‘I didn’t realise I could do that!’
More than 80 school girls explored and developed their problem-solving skills at the latest Girls’ STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Day at The National Museum of Computing on Bletchley Park. The event was part of the museum’s programme to encourage more females to take up careers in computing and engineering and to try to redress the gender imbalance in the sector. The day’s success has already prompted the planning of two such events next year.
Working in collaboration, the students solved an array of problems using digital and analogue technologies, often surprising themselves with their previously undiscovered talents, and impressing observers with their teamwork and ingenuity.
Peter Membrey, a software engineer who sponsored the event, said, "I work with many problem-solvers on a daily basis but sadly there aren't many females among them. I think lots of girls miss out on these career opportunities because currently they are seldom helped to discover that they might have a natural gift for solving problems -- which is, after all, what engineering is at its core. That's why I have supported TNMOC Girls' STEM days -- to give them a taste of what a problem-solving career might look like and the encouragement to pursue careers in STEM."
Isabel Faria, who had organised a trip for herself and had travelled several hours to be able to attend, found the event “absolutely thrilling. I enjoyed it thoroughly and am very thankful for the support and offer of future help.”
Those running the workshops were also in no doubt about the success of the venture. Raspberry Pi and the BBC Micro:Bit workshops were held in the museum classroom, newly refurbished with support from cybersecurity specialist Sophos.
Ali Kennedy, a Sophos VP keen to support the next generation of computer scientists, said “Girls and women make up half of the population and working towards equal representation is the right thing to do. Much more female involvement will be vital as we move into the fourth industrial revolution.”
An inspirational guest on the day was the High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire Professor Ruth Farwell. She spoke about her university career and how she came to be High Sheriff -- all from studying and working in STEM. “You are our future and the potential leaders of tomorrow,” she told the girls. “One hundred years since women got the vote, we still have a long way to go to get women into top jobs. I hope you feel empowered and inspired to think that having a senior role is a real possibility for you and that one of the ways to get there is through STEM.”
Chris Mossman, who led the Royal Air Force MTA STEM engineering challenge, said, “The enthusiasm and energy levels of the STEM Girls was amazing! Every one of them showed a real aptitude for logical thinking and problem solving when faced with our challenge. Even though it was the first time they had used the equipment, excellent teamwork enabled them all to successfully complete the engineering challenge.”
PJ Evans, a TNMOC volunteer who mentored on the day, said, “More than 80 young women walked into The National Museum of Computing -- I am certain more than one scientist, engineer and programmer walked out. We saw eyes light up as the realisation dawned upon these young women that technology is as much for them and within their grasp as it is for anyone else.”
Mark Vanstone of Technovisual tweeted, “Great to see the next generation of ladies getting their heads into Raspberry Pi electronics and ThePSF python coding with a bit of minecraft thrown in.”
Jacqui Garrad, lead organiser of the event, is already planning two events for next year, one especially for girls and another which will encourage teamwork among teams of girls and boys.