30 Under 30: FemEng in Rwanda

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The FemEng team at the airport on their way to Kigali

Malaria medication was the hot topic when we met with the University of Glasgow’s FemEng in Rwanda team.

13177822_1730917520520821_3856607481003861758_nWe tagged on to their team meeting just five days before they flew to Kigali for the three week project, and we caught the tail end of the agenda as they confirmed dosages, when to start, when to stop, and so on.

It’s easy to see why team member Jess says that the they’re experiencing ‘waves of, like, anxiety and then excitement because we’ve still got a lot to do.’ But when we asked if they are excited for the project, it’s a deafening ‘YES, so excited!’ all around.

Five of the team of eight were at this meeting: Jess MacSweeney, 22, from Cork; Nina Birchard, 20, from Glasgow; Christie Sherlock, 20, from Liverpool; Ellen Simmons, 21, from Glasgow, and Magda Kowalska, 22, from Wroclaw, Poland. Beck Hunter (19, Edinburgh), Anna Robb (19, Inverness), and Catriona Holland (19, Glasgow) are home for a visit before their trip.

Ellen explains that the project came out of the FemEng network, which was established back in 2013 as part of her role as Equate Scotland Interconnect Student Champion (the team boasts two Interconnect champions: Nina has just finished a year as student champion). The network brought women together from across Engineering programmes, and organised events and outreach to raise awareness of women in Engineering and influence the next generation.

When someone raised the prospect of an international project, the FemEng committee spoke to Vice Principal Professor John Briggs, who also happened to be one of the University of Glasgow’s International Deans, specifically for Africa.

‘He suggested why not Rwanda because they’ve got really similar goals, and they’ve got really cool stuff going on with women right now. We’ve been sent some information and they’ve got really interesting things, like specific STEM schools for girls.’

That was back in January, and barely 6 months later FemEng are on their way to Kigali for three weeks to work with a team of colleagues from the University of Rwanda’s Architecture and Engineering programme. They will also be working with 8 schoolgirls from schools across the Rwandan capital.

‘We’ll be trying to figure out the best way to bring together our ideas, to learn more about each other’s cultures and how we address the problems [of fewer women in STEM], and what the problems even are.’

13161704_1727553664190540_6031114169116125238_oWithin the team, specialties range from aeronautical engineering to biomedical engineering to product design engineering (which we didn’t know existed but it sounds awesome!), and they all have different stories about what led them to that particular programme.

Whether it was getting hooked on air crash investigation shows on TV, or because the medical career everyone assumed was in the future just didn’t seem appealing, there is one trend that they all have in common: they were all drawn to an engineering programme that combined multiple skills and interests.

For Nina and Christie, it was the combination of art/design and being able to understand how things work that got them interested; for Magda, a degree in mobile software engineering came not from a computer science background, but from a lifetime of playing on (and fixing!) her home computers.

‘I think what’s happened with probably most people, like most of us, is that the more that you’re in it the more that you’re like yeah, this is the right choice,’ Ellen says.

The perfect team to help a new generation of girls and young women find the STEM career that fits them!

In their own words

You can keep up with the FemEng team and their experiences in Kigali over the next two weeks on their blog or by following them on Facebook or Twitter: @UofGfemeng

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