Melanie’s STEM Engagement journey after I’m an Engineer

Melanie is a graduate engineer at HSSMI and took part in I’m an Engineer last March. Here she talks about getting herself and her institute involved in more public engagement since the event.

If you’re an engineer who wants to catch the outreach bug, apply now for the next I’m an Engineer at:

In March last year, I participated in my first STEM outreach activity ever – I was one of five engineers in the Robotics Zone of I’m an Engineer. Since then quite a lot happened on the STEM outreach activities end!

As suggested by the I’m an Engineer team, I registered as a STEM Ambassador after the I’m an Engineer event. As a STEM Ambassador you can get involved in a lot of different activities to inspire children to pursue a career in STEM. These activities can range from giving talks at schools or careers fairs to doing networking events to supporting STEM projects in the classroom. There is a database with activities ambassadors can use or we bring forward ideas ourselves. Every STEM Ambassador is provided with a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check, which is required for volunteering in a Child Workforce.

Melanie Zimmer public engagement 3

Merton Park Primary School visit me at HSSMI

One great thing that happened after the I’m an Engineer event was a visit to Merton Park Primary School and their Code Club. Merton Park was one of the schools we engineers could engage with during the March edition. During the visit, a colleague of mine and I did some hands-on activities with the students using the LEAP Motion and the augmented reality (AR) app Chromville, which we then linked back to the work we do. We also spent some time with their Code Club, where we learned about the very interesting smart bin designs that the children had come up with!

melanie zimmer public engagement 4

Nicola, teacher at Merton Park Primary, talks about what the students get from the experience.

Recently, we organised a visit for the students to our workplace, HSSMI. We got more colleagues involved to show a greater variety of engineers and their backgrounds. Activities we did that day included an engineering quiz, topics around AR and gaming as well as virtual reality (VR). The students even got a chance to hear about life at university from a representative from Loughborough University.

The newest activity I’m involved with is signing up to be a mentor on CyberMentor. CyberMentor is Germany’s largest online mentoring programme for girls in STEM and was started in 2005. Mentee and mentor pairs are assigned based on common interests and backgrounds and the mentoring takes place over a duration of 12 months. The mentee and the mentor can regularly exchange experiences via e-mail, a chat and a forum and they are encouraged to work with other pairs on small STEM projects.

Getting into some virtual reality

Immersing in virtual reality

I’m really glad that I participated in I’m an Engineer as I’m pretty sure all of the other wonderful experiences mentioned above wouldn’t have happened otherwise! Back at school, I was never exposed to STEM professionals myself and I really see the value of doing STEM outreach activities to challenge stereotypes about these subjects. I’ve written more about the importance of outreach and engagement for the HSSMI blog.

I very much encourage other STEM professionals to get active in outreach activities as it not only helps the students but also oneself in developing new skills and more confidence. It’s great to know that one of my colleagues is becoming a STEM Ambassador herself based on the experience with the students coming to HSSMI and we have already two other visits to local schools planned in spring (one of them being this Friday!). I have to say, I’m highly excited about going back to Merton Park Primary School this year to see what the students are working on! 🙂 I’m also looking forward to taking part in more online Careers Zone events with the I’m a Scientist team.

Acknowledgement: I would like to thank the I’m an Engineer team for all their effort in putting such a great platform together! I also would like to thank Nicola and Debs from Merton Park Primary School for the wonderful experiences we have made so far and for providing the pictures to this post.

November 2016 Winner Blogs

After every event we ask the winning engineers to write a short blog to be sent to all the students in who took part in the zone. It’s a great way for the engineers to reflect on the previous two weeks, thank all the students for voting for them and talk about their outreach plans for the prize money.

If you’re an engineer keen to answer students’ questions, apply now for the next event happening in March for British Science week:

Let’s take a look at what the November Winners had to say…

Richard, Apprentice Zone

richardsymondsYou students have kept us on our toes for the last two weeks. There has been a great variety of questions, from the strange to the common, from politics to space, to fiction to engineering. We have covered a lot. I enjoyed answering every question. I truly hope some of the advice given is helpful, I hope you find your careers as enjoyable as I find mine, who knows you may be taking part in this passing your advice on to others (best part of engineering I think).

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James, Diagnosis Zone

jamesclarkeThe live chats were completely bonkers, and were – without a doubt – the most fun part of the whole thing, and led to some of the best (and also cheekiest) questions. Engineers, sign up to as many of these as you can! You won’t regret a single one.

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Leon, Motor Zone


I had a great time talking to young students across the UK about what being an engineer involves! They asked questions about my PhD work, what it entails from the pros to the cons, what inspired me to become an engineer, the best possible advice I could give to someone who wants to pursue a career in engineering, and many other questions! I was very enthusiastic about relaying my knowledge, experience and key information that I knew they would benefit from hearing at their young age. The majority were very receptive, some captivated, and so it’s a pleasure knowing that we were able to encourage some of the world’s future engineers!

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Will, Space Zone

williamavisonThis is such a good event to expose students to people that they may not have ordinarily have met. Thank you to all the students that participated, for all your questions and showing an interest. I hope you were able to learn a lot during these sessions and get some feedback that you would not have been able to get otherwise. Science and Engineering is accessible to everyone and although you may struggle with it from time to time, I can promise that it is always worth it.

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Are you up for the challenge? Want to show what engineering is really about… Or just want to join in the ‘bonkers’  live chats…

I’m an Engineer, Get me out of here runs every March, June, and November. It only takes 2 minutes and one sentence to apply!

June 2016 Winner Blogs

After every event we ask the winning scientists to write a short blog to be sent to all the students in who took part in the zone. It’s a great way for the engineers to reflect on the previous two weeks and thank all the students for voting for them.

Let’s take a look at what the June Winners had to say…

Chris, Aerospace Zone

I hope the students have benefited from the last two weeks, not just from my answers but from the other participants’ answers too. I have tried to answer every question posed to me, no matter how silly, to the best of my ability. I’m sure I speak for the other participants too when I say it is incredibly enriching to see students interested in what we do and why we do it. For students to then take this new information and then desire to do it themselves is the reason we do these outreach events.

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Mark, Environment Zone

You could feel the energy and enthusiasm with question after question as the students found their confidence and their inquisitive Inner Engineer was awoken. Questions of Who, What, When, Where, Why and How were fired to all of the Engineers, probing and questioning, the inner workings of being an Engineer.

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Laura, Health Zone

When I logged in to the chat session for the first time and waited for the class to come online, my heart was racing and I don’t think it slowed at all as I was typing furiously, trying to answer as many questions as possible as best as I could! Afterwards, I had to take a 10 minute break to cool down! That said I really enjoyed answering your questions, both through the chats and ‘Ask’. It was clear that you’d thought carefully about what you would like to find out and I hope the answers that myself and the other Engineers posted have broadened your feelings towards engineering and its place in our world.

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Matt, Water Zone

I’m an Engineer has been a really enjoyable experience for me. Even after having read some of the previous engineer’s comments about how fast questions came in I still felt surprised by the sheer volume of questions that we got. It felt like I didn’t stop typing for the whole time and the thirty minutes went by very quickly. I was really impressed with the range and depth of questions asked and I could tell some of the students were really thinking about different aspects of the project; could I use my work to help people in other countries where water quality is poor? Does my process produce any harmful by-products?

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Eloise, Kilogram Zone

The questions were fantastic and some of them were pretty tough. Describing my PhD research – which most of my friends don’t understand – forced me to work harder on how I communicate complicated ideas. Great preparation for my viva exam!

I thought it was great how bold students could be over online chats. It helped me too – I felt like I was just chatting to friends about what I do rather than being ‘judged’. I’m unbelievably grateful to the people I’ve met in my career so far who’ve taken time to talk to me about their work, asked about my own aspirations and offered advice. I took part in I’m an Engineer! in the hope that I could do the same in return. So, if the chats have inspired one person to consider engineering as a career or challenged their assumptions of what an engineer is like, then that would be incredible!

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Are you up for the challenge? Want new inspiration for your research… Or just want to chat about the science behind Death Stars…


I’m an Engineer, Get me out of here runs every March, June, and November. It only takes 2 minutes and one sentence to apply!

March 2016 Winners

After each event we ask the winning engineers to write a short blog that is sent to everyone who took part in their zone. It’s a chance for them to reflect on their I’m an Engineer experience and thank the students for their questions and votes.

Let’s take a look at what some of the winners from March’s zones had to say…

Ross, Food Zone

One of the questions I was asked the most is “what inspired you to be an engineer?”. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I grew up. Some people do, and that’s ok, but others don’t. My advice is to do something you’re passionate about and you’ll find something that’s right for you.

Ryan, Fuel Zone

I imagine from the student’s perspective it would have been difficult to ask questions in a face-to-face scenario like “How much do you get paid?”, “How does what you do help the world?”, “Why don’t girls do it?”, “What do you really dislike about engineering?”, however I’m really glad the students asked these questions because only the students know which considerations are the most important to them when deciding their career choice.

Stuart, Robotics Zone

What has really struck me is how forward thinking and conscientious the students have been, with a large focus on their questions being about how we, as engineers, contribute to society and the future of the planet. This has really made me think about the work I do how it impacts society as a whole.

Andrew, Metre Zone

The whole experience has been fantastic, I really enjoy engaging with you and answering your engineering/technology questions! I had exactly the same viewpoint when I started my career in engineering (when I picked GCSE Engineering in secondary school!)

Matt, Surgery Zone

My sincere hope is that a few of the students came away from the event thinking that engineering could be for them even if they had possibly never considered it before.
I wanted to try and prove that we engineers aren’t stuffy brain boxes and that we have a sense of humour, a good camaraderie and are just normal folk.

If you think you can help inspire the next generation…Want to explain how you contribute to the future of our planet…And want a fantastic experience…

Apply now to take part in the next event

I’m an Engineer, Get me out of here runs every March, June, and November. It only takes 2 minutes and one sentence to apply!

Reflections on SME funding

As part of our funding agreements in recent years we’ve been trying to diversify our funding streams for I’m an Engineer and I’m a Scientist. Inevitably one suggestion for additional funding has been to approach companies employing engineers and scientists.

The obvious first step was to approach those companies known to support STEM engagement. BP, Rolls-Royce, BAe, GSK, Pfizer, Thales etc. It wasn’t simple. Finding the right people at the right time wasn’t simple. Creating a proposition that worked for them wasn’t simple.

It was put to us that these companies are constantly being asked to support projects and that we may have more success with SMEs.

So we picked a few upcoming zones (Health, Space, Production and Energy) and set a researcher a task of finding 100 SME’s in each field where the CEO had given their contact details on their website. We figured that if they did that they were more likely to be interested in engagement and online engagement in particular.

We sent a letter and some flyers to each CEO asking them to encourage engineers to sign up. The response rate was not spectacular at about 5 engineer signups per 200 letters sent.

The quality however was good. The engineers participated fully and had a variety of experience. But participation was only part of the conversation. We wanted to turn participation into funding. Next step was to talk to a couple of decision makers in a couple of the companies that had provided engineers.

Both were CEO’s who were very, very supportive of STEM education and outreach. They give up their own time for it and encourage their employees to do the same. Both had companies which relied on brilliant cutting-edge engineering to be a success. They were both research intensive companies in a start-up phase. But being a start-up meant that there was no spare cash in the company and investors wouldn’t allow discretionary spend on activities like outreach.

And there lies the rub.

The companies that rely most on cutting-edge research and be supportive of outreach activity are more likely to be unable to fund outreach activities because of unprofitable stage of their corporate lifecycle. It’s only once they become less research intensive that they are able to afford to financially support these types of activities.

Obviously we’re dealing with a tiny sample and the support shown by them means we will continue to approach SME’s for engineers and continue to sound out funding opportunities. But it isn’t going to be a simple solution for funding diversification in the near future.


November 2015 winners’ blogs

After each event we ask the winning engineers to write a short blog that is sent to everyone who took part in their zone. It’s a chance for them to reflect on their I’m an Engineer experience and thank the students for their questions and votes.

Here is what the winners from November had to say…

Stevie, Energy Zone

The event was more fun than I could have wished for! The live chats were intense with a bombardment of questions for 30 minutes straight. My office mates can confirm that I may need a new keyboard now…it got a serious pounding over the last two weeks.

I want to thank all of the students who asked questions in the chats and on the ASK part of the website, especially the ones that voted for me! I hope you got a lot out of taking part!

Michael, Production Zone

I will let you in to a little secret, when I signed up for my first year 6 class chat, I did it because I thought the fact they were younger would make it easier – I was wrong! Instead I was amazed by the things they knew and the difficulty of the questions posed. This, along with the pace and variety of the questions made it a tough but enjoyable experience.

In a sense I was late to the ‘engineering party’ but now I am here I feel like it’s part of my job to tell people about it and the amazing things you can do with engineering.

If you think you can take the inquisitive questions… Want more fun than you can wish for…. And want to show the amazing things you can do with engineering…

Apply now to take part in the next event

Click to apply for I'm an Engineer

I’m an Engineer, Get me out of here runs in March, June, and November. It only takes 2 minutes and one sentence to apply!

How does I’m an Engineer affect students understanding of engineering?

We know that I’m an Engineer gets students interested in engineering  and inspired to become engineers themselves.  However, one of the key objectives of the project is to smash engineering stereotypes; that the students learn that engineering is not just about car mechanism, spanners and hard hats.

Measuring the students’ change in understanding of engineering has been difficult: closed questions tend not to work when assessing this, as they can be very leading. We decided to ask students to evaluate their own learning. Of course, this has its own limitations, but so far it is the best method we have found.
We asked students for their degree of agreement on whether since taking part in I’m an Engineer, they know more about different aspects of being an engineer.

Engineer perception change - student survey results

Responses from 131 students told us that taking part in I’m an Engineer helps them to improve their understanding of what engineering is and what engineers do.  Almost all the students who filled in the survey said they knew more about the type of tasks that engineers do, and the type of projects they work on. And only around 10% of students didn’t think they knew more about the skills required to be an engineer, the type of people who work as engineers, and engineers’ role in society.

Students show their interest about these points during the event, when they ask questions like “How is your project going to make an impact in society?” , “What skills are involved with your specific area of engineering?” or “Do you fell your career is repetitive at times, or are you given different tasks?”

Thank you so much for your advice it has really has helped me understand engineering more knowing the use that science and maths can give to engineering” – putptre06, student

a totally worthwhile experience with all 5 of my classes, they thoroughly enjoyed it but more importantly gained a realistic insight into the life of an engineer.” – Teacher

“You all helped remind me what an amazing field I work in”

After each event we ask the winning engineers to write a short blog that is sent to everyone who took part in their zone. It’s a chance for them to reflect on their I’m an Engineer experience and thank the students for their questions and votes.

Here is what the winners from June had to say…

 Lizzie, Artificial Body Zone

It was great meeting you through the chats and answering your questions. So many of you asked really good and insightful questions that really made me think.

You all helped remind me what an amazing field I work in and have encouraged me to continue doing my research and future outreach. You have inspired me and I hope I have inspired some of you – both boys and girls to study engineering.

Lee, Energy Zone

I am delighted to have won an amazing competition. I was really impressed how the students had the confidence to ask some tough and personal questions, finding out what it is really like to be an engineer. I genuinely hope that some of those who participated will now consider engineering as a career.

Zack, Environment Zone

What a whirlwind! My colleagues in the office have never seen me work so hard 😉 But it was really rejuvenating to get so much inquisition about the topic that I love so much, especially when I think back and remember that I hadn’t even heard of “engineering” until after A-levels.

…I learnt loads about earthquake, gas and hydro engineering myself!!

Will, Hospitals Zone

Winning was the icing on an already awesome cake! The last two weeks have been an absolute blast; the sheer volume of questions coming in tells me everything I need to know about the next generation of scientists and engineers. You’re all an inquisitive bunch and will all become fantastic at what you do.

I’m so very pleased that we as engineers and scientists have inspired you to pursue becoming engineers yourself; hearing many of you saying you wish to become engineers during our conversations has made it all worth it.

Rhys, Space Zone

I am so thrilled to have been able to talk to so many of you, and hopefully been able to tell you something you didn’t know about engineering.

Especially over the last few weeks, I have seen how important it is that young people in schools have access to role models within science and engineering, access to information about what engineers do and who they are, and I am looking forward to using the prize money to put together leaflets to send through to schools in the UK!

Norbert, Kelvin Zone

We, the engineers should all feel obliged to translate engineering to youths. We want them to be the future, world-leading engineers of the UK. Personally, I think this is a fantastic event and I am glad it takes place three times a year. I was very glad to talk to all of you. I received plenty of questions and a lot of them were really clever. I am thrilled by the level of depth to which students were reaching in their questions. I am already noticing young scientists and engineers out there.

If you think you can take the inquisitive questions… Want to inspire the next generation….Want to discover new ways to communicate your work… And want to show what engineering is really like…

Apply now to take part in the next event

Click to apply for I'm an Engineer

I’m an Engineer, Get me out of here runs in March, June, and November. For more information on the zones happening in the November 2015 event, take a look at this post.

How does I’m an Engineer affect students’ attitudes to engineering?

We know I’m an Engineer has a positive effect on students. Teachers tell us their classes “got fired up about engineering”, some students “chipped a nail typing to the engineers” and others admit they “didn’t even know that was a job, how cool!!”

Anecdotes are fine, but as evaluation geeks we want numbers too.

We asked students if they think engineers had an interesting job, and whether they’d like to work as engineers in the future, before and after taking part in I’m an Engineer. We gave them a choice of 5 options – from the very positive to the very negative, with a middle neutral one – to reply. 76 students filled in both the pre-event and post-event surveys.

Students have a good perception of engineering, and I’m an Engineer improves it

The majority of the students thought engineers had a “very” or “fairly interesting” job, and none of them thought it was “definitely not interesting” before taking part. This got even better after I’m an Engineer: the percentage of students who thought engineering jobs were “very interesting” went from 37% pre-event to 54% post event.

I’m an Engineer also helped students make up their minds: the 11% of students who “didn’t really know” if engineers had an interesting job before taking part plummeted to 1% after the activity.

Engineers interesting Job 3- student survey J14

My pupils were buzzing after the event, they really enjoyed it. They were even arguing about which engineer should win, so the engineers involved have made a huge impression on them.” – Jacqui Foord, teacher June 14

Students get inspired to become engineers.

The percentage of students who wanted to become engineers jumped from 35% to 47%, and the percentage of students who were sure they would like to be an engineer doubled after taking part. On the other hand, the percentage of students not interested in working as engineers decreased from 35% to 21% after I’m an Engineer.

would like to be eng 3 - student survey J14

I’ve done a follow up of giving them a week to “constructively daydream” and come up with an idea or invention – even if it would be impossible to produce it yet. I’m really impressed by their ideas – plus they’ve signed contracts giving me 10% of future income from their inventions. Dragons Den, here we come!!” – teacher, March 13

And there is yet more evaluation to come. We are looking into how taking part in I’m an Engineer changes students’ understanding of what engineering is, and what engineers do. We are gathering data about that just now, from students taking part in the June 2015 event. We will be back with more graphs and quotes soon!

Please leave a comment to say “hi” or ask for any clarification. The main purpose of this post is to share our learning and start a dialogue.

Food Engineers, the Prime Minister, and Women in Engineering

Danielle Epstein was the runner up in this June’s I’m an Engineer Food Zone.

During the event, on National Women in Engineering Day she spoke with the Prime Minister about how to get more women into engineering by challenging stereotypes, and using I’m an Engineer as a way to help young people relate to engineers.

Danielle wrote about her experience.

On Monday 23rd June both the Prime Minister, David Cameron and the Chancellor, George Osborne visited Coca-Cola Enterprises Wakefield facility, Europe’s largest soft drinks production plant. As part of this visit I was given the fantastic opportunity to meet them and speak to them about my first 10 months at CCE on the supply chain graduate scheme.

PM David Cameron at Coca Cola Enterprises' Wakefield plant speaking with 2014 Food Zone engineer, Danielle Epstein | Image © Stonehouse Photographic

PM David Cameron at Coca Cola Enterprises’ Wakefield plant speaking with 2014 Food Zone engineer, Danielle Epstein (Note Danielle’s home-made NWED badge) | Image © Stonehouse Photographic

As part of my discussion with them I brought up the fact that it was National Women in Engineering Day and how timely his visit was to raise the profile of this important day! The Prime Minister asked me directly how he thought we could get more females interested in engineering, acknowledging it to be an important issue both today and looking towards the future.

We discussed how an important factor is breaking down stereotypes of what being an engineer means. The traditional view may be unappealing to the majority of females; going round lugging a heavy toolkit, getting dirty fixing machines. Although this is one important element of what an engineer could be it is by no means the only option. Opportunities range from designing high performing equipment for chemical plants to leading teams on multi-million pound projects if you follow a career in engineering.

The Prime Minister asked how I would go about breaking down these stereotypes and I mentioned that speaking to school children so they could relate to you and find out what you do as engineer day to day was really important. I’m an Engineer is an excellent platform to do this. Giving hundreds of school children the opportunity to speak to engineers in an informal setting, learning what they do and understanding they aren’t so different from them!

The Prime Minister applauded this idea and remarked how we need more engineers and companies, like the ones taking part in I’m an Engineer, to take an active role in educating young people on the exciting reality of what being an engineer is like today.

Personally, it was a proud moment for me to be able to raise an issue that I feel very passionately about with the leader of our country. I look forward to championing women in engineering as much as I can in the years to come, working hard to get as many unique opportunities to highlight the issues around this topic as I can!