From education to employment

Bristol engineering school hosts mentorship event for local black students

The event followed discussions with Aisha Thomas, Assistant Principal for Inclusion at City Academy, who ran a study that found there are just 26 black teachers working in Bristol’s secondary schools out of more than 1,300.

This lack of representation, says Miss Thomas, is one of the factors that leads to low inclusion of black students in higher education.

She added: “It is really important that children get the opportunity to see themselves in all aspects of life and it clear that school plays a vital role in this. Engineering is another industry where black people are underrepresented.

“I was blown away when the University of Bristol offered the opportunity to collaborate with City Academy to provide Black students with the opportunity to have exposure to the industry.

“Even if the students do not wish to become engineers, it is an opportunity to broaden their horizons and make the right choices for them.”

With the aim of encouraging black students from City Academy to consider going to university, the event focussed on showcasing research and the professional jobs of black engineers.

Twenty-three pupils from City Academy attended and took part in a number of demonstrations of engineering – including ink-jet printing and sustainable composite materials.

They were also given an inspiring talk by Samantha Tross, the first black female orthopaedic surgeon in Britain who spoke to the students about her journey to becoming a consultant, specialising in hip and knee surgery.

One of the mentors, Eileen Atieno, a black female PhD student in the Bristol Composites Institute, said: “The majority of black students in the UK often don’t get to see people that look like them in a lot of STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] professions such as aerospace engineering, which tends to deter them from pursuing such careers.

“Access to Higher Education institutions also remains an issue. Events like this are important as they provide black students who may have disregarded going into STEM subjects, simply due to their circumstances, with insights on the different journeys of people they can relate to and who look like them.

“Constant encouragement and mentoring of all black students by black professionals/academics who have gained access to different fields and institutions, is the only way to aspire them and bridge the gap that desperately needs fixing.”

Dr Rostand Tayong Boumda, Research Associate in Non-Destructive Testing of Composite Materials said: “Recent studies clearly revealed that more than 75 percent of scientists and engineers are white.

“Moreover, there is a strong belief among young students that engineering studies are only for white males. This is one issue that certainly prevents the young black students from wanting to do engineering studies when they get to university.

“One way to tackle this issue is to help young black students to become confident that they can successfully carry out engineering studies as any other person.

“Such events as this give an opportunity to the young black pupils to meet people from their community who have made it.

“It was amazing to see how their opinion about engineers gradually changed as they listened to the black presenters and got to understand how their work can be very useful. Such an event would output great results if it is done on a regular basis with a well-defined follow-up program.”

Professor Stephen Eichhorn, co-organiser and interim Head of the CAME School of Engineering, added: “As a white-male-middle class engineer I represent the majority in my profession. It is important to recognise that barriers to access Higher Education, particularly in engineering, are significant, especially along race, gender and class intersections.

“It is important also therefore for our institutions to find ways to reduce these barriers and encourage greater inclusion. If we don’t do this, we miss out on great talent pools of students.”

It is hoped that this event will be an annual one, reaching out across all STEM subjects at the University of Bristol.

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