineering, technology and the built environment. This is for two reasons; firstly because we have a huge skills shortage in Scotland. By 2020 we need 140,000 more engineers, if we do not engage some of the 51% of the population who are women, that is a target we will never meet. Secondly, because it is the economically sensible thing to do. Scotland’s economy is growing but it is growing in the STEM industries the most, to capitalise on this, of course we will need more women. The Royal College of Edinburgh estimates that an equal number of women in the STEM industry is worth around £71 million to the Scottish economy.

So for all those reasons, our work is vital. But I often still get asked, if girls are not interested – why are you pushing them into STEM? Maybe they simply choose to do other subjects? The reality of course is a problem with the word “choice”.

From birth we stereotype children. Think of the aisles in a toy shop or children’s clothing shop – what do you notice? Rows dedicated to “boy things” and rows dedicated to “girl things”. The boys’ things will be blue, will involve physical activity and often some form of construction or cars. The girls’ things will be pink, will be about caring, cooking or appearance and will not be as intellectually stimulating. Is that real choice? If a girl sees a science kit she is interested in, but the packaging has a boy on it and phrases like “rocket making – the sky is the limit for boys” (that is real, by the way) would that girl look at it and purchase it despite its stereotyping? Or internalise it and think that the toy is not for her?

Later in life, as young women and men make subject choices these stereotypes remain as key influencers over them. Girls have grown up thinking science and maths are too tough for them, and boys have grown up thinking arts or home economics is not right for them. This thinking is of course wrong but, when those are the messages you have had from birth, it is a lot to expect a 15 year old young person to defy them. Last year, 76% of the students taking SCQF 6-7 in physics were boys, 82% of computing at the level were boys and 64% of pupils in product design were boys. At this point the “choice” has already been restricted for what girls can move into at college and university level. What we do see, however, is that for the small number of girls who take these subjects they outperform boys academically – busting the age old myth that science or maths is too tough for girls.

When making career “choices” women students, regardless of having excelled in the needed subjects, are still channelled into sciences which have a higher intake of women already; life science, biology, veterinary science and medicine. Engineering, chemistry, physic, computing and built environment are rarely promoted to them.

So back to the original question; maybe girls simply choose to do other subjects?

We can clearly see that they are making a decision from a restricted number of choices – can we truly call this choice at all? It is not a natural occurrence that only 24% of 16 year old girls take physics. If we were to remove institutionalised attitudes, this would be much closer to 50%. Our job is to re-think these attitudes and not push girls into STEM subjects, but rather give them a real and diverse choice in the first place, choices which include all options, whether childcare or chemistry.

We owe it to girls with an interest and ambition to pursue STEM and we owe it to the future of Scotland’s economy to give girls a real choice.

Thursday is National Women in Engineering Day and, whilst we celebrate the girls and women pursuing engineering, we need to highlight the hundreds more who could be pursuing it had we given them engineering as an option from the start.

Ayrshire College has taken the issue of Women in STEM seriously and I am very excited that Equate Scotland will be working closely with the college. The recent #ThisAyrshireGirlCan campaign has been a source of inspiration for many, and I know that it will have switched on a light for many girls who thought science and engineering wasn’t for them. Every time we switch on that light, we erase outdated stereotypes a little more and open up the world of STEM to the talents and creativity of women across Scotland.