The week-long programme captured the imagination and promoted STEM careers in a fun and engaging way – and our Engineers Week events featured on BBC Radio Ulster and in the local print media, writes head of technology Clare Doherty

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This year at St Mary’s College, Northland Road, Co Derry, our Engineers Week events surpassed all expectations, writes Clare Doherty, head of technology at the school.

Close to 1,000 primary school students, 1,500 secondary school students, 35 visiting engineers, 20 employers and five third-level course providers attended St Mary’s College for what has become an annual event.

The week-long programme captured the imagination and promoted STEM careers in a fun and engaging way, and our Engineers Week events featured on BBC Radio Ulster and in the local print media.

We also promoted the event via social media on Twitter/Instagram @stmarysderryTD as well as on our school website, Facebook and other social media accounts.

Gavin Molloy, teacher, St Mary’s College, pictured welcoming past pupils to Engineers Week at the school. From left are Emily Crawley, Lauren Doherty, Saoirse Nash, Demi McMonagle, Claire McGonigle and Hayley McCready.

The inaugural Engineers Week at St Mary’s College occurred in 2012, and was in response to the launch of the Northern Ireland Executive STEM strategy 2011 which recognised that “STEM enrolment was creating a potential shortfall in the supply of those with STEM qualifications at various levels required for the growth economy”.

Employers’ concerns


At St Mary’s College we have many students talented in STEM subjects, but local employers emphasised they had concerns that local people were under-qualified for a career in the STEM sector.

The continuing need for the event was to achieve our key aim of giving students at our all-girls school the opportunity to make informed subject option choices that would allow them to access these well-paid, readily available jobs both locally and further afield. This is a careers growth sector where females are currently under-represented.

Job opportunities


There is no doubt that our Engineers Week focus greatly increased awareness of STEM subjects – and the job opportunities they bring – among students, teachers and parents. Year 8 students are aware of the importance of STEM subjects and some of the many varied engineering careers on offer.

Key Stage 3 and 4 students are using their greater careers knowledge and input from local employers and partner organisations to make better informed subject choices, with a great awareness of the opportunities that STEM subjects offer.

Not just a ‘job for boys’


Final-year students have accessed university places based on up-to-date knowledge gained from local employers during the Engineers Week Careers Fair. Employers are keen to engage students at a young age and to change the attitude of young girls who, in the past, may have believed that engineering was a job ‘for boys’.

They opened up their working environment to our students and enabled visits to take place throughout the year. They also provided work experience for students, which gave them an invaluable insight into the world of engineering. One employer stated that females account for one per cent of its workforce in Northern Ireland compared with 30 per cent in the United States.

Over the past five years, during the course of Engineers Week, there has been a definite change in the attitude of students towards engineering. Employers throughout Northern Ireland and Co Donegal have been very supportive of our event in the belief that, together with the education sector, they can change attitudes.

In recent years we have welcomed back increasing numbers of past pupils who are now qualified engineers working in local companies. Students from earlier years are now in placements or enrolled on engineering/STEM related degree courses and apprenticeships – all of which is very encouraging.

Working with the wider business community


During Engineers Week  we work closely with the wider business community and Engineers Ireland. It is estimated that 65 per cent of today’s students will end up in jobs that have not been invented yet. This is a startling figure and central to the sustainability of our yearly STEM Engineers Week focus.

Preparing students for the challenges of tomorrow is central to our thinking at St Mary’s College, and the impact is felt throughout the year in the classrooms and the courses that students choose to study at GCSE, AS, A2, apprenticeship and degree level.

‘At St Mary’s College we have many students talented in STEM subjects, but local employers emphasised they had concerns that local people were under-qualified for a career in the STEM sector.’

Committed government strategy


Locally, the focus on STEM in school aligns with the local Derry and Strabane Council and government strategy. The Derry and Strabane Community Plan 2017-2032 refers to Engineering being a “significant employer in the region” and that “across the manufacturing and engineering sector the region is developing a world-class reputation”.

We are very proud that our past student Emma Smith is featured alongside advanced manufacturing and engineering information in our local community plan. This shows our students that engineering careers are equally relevant and suitable for women as they are for men.

Profiling past pupils who attended Engineers Week is central to the success of encouraging new students to follow in their footsteps – this year we invited back, among others, Laura McElhinney who is a final-year mechanical engineering student at Queen’s University, Belfast, and who was recognised as a Top 10 Female Undergraduate of the Year 2018, and Lauren Harkin, a 2018 Apprentice of the Year recipient at the Irish Print Awards.

Entrepreneurial Week spin-off


The success of our Engineers Week event encouraged our technology department to also run an Entrepreneurial Week as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, held in November and which promotes entrepreneurship pathways for our students.

We were delighted this was the springboard for our innovative and first-of-its-kind ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’ programme, launched in 2017 in collaboration with successful tech entrepreneur and angel investor Mary McKenna MBE.

Recognition and awards


The positive contribution of Engineers Week has been recognised in two UK awards: in June 2018 we were finalists in the Community Education Awards STEM Innovation, and in 2017 we travelled to the House of Lords as one of four finalists for the ‘Inspirational STEM Engagement’ category at the STEM Inspiration Awards, where BAE Systems scooped the main award.

The Inspirational Education of the Year 2016 Award was also a recognition of our work during Engineers Week. Local media and social media interest in our Engineers Week has encouraged others in the education sector – both locally and further afield – to contact our department looking for information and hoping to emulate our efforts.

Our advice to those wishing to get involved is: GO FOR IT!

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This year at St Mary’s College, Northland Road, Co Derry, our Engineers Week events surpassed all expectations, writes Clare Doherty, head of technology at the school. Close to 1,000 primary school students, 1,500 secondary school students, 35 visiting engineers, 20 employers and five third-level course providers attended St Mary’s College...