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The benefits of volunteering as a mentor

Brogan MacDonald is a Graduate Structural Engineer at Ramboll who has recently completed a six-month-long STEM Ambassador activity. She discusses the benefits of long-term STEM engagement and how mentoring has developed her personally and professionally.  

As a STEM Ambassador, it is certainly possible to wow a class of students with a fun practical session, however you can only have so much impact with a 30 minute session. A long-term scheme, such as the Engineering Education Scheme (EES) has shown me the huge benefits of maintaining a STEM project and relationship with a student for longer than a day.  

The EES is a six-month EDT programme which links teams of five or six Year 12 or S5/S6 students, and their teacher, with local companies where they work on real-life scientific, engineering and technology projects. I am very fortunate that my workplace has a strong relationship with local schools and every year staff get the opportunity to participate as mentors in EES. In October I was offered the chance to act as a mentor with three of my colleagues - and I was so excited to get started! 

The scheme begins with a big official EES introduction day where you meet the mentees, have lunch with all the other participating local schools and partake in activities. We had weekly two-hour meetings for the whole duration and as a mentor, we were given our own initiative to establish the project and support the students until the final graduation assessment day six months later.

"As a STEM Ambassador, it is certainly possible to wow a class of students with a fun practical session. A long-term scheme has shown me the huge benefits of maintaining a STEM project and relationship with a student for longer than a day."

We started by creating a project brief then moved on to teaching project management skills and learning basic engineering principles. Some sessions were extremely productive – I remember one particular one where I explained how to write professional reports. If someone taught me that before my first year of university I would have been laughing! My favourite sessions, however, were when the students asked honest, informal questions: How was university? Should I put X on my CV? Did you have a job while at school or university?

I really bonded with the students and found the whole experience so fulfilling. Sharing my knowledge and lessons learnt from both my job and career path is a positive reflective process that I encourage anyone to do.  Providing insights on how to write a shining CV or tips for coping with university stress are little things that students hugely appreciate. 

I learnt so much during my mentoring experience with EES too – how to be a better communicator and listener, understanding the social challenges students face in 2019 and how to deliver technical content in a simplified way. 

The fairy-tale ending of my EES journey was the students winning the final award for ‘Contribution to the Business’ at the BP STEM Festival.  This was achieved through good communication and early establishment of how to create a holistic engineering project that meets future sustainability demands. The cherry on top of the cake was hearing that two of the students want to study engineering at university now! 

The benefits of volunteering to be a mentor

1. You learn how to explain technical details in a simplistic form which is a fantastic skill for client meetings.

2. Enhances job satisfaction – when you leave a session and know you have helped educate and impact change. 

3. Opportunity to develop professional relationships. You will encounter other professions and learn about various disciplines.

4. Personal satisfaction – the feeling of supporting and developing others is second to none.

5. Personal development – you learn so much from younger people. The idea of reverse mentoring is something we should all start thinking about too! 

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