One of our newest STEM Ambassadors is a materials scientist and Non-Exec Director, Alison Rodwell, who hit the ground running with three terrific sessions at a primary school during British Science Week.
Q How did your first session as an Ambassador go?
It was so much fun! I visited three different Year 4 classes, and the children were fantastic and welcoming - they loved it. They had really imaginative answers and lots of good questions. I found it very rewarding and they’ve already invited me back!
Q How did you prepare for the session?
I attended some useful STEM Ambassador training which helped me design slides full of pictures. I combined these with hands-on practical illustrations. I realised I had to focus on just one thing from my whole career which would catch their imagination. I think it’s important to think through your topic in advance and plan how you’re going to explain it in simple terms - with no jargon - so it’s accessible and fun.
Q What did you talk about?
I lived for four years in Argentina when I worked at Shell. Obviously there is a huge population in Buenos Aires, but the natural gas was several hours away by plane. So we had to look at how we could get the gas from its natural source to Buenos Aires. We focused on different ways of transporting it rather than just building a pipeline hundreds of miles long.
So I got the children thinking about how this could be done. I used balloons to illustrate the gas and used a bike pump to talk about compressed air… they then started thinking about whether liquified gas would be easier to transport. We even spoke a bit of Spanish and tested their geographical knowledge too. What I loved was that children always come up with fantastic and not necessarily practical suggestions like transporting gas by helicopter! We also did a Wordle puzzle.
The session made the children appreciate the many of the skills they will need in their careers - like maths and problem solving – they are already demonstrating.
Q Tell us about your career journey.
I didn’t have a dream job when I was at school, although I was very interested in maths. I was also interested in finding out about being an engineer, but even though I went to a careers fair to try and find out more, I came away still not really knowing what an engineer did, so I couldn’t really envisage myself as one. As it turned out, I studied Natural Sciences, including Physics and Materials Science at Cambridge University.
Pictured: Alison (right) with STEM Learning's Chief Executive Yvonne Baker OBE
I joined Shell’s finance department to get a greater understanding of the whole business and ended up spending 18 years at Shell, albeit in different departments and countries. The first half was in finance, governance and change management, then I moved on to their foundation and worked on sustainability challenges. This shows that a science degree gives you a route to a variety of roles.
I feel it’s really important for children to meet STEM role models, particularly women, and maybe one day they can follow in our footsteps.