Taking on the role of outreach officer in March 2020, in the middle of the first lockdown, I knew that it would be a year like no other, with plenty of challenges, as well as the opportunity to do something new and exciting. Filming my campaign video whilst continuously washing my hands (for 20 seconds of course), set the tone for the rest of the year!
The Sheffield Chapter has a great history of running high-quality outreach sessions with a fantastic reach across the city, due in part to a consistently dedicated group of students as well as the outstanding support we receive from the Student Union volunteering office. This service provides us with contact with schools and organisations as well as recruiting volunteers, providing essential training and overall project management support.
In previous years, our Chapter has solely delivered the Water for Everyone, Everywhere session, which we knew would present large challenges to convert to digital delivery due to the requirement for some out of the ordinary materials (rocks, sand, gravel etc.). After attending sessions during the Building Community Leaders training, run by Engineers Without Borders UK, who had adapted the Power for Everyone, Everywhere session to be delivered virtually, we decided to change tact and deliver this course instead.
Recruitment of volunteers took place at our freshers’ welcome event, with keen students signing up to the various projects that our chapter runs, Outreach being one of the options. I held online training sessions for the 15 individuals who volunteered, providing an overview of the university safeguarding procedures as well as session-specific information. Thanks to the help of our SU, we booked five sessions for primary schools booked, averaging 25 pupils in each class, which was fantastic! During conversations with teachers, it was established that the schools already had all the required materials for the session, except the cotton reels. With the help of our volunteering office’s funding, we were able to bulk buy these resources and deliver them to the schools with enough time for them to be quarantined for 72 hours.
Delivering the first session was slightly nerve-wracking since we did not know what to expect; how the pupils would engage with us, if they would be able to understand the task, and if the teachers were on board! At the end of the first session, we were thrilled that all the planning had paid off – the session ran smoothly, to time, and the pupils seemed to have an amazing time, as corroborated by the teacher in a lovely follow-up email. We were particularly relieved that the participants were still keen to answer our questions verbally, which helped to have a more conversational style of presentation. In previous years volunteers have always mentioned the value of the final Q+A time at the end of the presentation, in which we are open to broader questions about studying engineering, as well as being at university. Being able to continue to take questions like this was very rewarding as we can see how the children were inspired!
All except one of the sessions took place in the school environment, with one camera positioned at the front of the class, normally relying on the teacher to repeat the pupil’s responses to us so we could hear. In one instance, the session took place with the individual pupil’s connecting via zoom, which led to a few difficulties (they did not have the materials), meaning that we had to adapt the session to encourage the pupils to design their ideas on paper, and try and model them with paper, tape, and a pencil.
Overall, we received some fantastic feedback from the teachers, as well as some really positive comments from the volunteers themselves – one volunteer saying that;
“Completing the outreach sessions has been extremely interesting. It has forced me to look at the role of engineers in a new way and has hopefully expanded the horizons of the some of the pupils too”.
We are all looking forward to continuing the sessions in the new year, following our exams! One of our aims for this semester is to reach some new community groups such as scout and guides in some of the harder to reach areas of the city, where there is lower progression to higher education.