The day, held at BP’s International Business and technology centre in Sunbury, was a celebration of International Women in Engineering day, and was led by Jo Elder, principal engineer. Jo initially became interested in engineering after she attended an event specifically designed to explain what engineers “do”. She believes that many of her colleagues had similar experiences or they knew someone that “did” engineering, and this was likely to have influenced their decision to become an engineer.
Throughout the day the girls met lots of different types of engineers first hand, and learnt about their work and life experiences since becoming an engineer. To widen their knowledge, and to highlight the role engineers have played throughout history, BP volunteers delighted the students by role playing famous figures from the past, such as William Caxton the first man to introduce printing presses into England, to Isambard Brunel the designer of the Great Western Railway. After questioning the engineers the students were able to complete a quiz to help them identify the historical engineers.
A day learning about engineering would not be complete without an interactive challenge, so the students worked in groups of four to construct an oil platform using only marshmallows and straws. In front of a group of judges each platform was tested to see how much weight it could hold, how much it cost to build, and how well designed it was.
Gordon Birrell BP’s COO of Production, Transformation and Carbon chatted to a group of students from Kingsley Academy (Hounslow) and Sunbury Manor School (Sunbury-on-Thames) about the perils of being a restless and inquisitive schoolboy in Scotland. He likened himself to the students in the room, walking them through how he yearned to find a job that kept him interested, in a space where he could work with dynamic teams and use maths and physics, which eventually led him to a career in engineering at BP.
Gordon said that finding a career in which he felt valued for his contribution to a team, that could simultaneously make a difference to the lives of others, allowed him to embark on adventures around the world with a team of BP engineers. From Azerbaijan to Alaska the schoolgirls were captivated by stories of bears and international travel.
“Energy is the lifeblood of a modern, progressive society.” He told the group, “BP supplies energy to increase the quality of life everywhere.” He called for an academic focus to deeply understand science and math to then turn to try and solve the world’s biggest engineering problems “like climate change and renewable energy”.
After answering questions about his role, international living and BP’s global reach, Gordon introduced several of BP’s female scientists and engineers. The students had plenty of opportunity to ask the engineers about their lives, their day to day activities, even their favourite subjects in secondary school and what kind of books they read when they were younger.
Safina Ahmed, careers leader and learning coordinator at Kingsley school said she thoroughly enjoyed the presentation, “The students seemed strikingly engaged, the hands-on part of the presentation today got them more excited than I have seen them in a long time.”
Joan Wales, head of safety and operational risk ended the day with a talk about passions. As the first member of her family to go to university, Wales took a leap of faith and decided to go because she was passionate and interested – before knowing how she would truly benefit from it.
She described her degree as a “a ticket, a valuable ticket you can take to many places in life.” ‘The scientific way of thinking’ can be applied to many different issues; business, economics, politics. You learn so many transferable skills.” Wales attributed her 35 years of success at BP to her STEM education, which allowed her to take on five different career paths within BP, all utilizing her strong numerical and analytical skills.
“You’re going to spend a lot of time at work, it’s so important to find a career that you really enjoy. Make sure you’re doing something that excites you, you’re going to have hard days and doing something you really think is worthwhile makes it happen.”