The annual Tomorrow’s Engineers Conference recently took place in London, with a focus on how organisations can do more to level up their STEM outreach activity and inspire the next generation of engineers. Anna Preston, Development Team Leader at Mabey Hire and one of our STEM Ambassadors, had the honour of being invited to speak at the event. We caught up with Anna to learn more…
It all goes back to when I first volunteered as a STEM Ambassador for Mabey Hire, helping to deliver our STEM Education Programme in a local school during after-school clubs – I really enjoyed it! During the Covid lockdown, this transitioned into delivering online sessions, which in turn led me to get involved with STEM activities for Special Education Needs & Disabilities (SEND) schools.
Then, last year, I saw an advert for STEMAZING, a not-for-profit organisation (led by Founder and CEO Alexandra Knight) committed to empowering women in STEM to shine as visible role models. STEMAZING really supported me with STEM sessions for online delivery, with Alexandra also recently inviting me to be a part of Tomorrow’s Engineers Live.
It’s clear that the industry needs more positive role models in this regard. Sadly, there is still a lot of stigma around neurodiversity, including autism and ADHD, with many people hiding their diagnosis. As an autistic person myself, I feel it’s actually incredibly liberating to be open about it – I’ve been able to get the support and understanding I needed.
It’s all about looking at what else we can do to help and inspire children, especially those with SEND. From all my past work and involvement with SEND schools, I know that the demand and interest is there.
There is so much more that can be done. We’re currently missing out on a vast pool of talent and that needs to change.
There’s been a lot of great work and campaigning done recently to encourage women into engineering, from female role models to International Women in Engineering Day. The same now needs to be done for neurodiversity and those with physical disabilities too, including sight or hearing loss.
We need to embrace being different. The support and resources are there to help you succeed in whatever career you choose, and it’s important that we demonstrate this is the same for engineering – there are no barriers.
We also need to continue educating and raising awareness of engineering from a young age. I was recently at a school where the students had a real passion for science, but they didn’t see how this was relevant to engineering. When they understood the connection, they were really excited. All too often, people think of science and automatically associate it with people in white lab coats. The reality is that there’s many other career opportunities out there, including engineering.
It was a really positive day to be a part of and the conference went very well – in many ways, it was a sell-out event. During the panel discussion, I talked about the challenges of being an autistic STEM role model and the things that have helped me to become more visible, confident and supported.
It was great to be able to talk so openly in front of such a receptive and supportive audience, and I received a lot of positive feedback from the people I spoke with afterwards.