Meet the Ayr 2018 graduation prizewinners

In the lead-up to the Ayr Campus graduation we will unveil our graduation prizewinners.  At the Ayr graduation, there are 15 recipients in total.

Read why these students deserve special recognition.  Next up is Student of the Year for Engineering and Science, Nicola Jane MacDonald, HNC Electrical Engineering.

Nicola MacD_Instagram Post

“I’d always enjoyed maths and physics at school but at 17, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do as a career. After school, I chose to go on to do nursing, but after two years, I realised it wasn’t for me. Five years later I decided it was time for a change. Engineering seemed fitting as it combined both maths and problem solving. My Dad is an Electronic Engineer – maybe that’s where I get it from!

I knew before going into the course that there wouldn’t be many female students in the Electrical Engineering class.  I was one of only two women in the class, but I wouldn’t say I saw that as a concern. The percentage of women in STEM related careers is on the rise which is great and I never felt out of place.

Within the course we learned a multitude of electrical engineering topics.  Also, learning how advanced maths and physics formulae fit into real life engineering scenarios was really interesting. Andy, our lecturer, was fantastic. I’ve never met anyone as good at maths and he had a great method of teaching.

I was really surprised when I found out I had won this award. I was with my Mum at the time and she was over the moon. It’s an achievement I’m really proud of.

This award gives me an incentive to continue to work hard going forward and focus on my future. I’ll be sure to add it to my personal statement when applying for university too.

I am continuing my studies with Ayrshire College to complete the HND Electrical Engineering.  After the HND there is a direct entry into third year at Glasgow Caledonian University where I hope to finish my studies with a degree. After that I would love to be accepted onto a graduate program with a large company.”


Girls with Grit – Sharon Driver, GSD Project Management 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.

My name is Sharon Driver, Founder and Director of GSD Project Management Ltd.

My career in manufacturing began way back in 1988 in Irvine, Ayrshire and has taken me all over the world including my favourite job EVER as operations director in an aerospace structures factory in New York.


I come from Kilbirnie in North Ayrshire, and studied at Clydebank College and Glasgow Caledonian University on day release while working full time.

My career path, education and experience ultimately led to developing the skills and experience to set up my own company to do more of what I enjoy most:  Strategic Planning, Project Management, Process/Systems Re-engineering, Troubleshooting and generally GSD-ing … Getting Stuff Done!

I started working in manufacturing when I was 19 in Hyster in Irvine – a forklift truck manufacturer. At the time, I didn’t realise it would lead to a long career that I love, but as soon as I saw finished product roll off the end of a production line I was hooked.

There’s a buzz in manufacturing and in process engineering that has stayed with me over the years from my first job as a warranty claim administrator/translator in Hyster in Irvine to being operations director of Triumph Structures Long Island, an aerospace company in New York which manufactures internal structures for commercial and military aeroplanes and helicopters.

After 10 years in Hyster of exciting challenges, skills development and incredibly hard work, I moved onto a whole new set of global opportunities with British Aerospace at Prestwick Airport.

I moved to British Aerospace at a time of significant change in UK manufacturing where operations were being outsourced to low cost suppliers in the USA and mainland Europe. As disappointing as it was to see so much skilled work leave Scotland, this opened up a new opportunity for global travel, not just for senior management but for manufacturing engineers, process engineers, machine operators, treatment operators, painters and inspectors as we passed on invaluable skills to companies all over the world.

My Career Path

I’d like to say I had a vision for my career path but, in reality, my enthusiasm for the industry and the buzz of seeing a finished product take shape resulted in me applying for positions where I could influence processes and systems to improve efficiency and output and to develop myself and the teams that I worked with.

The end to end manufacturing process is fascinating and includes so much more than raw materials and machinery. I was keen to understand as much as I could about the process from design to build to distribution and all the stages in between.

For me, ambition wasn’t my driving force for promotion it was, and still is, influencing systems, processes and conditions for continuous improvement.

College and University

 I had considered applying for language and literature degrees at university after my Highers at Garnock Academy in Kilbirnie but didn’t have a clear vision on where that might take me, so I decided to take a year out and get a job instead while I figured it out. That turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

My hard work and enthusiasm was recognised and Hyster sponsored me through college where I studied Operations Management on day release while working full time as a materials team leader scheduling thousands of individual components from 700 global suppliers.

British Aerospace sponsored me through university where I studied for my Masters in Business Administration which gave me the skills to understand how the whole business works not just the manufacturing element.

The best part of these courses and qualifications for me was being able to integrate what I learned with what I already knew.

This method of applied learning really lends itself to my own style of learning. It’s a great way to build the foundations of your skill set not just on how to apply it but on when to apply it for best benefit!


Although I experienced the gender pay gap early in my career, I’ve never felt disadvantaged from the perspective of capability or opportunity during my career. If you want it, make it happen. The only true limits on a career that meets your capabilities are those you put on yourself.

I started in the industry in 1988 and what is now known as the gender pay gap certainly existed back then along with a perception of traditional gender job roles. Salary structures existed back then which allowed people doing the same role to be paid at different points in the scale which often grew the gap.

So I learned to speak up. I learned to respectfully fight my corner and the corner of others with quantifiable FACTS. Skills, potential and enthusiasm are a powerful combination for any employer and if you can channel all of that into performance against objectives, the statistics speak for themselves.

Career Secrets or Tips?

There are no secrets to my career – it’s counter-productive to keep enthusiasm, hard work and common sense a secret.

I’ve been lucky to stumble into a job that I then turned into a career that I love. The old saying goes “if you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”

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



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.