Brunel scholarships help female engineers break the mould

The good news about engineering is that it could add around £27bn to the UK economy by 2022.

The bad news is that 250,000 STEM qualified people are needed to achieve this target and the numbers just aren’t adding up, which is why Brunel University is actively engaged in a range of schemes aimed at redressing the balance, not least in relation to the number of female, career-ready engineers.

In 2013 Brunel announced the groundbreaking Women in Engineering Master’s Scholarships scheme, which funded 40 women studying for an MSc in an engineering discipline at the University in West London.

For 2015/16 the University will award 30 scholarships to women who graduated with an engineering degree in 2014/15 and who are accepted onto one of Brunel’s numerous engineering MSc courses, which range from advanced electronic and electrical engineering, building services engineering with sustainability, structural engineering, and wireless communication systems.

The scholarship – a £5,000 cash bursary paid in three instalments, plus a £5,000 reduction in fees for successful UK/EU fee paying students – is part of Brunel’s Women in Engineering programme which provides all participants with a mentor, access to so-called ‘broadening events such as visits to industry, accreditation institutions and conferences, and ‘creating networks’ training.

Earlier this week the Student Engineer visited the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which backs the scheme, to talk to three women who are taking part.

Jordanian Hla Alawamleh graduated with a degree in mechatronics, Valentina Deci is an aerospace engineering graduate from Italy, and Nene Kaly is a software engineering graduate from Greenwich University.

Left to right: Nene, Valentina, Hla
Left to right: Nene, Valentina, Hla

Can you tell the Student Engineer a little about your backgrounds?

Hla: “I worked in the aviation industry for 8 years, then I applied to Brunel University as an international student. I applied for the WIE scheme, but not the scholarship.”

Valentina: “I graduated in March and did an internship during the summer in Malta at an aviation company working in different departments. It was a short internship of 3 months and straight after I went back to university.”

Nene: “I graduated a few years ago and had some work experience, but not in the industry. I wanted to do an aerospace engineering masters so I Iooked at a few universities and Brunel was one I applied to.”

We’ve spoken to many female engineers who’ve talked about the importance of mentors in the early stages of their career. How important is the mentoring element to your MSc?

Hla: “This is the first time that I’ve had a mentor. Before, in my bachelor degree or in my work, I didn’t have a mentor.  I thought it would be more like an academic mentor but this is better. Because it’s from industry it’s more useful. It helped in terms of how to approach companies, how to apply [for jobs] and how to deal with projects, how to deal with dissertations, supervisors and things like that. It was helpful.”

Valentina: “Apart from 3 months in Malta I’ve not had work experience so having a mentor helped me see what real life is like.”

She added that her confidence and soft skills have improved by attending events organised by her mentor’s company, where she’s had the opportunity to meet a diverse range of people at various stages of seniority.

Nene: ”It was great from the outset. My mentor works for BAE Systems in Rochester and she got me thinking outside the box. We talked about everything from job applications, where I want to be in 10 years time, dissertation topics as well as managing my time because to begin with… I found it hard to get the work/life balance right. I was trying to see my family as well as study as well, so she got me thinking about how to prioritise my time. I can’t speak highly enough of her, she’s been great.”

Nene added that her mentor was able to offer advice on interview skills, how to approach interviews, and presentation skills.

Skills from aerospace can be transferable to other sectors.
Skills from aerospace can be transferable to other sectors.

Does it matter that your mentor might be practising an engineering discipline that is different to yours?

Hla (whose mentor works for BAE Systems): “Despite not being from my field he broadened my mind and showed me possibilities that I hadn’t thought about before. I didn’t consider defence as an opportunity before but now I realise that with an aerospace engineering qualification I can go into something not solely focussed on aircraft.”

Nene: “I don’t think the discipline matters because they are able to give advice that is applicable to any sector of engineering. I was lucky, my mentor is an aerospace engineer working in a software division…so she was able to talk to me about how to combine software engineering with the aerospace industry as well.”

Is gender still an issue to you as you look forward to a rewarding career in engineering?

Hla: “Its more challenging in the UK. It [gender] puts more pressure on you because you have to prove yourself, that you can do it as a female…I think you give yourself higher standards and you find it more challenging, you have to put all your efforts into proving yourself as a female engineer and prove that you can do the same as a male engineer.”

Nene: “When I tell people what I’m studying they’re ‘Oh wow, are you doing that? You’re a female!’ I do think people tend to look at engineering as being for males. Sometimes when you turn up to an interview it might be male dominated, but hopefully that will change.”

Further details on Brunel University’s Women in Engineering Programme – plus details about the scholarship – can be found at this address:

Brunel University is actively seeking more mentors to assist with its Women in Engineering Programme. Interested parties should contact Mark Howard at