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Former Heathrow UTC student Dilani Selvanathan has a clear vision for her future as she embarks on her software engineering degree apprenticeship at the BBC: “Once I’ve completed my degree I plan to become a Chartered Engineer with support from a bursary from the Institute of Engineering Technology. I really enjoy the practical side of Engineering, so I want to get into electronic engineering and robotics.”

Dilani’s experience on the BBC degree apprenticeship programme will be a solid foundation for her career ambitions. She is working with the BBC Weather and News website team with duties that currently include fixing bugs and building a database to record live data from the BBC Weather Watchers site.

During her first term she completed five work-based objectives that covered building a new database and learning a new programming language, as well as familiarising herself with project management strategies such as the waterfall approach. She is working as part of a team of business analysts, project managers, front-end developers and web managers and has a mentor who ensures that all her work-based experience supports her studies.

The support she gets from her mentor throughout the programme was one of the key factors in Dilani’s decision to follow the degree apprenticeship route: “I didn’t want to go down the pure university route as I didn’t want to get in debt. I wanted to learn and earn and in the end I get a free degree. Also, having support throughout the course is really important to me. My mentor works in partnership with the course co-ordinators at Queen Mary University to make sure that everything I do at work is relevant to my degree.”

On completion of the four-year course Dilani will have earned a BSc in Digital and Technology Solutions from Queen Mary University, London as well as an enormous amount of work-based experience and practical skills.

Dilani’s decision to join Heathrow UTC for Sixth Form in 2015 stemmed from the realisation that engineering is where her talent lies: “When I looked at my GCSE results I had done better in the technology and engineering subjects. I wanted to study engineering because it’s a practical course and Heathrow UTC has a specialism in engineering. I attended an induction day and found the course information really interesting, plus I enjoyed the team-building exercises that we did.”

At Heathrow UTC Dilani studied a BTEC in Engineering alongside A Levels in Maths and Computer Science. She was inspired by the opportunity to apply technology to her hobbies in her course work.

“I’m a 2nd Dan black belt in Taekwondo, so for my Computer Science course I built a Taekwondo simulation app. I was interested in why fewer women than men enjoy Taekwondo and wanted to see if technology could make a difference.” She also gained confidence and experience when she presented another project at Heathrow UTC’s open evening: “I built a drone with a claw hook attachment and presented it at the open evening, which was a great opportunity to talk about my work and ideas.”

Dilani’s confidence grew enormously during her time at Heathrow UTC: “I used to be quite shy and didn’t really like talking to people, but I decided I wanted to give back to the school, so I joined the School Council and fundraising and Prom committees.”

The wider skills that Dilani developed at the UTC are also invaluable for her future career: “As part of the school council I devised a student reward system that recognised students’ good work. This involved being creative and solving the problem of how to motivate the students; it was very successful with teachers noticing the difference in students’ behaviour and work. I was also a Bullies Out mentor and gave presentations talking about the impact of bullying and what students should do if they are affected.”

When she was applying for apprenticeship programmes Dilani found the process itself helped her polish her skills: “I applied for a lot of different apprenticeships, with great support from UTC teachers, and I got a little further with each one. I did interviews and assessment centres and by the time I applied for the BBC I had learned a lot and was in a good position.”

The BBC apprenticeship was Dilani’s top choice after she attended a Computer Science taster course at Salford University when she was in Year 12. She was given a tour of the BBC studios: “I definitely wanted to work at the BBC after that; I met female software engineers who were so positive talking about the BBC’s approach to diversity and that really impressed me.”

Since starting her degree apprenticeship at the BBC Dilani has had lots of interest from current UTC students who want to follow in her footsteps: “A lot of students have been in touch with me, asking for advice on how to get on the course. I’m going to go back and give a presentation about it soon.”

Dilani’s advice for students considering joining Heathrow UTC is to consider the opportunities it can offer: “If you’re passionate about engineering, enjoy learning new things and you’re prepared to work hard, at the end of the two years a lot of employers will be looking for your skills in engineering.”

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