Women working in STEM careers in the UK still make up only 24% of the workforce. This is why CIHT are proud to announce that 44% of our STEM ambassadors are Female and are continuing to challenge gender stereotypes and remove barriers in the construction and built environment industry, while championing women and girls to get into STEM careers.
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We spoke to one of our amazing female volunteers STEM ambassadors about her career journey and how she gives back to the community.
Laura Menendez Gonzalez is a Principal Engineer for WSP, she uses her role and experience to mentor, engage and inspire young women seeking work in STEM careers.
Laura is dedicated to inspiring the next generation into STEM and is especially focused on breaking stereotypes and broadening young women’s career perspectives. As well as being a CIHT STEM ambassador, Laura is a CIHT Mentor and an established representative of our West Midlands Region.
We ask Laura some questions about what its like to inspire young women into the Highways and Transportation sector.
Laura Menendez Gonzalez - Principal Engineer for WSP
Laura, what or who inspired you to towards a career in Highways and Transportation?
I was fascinated by a local spaghetti junction as a child, the complexity of it with all its exits and how smoothly it worked was mesmerizing. That, plus a general aptitude for maths inspired me to get a degree in engineering. Deciding what type of engineering I wanted to specialise in was an interesting time in my life! Remembering the spaghetti junction, I ended up doing Civil Engineering linked to Highways engineering, due to the great range of opportunities for work it brought and still brings.
How do you think your work as a CIHT STEM ambassador challenges gender stereotypes in the built environment industry?
I grew up in Spain and although there were fewer female engineers than male ones, I still had female role models I could look up to. When I moved to the UK and started university here, I realised there were far fewer female engineers. For example, there were less than 5% females in my university classes. I wanted to do something about this and I realised that it comes down to tackling stereotypes from an early age so we can bring a wide ranging diversity of people into the construction and transportation industry. When I deliver STEM activities, I present a version of myself that resonates with other young females: that they too can be strong, independent, successful engineers, without losing the feminine side of themselves.
Can you please tell us about a recent STEM activity you did as a CIHT STEM Ambassador?
I recently conducted a mock interview session at a school local to me in the West Midlands. It was inspiring to see how all the children tackled the question of resilience and to see how open they are about their mental health. There is an emotional intelligence shift happening which is such an important thing when you face a challenge such as applying for a new job. Both from a personal and a professional point of view, I always find it rewarding to see how the next generation approaches mock job interviews. As well as giving them feedback at the end of the interview, I always ask them how they think it went and if there is anything they would have changed. It was very positive to hear that for a number of children this was the first interview they ever had, that it was less scary than they imagined and it helped them to become more confident.
As a CIHT Member and STEM ambassador, do you feel supported by CIHT?
Yes, I do, whenever I reach out to CIHT they are always there for me. They are great at supporting and encouraging their members to give back to the community, either through STEM, CPD or by getting involved with the local and national Regions, committees and working groups.
I have also used CIHT's digitized STEM activities to support my own STEM volunteering, which I found very useful. STEM activities are not just for the benefit of the children. There is a lot to gain from them for the STEM ambassadors involved. There are opportunities to develop their communication and presentation skills, and working with children encourages on the spot thinking and adaptability. The best feedback you can get is seeing how pupils start thinking differently and considering things outside of their comfort zone. Children often act spontaneously and so if they are giving you positive feedback you know it is genuine. I find doing STEM activities really rewarding!
In the past 13 month, CIHT STEM ambassador volunteers have given over 11,000 hours of their time and presented activities to over 65,000 children across the UK. We asked past CIHT president, Deborah Simms why she believes all CIHT members should consider becoming STEM Ambassadors. Deborah said:
I have been a STEM ambassador for over 10 years and still find it inspirational, educational, and great fun. I am encouraging every member of CIHT to sign up as a STEM ambassador. If every member were to carry out at least one activity a year while promoting careers and opportunities across highways and transportation, we would reach an estimated 300,000 young people every year. I believe this could be transformational in terms of the future of our profession. So, I urge you to encourage members to sign up. Being a STEM ambassador is a great way to build skills and confidence and gain experience and evidence for professional reviews and future promotion.
CIHT have launched the 'STEM Ambassadors Inspire' Podcast series which explores the excellent work of CIHT STEM Ambassadors and why being a STEM Ambassador is so important to the Highways & Transportation Industry. The five-part series looks at the positive impact that STEM Ambassadors have, through the different perspectives of Teachers, Employers, STEM Learning and STEM Ambassadors themselves as well as an introduction from CIHT’s very own President, Deborah Simms, who is a STEM Ambassador herself. Listen to episode one here.
CIHT has digitised STEM activities that ambassadors and teachers across the UK can download and use to inspire the next generation. This collection of resources from the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) are designed for use by STEM Ambassadors and/or teachers to introduce pupils to the world of transport infrastructure and the career opportunities available within it. There are different sets of resources for a variety of age ranges.
STEM Learning also have a collection of links, resources and publications to support the promotion of women in STEM study and women in STEM related careers. Ceri Saunders, STEM Ambassadors Innovation Manager said:
STEM Ambassadors reach thousands of young people as relatable role models who can demonstrate real-life applications of how STEM careers work in the world of work. We are proud that 48% of STEM ambassadors are females, offering themselves as role models who can encourage and inspire more young women to follow a career in STEM, whatever their backgrounds and whoever they are.
It is quick and easy to register as a CIHT STEM Ambassador. Please watch this 2-minute video that takes you through the steps required to register. How to sign up as a CIHT STEM Ambassador - Video Guide. Now you have watched the video, please register yourself as a CIHT STEM ambassador. While you are registering, please remember to align yourself to CIHT so we can better support you and understand the impact of the great work that all our volunteer ambassadors are undertaking.
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