Inspiring the next generation
Charlie Osborne wants to inspire the next generation of globally responsible engineers to come into engineering wanting to have a positive social and environmental impact. She tells us why.
A lot of young people have misconceptions about engineering and what it means to be an engineer. You can’t blame them; if you see engineers in the media, or if you Google “engineer”, it’s two white men looking at clipboards near some scaffolding. That’s an image that lots of people don’t identify with.
If you think that’s the reality, you won’t necessarily think you have a place in engineering.
If everyone had the opportunity to learn about all the different engineering disciplines, there’d be a lot more people wanting to study engineering.
This is important because we have a shortage of engineers at the moment. And that’s going to have an impact.
I didn’t really know what engineering was about when I was 16 but I was interested. I thought I should find out quickly if I was going to apply to an engineering degree course. I attended summer schools that showed me the focus was much broader than bridges, engines and fossil fuels. A lot of the lectures we had were based on what engineers have come up with to help people. I liked that.
There’s an example of amazing, inspiring engineering for everyone.
Charlie is a student at the University of Sheffield and coordinates her peers to deliver Engineers Without Borders UK workshops to school children as part of her Chapter’s activities.
For people and the planet
Getting involved with Engineers Without Borders UK has made me think much more about engineering for people and global responsibility.
Climate change is happening, extreme weather is getting worse and the world’s population is growing.
We need more young people coming into engineering wanting to have a positive social and environmental impact.
People should be approaching engineering with an ambition to help people, rather than a desire to get rich. Changing people’s motivations for wanting to be an engineer and encouraging companies to change their priorities as well is important.
Engineering should be focused on alleviating human suffering, on basic human needs such as food security, and water and sanitation. The Sustainable Development Goals are a good guide to the things we need to be concentrating on.
If young people learn about the wider impacts, both positive and negative, that engineering can have, they’ll hold companies to account for their actions, and support companies that are doing good.
In my first year of university, my Chapter built a composting toilet for a children’s nursery. The design was then used abroad as well. I wouldn’t have done something like that otherwise, because my course isn’t really focused on that kind of engineering.
In my second year, I got involved with outreach in schools, delivering workshops about energy and water security, designed by Engineers Without Borders UK. They teach children as young as nine or ten years old that not everyone has access to clean water or electricity.
That can be a surprise for young kids. I talk to them about why that might be, how engineers can help and how they can help.
I run workshops in areas of high poverty because it’s less likely the children’s family will have gone to university and less likely they’ll know what an engineer is. I didn’t until I was 16. If you can get to children when they’re 10, they have more time to think about what they want to do.
I try to inspire young people to become the responsible engineers of the future. Even if they want to be an artist, it’s a way of showing them what they can do. You can do your bit in small ways, even when you’re 10 years old.
And if I’m teaching others, then I also have to find ways that I can decrease human suffering myself.
My engineering career has to be globally responsible.