Art is as much a part of science as physics or chemistry, says Caroline Brown, Senior Manufacturing Engineer at BAE Systems.
It may be surprising to some, but my passion for engineering is based in the arts. At school I loved technical drawing and product design but it wasn’t until my final year of education, where I attended a women in engineering event at Strathclyde University, that I knew what I wanted to do. A visit to the product design engineering department was a complete lightbulb moment for me. I suddenly saw how my interest in art could be applied to an engineering role. I ended up doing an engineering degree in that very same department and haven’t looked back since.
After university, the BAE Systems’ manufacturing graduate programme at Barrow was the perfect fit. Now, I’m a Senior Manufacturing Engineer in the Submarines business, working on some of the most complex and cutting-edge technology and engineering solutions in the world. I work to integrate these solutions into our systems and when the technology doesn’t exist in the market, we create it! Every day is a new opportunity to really explore the developing manufacturing world.
For me it’s about more than just the work, I’m passionate about being a role model and helping to encourage other women into the engineering industry. My own experience has been a lucky one, I’ve never been told I couldn’t do something and throughout my career I’ve never felt held back by my identity. However, I know this is not the case for many young women and girls and I’m determined to use my position and skills to improve gender diversity within the engineering industry.
One of my career highlights was working with a school in Barrow-in-Furness to support their participation in the European Girls in Engineering Project. The programme is vital in encouraging more young girls to consider a career in engineering or science and not to drop those STEM subjects which have come to be seen as male dominated. I was able to help teach science, maths and technical drawing to the students and it was wonderful to work with them to hone their skills.
I’m passionate about being a role model
Following that experience, I was inspired to take the principles of the project and create something of my own. The STEAM programme, an acronym that incorporates art and design into the well-known term STEM, was developed by myself and another female engineer working at Barrow. I believe strongly that arts and creativity are vital for successful engineering and design, and often young girls who are interested in art don’t get a chance to see how their skills can be transferred across to STEM roles.
The STEAM programme is focused on children between the ages of 5 to 16. For each key stage we look at the core curriculum and provide activities and resources to help children engage in STEAM subjects in an interactive, fun and collaborate way. For the younger years, the focus is very much on play, then for the older children we try to apply the concepts to careers, looking at what an engineer can actually do.
We get feedback from the children at each stage of the programme to track their development and to encourage them to pursue the areas they’re passionate in. When we started out we wanted to show that anyone can get involved in science and engineering – it doesn’t matter what background you come from. We also want to prove that art is as much a part of science as physics or chemistry and through this we hope to play a part in inspiring the next generation of engineers.
We were able to spend six months running the programme in schools before the first Covid-19 lockdown. However, in that time we were able to train up 20 BAE Systems ambassadors to help expand our capabilities and during lockdown, we launched an online version of the programme to reach children while remote learning. In the future we’re working to expand the programme to schools near other BAE Systems sites across the UK and are also exploring the possibility of taking it international.
My advice to young women would be to have confidence in themselves and in their abilities. If industry continue to develop initiatives to encourage girls’ interest in STEAM at a young age, and elevate the voices of role models, we can hopefully continue to make a difference.
International Women in Engineering Day – June 23 – is an awareness campaign to raise the profile of women in engineering and focuses attention on the amazing career opportunities available to girls in this exciting industry. It also celebrates the outstanding achievements of women engineers throughout the world. The event is organised by The Women’s Engineering Society.