Shaping young minds

Materials World magazine
1 Nov 2017

Dr Andrew Russell* argues that personal mentoring for young engineering graduates is fundamental.

The role of a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Ambassador at Rolls-Royce is to inspire and enthuse the next generation of engineers, technologists and researchers, by demonstrating the engaging nature of our business and the lifelong career opportunities that are available from choosing STEM subjects. We have approximately 1,400 STEM Ambassadors globally and are actively seeking to reach six million people by 2020 through a variety of activities.

In association with Nuffield Research Placements, Scotland, a large number of universities, scientific institutions and manufacturing organisations offer enthusiastic 16 to 18 year old school pupils the opportunity to participate in four to six weeks work placements over the summer holidays. This approach enables the participants to undertake meaningful scientific research in a real working environment while working alongside industry professionals. At an annual celebration event, the students get the opportunity to present their work and network with other participants. 

At Rolls-Royce, Inchinnan, Scotland, we manufacture compressor blades and vanes for a variety of gas turbine engines. The metal forming and thermal processing techniques employed during the manufacture of such components all have key process variables, which influence the stability of the process. The research projects undertaken by STEM students challenge the existing parameters, establish the potential to optimise the parameters and also provide knowledge of what happens outside a stable manufacturing window.   

Having mentored 12 students over the last 10 years, I have seen how beneficial this approach can be for pupils with an interest in STEM subjects, entering into the world of manufacturing technology. The research projects I create allow them to make the step change from school to a work environment, which could lead to or enhance their decision in their career path. 

Project planning, data analysis and reporting final research outcomes are all essential transferrable skills that the students can use at university and in their future careers.  

As a STEM Ambassador, I enjoy the opportunity to create a challenging project, especially as outcomes often act as catalysts for further research activities at local universities. Taking time out to question the status-quo is good. Some of the most recent projects have involved collaborative aspects where the students have an opportunity to visit local universities and research centres. This gives the project an additional dimension and helps to extend the network of academic and industrial contacts.

From a provider’s perspective, hosting a research project offers the opportunity to challenge the existing process, reaffirm thoughts and process knowledge among experienced staff and provide a platform, which gives experienced technologists an opportunity to discuss technical challenges, so we all learn something.

Hasan Jamal, the rotating equipment engineer

One of my mentees is Hasan Jamal from Renfrew High School. He joined my team in 2010 and achieved national recognition at The Big Bang Competition (UK Young Scientists & Engineers) in London. By the time he started university, he had gained valuable working experience and was confident in his abilities. Hasan now works for Shell UK in Aberdeen, where he maintains land-based rotating gas turbine equipment.  

‘My experience at Rolls-Royce has been invaluable in defining who I am today,’ he said, adding, ‘At a young age, it developed my confidence massively. It was my first exposure to a real engineering work environment,’ he said. ‘I carried this throughout university, where I studied mechanical engineering for five years at University of Strathclyde, Scotland, including spending a year abroad in Canada at McMaster University. The success was defined when I presented at the National Science and Engineering Big Bang Finals in 2011 where the project won third place for the intermediate category.’ 

Jamal also told me that his Nuffield STEM experience provided him with a solid base to build on throughout his studies and that the skills gained stayed with him and developed in his successive summer internships at Rolls-Royce East Kilbride, Goldwind in Beijing and Shell in Aberdeen. 

‘If you would have asked me in 2010 what I would be doing after university, I would have never said oil and gas,’ he added. ‘I always wanted to do engineering since a young age and developing interest throughout school activities. For me, the hands-on aspect of the job is very important – the ability to go out in the field and look at operating machinery. I am a mechanical rotating equipment engineer for Shell, looking after gas turbines, compressors and pumps on production sites. My role varies from project design support to troubleshooting, condition monitoring, installation support and overhauls of rotating machinery. It is a fast paced and challenging work environment, allowing me to develop and grow as an engineer.’ He also said that ‘working in such industry, exposes you to a variety of situations requiring resilience, determination, perseverance and most of all leadership. This is where the Nuffield STEM experience has shaped my character by developing my confidence in unfamiliar, dynamic settings’.

*Andrew Russell. CEng FIMMM, STEM Ambassador Rolls-Royce Inchinnan, Scotland.