Ellen simmons - FEMENG

FemEng team

Ellen Simmons was a Student Affiliate member of the Institution and the founder of FemEng. The Team was awarded £4,000 in 2016, and £2,100 in 2017, to support the FemEng group which works with the University of Rwanda to support and encourage young people into, and through, science and engineering education.

Ellen recently graduated with a first class MEng in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Glasgow. She was awarded the Glasgow University Engineer’s Society Medal at her graduation for impacting engineering in society. 

Now, Ellen is working as an engineer within the Medical Technology division of Cambridge Consultants Ltd, a product development and technology consulting company in Cambridge, UK.

What motivated you to become an engineer?

I was always interested in studying medicine and the human body, but developed an interest in physics and mathematics in school to the point that I felt it would be a shame to lose that side of my education. Biomedical Engineering was a fairly new course when I started looking into it, but when I read about the course at the University of Glasgow I was sold! It seemed a great way to use physics and maths to work in the sector I was interested in.

Are you professionally registered?

I have recently become involved with the Biomedical Engineering Association in Cambridge as the Chair works at my company, and I am signing up for the IMechE MPDS through my employer.

Tell us about your volunteer award

We set up a team of eight engineers from the University of Glasgow to work with Rwandan engineering students from the University of Rwanda. Together, we visited Rwandan high schools equipped with workshops which aimed to spark an interest in STEM subjects. We wanted to inspire girls especially to see themselves in a career in engineering, through being relatable role models and running interesting activities.

We had a range of engineering backgrounds, and each of us worked with a Rwandan university student in a group to create and deliver the workshop. There was lots of hand-on activities and problem solving, often designing and making products, alongside more abstract concepts which served to educate and inspire about future technology developments.

Many of the school pupils we encountered were unsure of which subjects they could, or should, study to be accepted on an engineering degree. We could discuss their options and help them think about their future. As with many school students in the UK, a lot of them couldn’t define engineering, but they knew how to be creative and find workable solutions to challenges.

Did you spend much time in Africa?

We visited Rwanda in summer 2016 for three weeks, and again with a different team in Summer 2017 for four weeks. We developed strong links with the university and we aim to continue the workshops for the next 3 years in order to solidify the group of students over there and make a sustainable impact on the area, together.

What did you learn from your time in Africa?

We learned everything from communication and presentation skills, to the challenges of creating and pitching our workshop content to make sure all participants got as much value as possible. That is on top of the general cultural experience of living and working in a very different country and environment. The students which emerge from our project are very special individuals indeed, with improved skills on all sides. 

Our focus now is to refine the project further, to make is as rich and relevant as possible, learning form the experience of the past two years. We are keen to attract and recruit new engineering students to join us, as well as discuss collaboration with other organisations. We have already many great links with companies and organisations in Scotland and Rwanda, alongside a new partnership with the University of Pennsylvania.

What are your thoughts about engineering?

I believe that engineering is a great area to promote interest in as it is so versatile – a very wide span of people can find themselves their perfect niche and go on to lead fulfilling and impactful careers. And even if you are not planning on being a typical “engineer”, engineering contains concepts which encompass art and design, solving social problems… there are many ways to contribute to the technological revolution regardless of your skills and interests!

Would you recommend engineering as a career?

If that isn’t already very clear – yes. And engineering companies, especially the one I have just started working for, can be really great workplaces that don’t restrict your ability to have a family or maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Where would you like to be in five years' time?

I would like to have travelled, ideally with projects I am working on. I’m very interested to visit places like Boston and California to learn about the exciting developments going on there. Lots of companies in India are working with my company so that’s another place to learn about. I’d like to have progressed significantly in my career also, ultimately being in a leadership role.

Do you have any advice for young students thinking about engineering as a career?

I would encourage them to stay open-minded and not get too bogged down by the tedious stuff. My first year and final year of university were so starkly different, and many people drop off at the first hurdle because they can’t see how they will get to do something they are interested in. Especially once you are out of education, or if you go on to do a PhD/MSc, there’s a lot more choice and you can really personalise your career to suit you. If you have any interest in science then engineering is a really great and flexible option!

More information

Blog - Read about the activities of FemEng in Rwanda.
News story - FemEng in Rwanda initiative wins Institution project grant.

Have a question?

Contact our Prizes and Awards Team about our awards, scholarships or prizes.