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International Women in Engineering Day: Sparking children’s interest in STEM

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Published on 23 June 2023

Francesca, from Dame Allan’s Junior School, with the working prototype of her Unicorn Health Bot
Francesca, from Dame Allan’s Junior School, with the working prototype of her Unicorn Health Bot

Today (Friday 23 June) is International Women in Engineering Day and the University of Sunderland has joined forces with Primary Engineer to spark children’s interest in STEM. 

Primary Engineer is an educational not-for-profit organisation that provides programmes to encourage young people, aged between 3 and 19, to consider STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers. 

The University recently hosted Primary Engineer’s annual Leaders Award competition – ‘If You Were an Engineer, What Would You Do?’ – for the north-east region at the David Goldman Technology Centre, St Peter’s campus. 

The national competition sees tens of thousands of pupils across the UK, from reception to Year 13, identify problems – large and small – and design solutions to solve them. All entries are graded by engineers and all pupils receive a graded certificate.

Experts from Sunderland’s School of Engineering helped judge the shortlisted north-east entries to select winners and highly commended per year group.

Two winning entries came from Grange Park Primary School in Sunderland.

Kendra invented a pair of glasses with lasers and a speaker inside which would enable blind people to read any text in front of them.

Meanwhile, Emilee came up with the idea of an automatic back scratcher as she needed a solution for her tired arms when scratching her dad’s back.

Susan Wild, Deputy Headteacher and Science Lead at Grange Park Primary School, said: “Taking part in this competition has been a fantastic experience for our pupils and to find out that the two winning entries from the regional Year 6 category both came from our school was the icing on the cake. The exhibition and award ceremony at the University of Sunderland was an absolute highlight of Year 6 for our winning girls.

“The experience has not only introduced wider STEM aspirations, but it has helped to spark inquisitive minds, build self-esteem and develop the inner problem-solver in all of our pupils.”

A team of engineering experts from the University will now bring one of the winning ideas to life by creating a working prototype, which will be unveiled next year. 

One of last year’s winners, Francesca, from Dame Allan’s Junior School in Newcastle, saw for the first time the working prototype of her Unicorn Health Bot, which uses electronic sensors to read important information from child patients in hospital, including heart rate, oxygen levels and temperature. 

Associate Head of the University of Sunderland’s School of Engineering, David Knapton, said: “The Leaders Award is one of the many ways we engage with local schools and promote the fantastic careers in engineering available to young people. 

“The University of Sunderland is delighted to be the academic partner for this competition from Primary Engineer and I’ve seen firsthand how this successfully engages pupils to use their skills and ingenuity to solve real world problems. 

“We are leading this from the School of Engineering but working with colleagues across the University to build a working prototype of one lucky entrant. I’ve also seen how the most successful entrants are able to draw on all areas of their education, including artistic and writing skills.”

David added: “It’s important to recognise that the young people entering this competition may well be working as engineers in years to come and perhaps improving lives by solving problems we don’t even know exist yet. It’s good to see the future is in safe hands.”