Vanessa Ombura on her experience of HYPED

I am a second year Civil Engineering undergraduate student at the University of
Edinburgh, interested in, between others, the sustainable coexistence of societies.

I am grateful for having grown up in Nairobi, Kenya at a time of an accelerating
pace of technological change. Most of my extra-curricular activities in school were
about using new technologies to implement positive social change in my
community. I then went on to take some time off after graduating from secondary
school. Working with Jamlab, I organized and facilitated high school workshops
on open educational resources and design thinking. I also co-founded ANIKA, a
group of spoken word poets aimed at creating more youth led discussions on
societal issues through the arts. I organized monthly forums that brought together
arrays of creatives, activists and innovators engaging in deeper discussions on
individual and community based societal change. Working with the arts while at
the same time being technology savvy allowed me to better understand and act on
the societal challenges I had learnt about in secondary school.

I then decided to study Civil Engineering, because of its interdisciplinarity and the
massive impact infrastructure has. I was therefore keen to be a part of HYPED as
soon as I learnt about it. I found the hyperloop idea very innovative and complex,
and went on to join the Commercial team in my first year.

Between then and now, I had to deal with various commitment clashes that led to
me taking a break from HYPED. For instance, I was a consultant in FreshSight, a
third-sector student run consultancy, in the first semester of my second year. Since
then, I shifted to the Outreach team which has been an amazing growth journey.
The most recent experience that highlights my key takeaways was attending the
STEM Learning conference in London, on Tuesday, March 6th, 2018.
The conference provided the Outreach team front row tickets to learn about
teachers’ and industry experts’ experiences in STEM engagement within schools.
This helped underscore and confirm the groundwork the Outreach team has been
doing over the past months, in developing secondary school workshops and a
national competition aimed at engaging pupils in STEM by using the Hyperloop as
a context.

To reach our aim of giving girls the confidence of picking STEM subjects for their
GSCEs/National 5s, we found it is important to underscore the societal impact of
engineering and the diversity of career paths after an engineering degree. Teachers
insisted on the role that families have in building the “science” capital of children
from a young age. As parents encourage the child’s STEM initiation at home, it
also needs to be supported by contact with role models such as school alumni and
STEM ambassadors.

Teachers also shared different activities that had led to various levels of success in
engaging their students in STEM activities. These included the use of competitions and rewards, robot development and online simulation programs as well as the
incorporation of gaining additional certifiable skills such as leadership while
engaging in STEM activities.

One last important aspect that was tackled at the conference was Gender and
STEM. Dissemination of STEM needs to be more adjective-based to encourage
more girls. Adjectives link on more to personality traits than verbs. Finally, the
importance of relating non-traditionally STEM topics that are ( unfortunately still)
stereotypically female was advanced An example of this was given by a teacher
who invited a material scientist to a clothing design class. While this approach
won’t overthrow the gendering of professions, it will in the short-term raise the
awareness of STEM outside its typical domain.

As HYPED Outreach, we left the conference inspired to take the Outreach
programs to the next level, with even more intent and direction so as to inspire the
next generation of engineers. I was positively challenged to further develop my
understanding of practical ways of increasing diversity within engineering. I also
gained an affirmation of engineering being a huge tool for collaborative
sustainable change which I hugely look forward to engaging more in, within as
many communities and contexts across the globe.