Departmental STEM ambassadors
Miss Nedeen Al Sharif is an undergraduate student at the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at UCL. She is originally from Jordan. Nedeen is a passionate learner that considers herself lucky to be on this course. She enjoys everything about engineering and consider it a daily action of passion. Earlier this year, she received Cisco’s Award for The Most Outstanding Female Engineering Student of the Year and she has previously been awarded with the Provost’s Academic Excellence Award for years 2013/2014. Nedeen passionately believes that knowledge is only useful when it is shared which is the key reason that got her into volunteering as a STEM ambassador. Nedeen participates, organises and leads a plethora of outreach and engagement engineering activities and events throughout the year.
Miss Annie Tang, Year 12 student from Camden School for Girls who was offered a summer research placement with Nedeen this year said the following about Nedeen as a mentor and the placement: “Over the span of two weeks,
I have worked with Nedeen to create a set of headphones which senses when it is not in use and automatically pause whatever is playing. To accomplish this, we used capacitive sense in order to tell whether the headphone were on the head and a programmed an Arduino to record and tell the device what to do next. The project really deviated from what we had planned at the beginning (we were planning on using thermistors and LDRs at the start!) and it was exciting to evolve initial ideas into an improved plan of action. Being new to these projects, I quickly learnt how there wou
ld be so many unforeseen challenges, which actually made the project more fun, and I feel that I got a real taste into what Electronic and Electrical Engineering at UCL is really like. It was a joy to work with Nedeen and all the other friendly people in the labs, I cannot thank her enough”.
Before completing her placement, Annie interviewed Nedeen about her role as a STEM Ambassador:
How would you describe your area of study? Why did you decide to study in your chosen field?
Electronic Engineering with Nanotechnology is a very interesting area of study which offers great opportunities for innovation and discovery in both engineering and science. It is a rapidly changing and evolving area of study that requires even professionals to continually learn.
As a young girl I have always been interested in technology, I was amazed by the way machines can be used to engage our imagination. I therefore decided to pursue my degree in Electronic Engineering with Nanotechnology.
What was your route to getting where you are now?
As I mentioned earlier, technology appealed to me from a young age. I was interested in engaging my imagination to make things; especially those that help solve problems. At the age of 16 I made my first engineering project “water saving sensing system” that helps solve the water crisis in Jordan. If implemented in all Jordanian houses, the system can potentially save up to 7000million liters of water annually. The project was ranked as the best project in Intel Isef’s local 2012 Competition in Jordan, and accordingly I represented Jordan with this project in the international competition, which was held in the United States. The competition helped me get a glimpse on what engineering is, especially that non of my family members or acquaintances is an engineer.
In 2013 I joined UCL’s Electrical and Electronic engineering department as an undergraduate student. During the course of my study I got to do many interesting engineering projects from a muscle EMG sensor to a communications device that works in space. I also got to meet many inspiring lecturers and students that have their own stories on why engineering is their passion. Networking with those individuals, taking part of different engineering project and the modules all helped develop my engineering passion. I then decided that it is my duty to help younger student understand what engineering is, since many of them stay away from engineering simply because they do not have a clear understanding on what engineers do. I hence volunteered as a STEM ambassador in UCL’s Engineering faculty.
Being a woman, have you encountered any obstacles and how did you deal with them?
The moment I decided to pursue my undergraduate degree in engineering I started hearing sexist phrases like ‘women do not make good engineers’, ‘women are better as housewives’ and ‘engineering is a man’s job’. However I was lucky to have a supportive family that believes in equal opportunities for men and women. I also graduated from a feminist school ‘The Ahliyyah School for Girls’ who’s main motto was to empower women and encourage them to achieve their dream job.
On the first day of university I was surprised by the women to men ratio in class. My class was male-dominated with a ratio of 85%, I will be honest, this made me feel uncomfortable. Immediately after this though, in our introduction lecture, the head of Electronic Engineering department, started his lecture by ensuring us that women and men will be treated equally in this department. He also reminded us that UCL was the first university in England to allow women to study with equal opportunities to men. Later on in the day, I got introduced to my lectures and classmates which were very supportive and encouraging to women. I also learned that there is a student society dedicated only to female engineers. All of this ensured me that I am in the right place, pursuing the right degree.
However, I believe that the real obstacles are yet to come. It might be challenging for me to balance between making a family and continuing my job in a fast phased environment. Yet, during my degree in UCL, I met amazing example of successful women that are not only great in engineering, they are also amazing mothers and wives. Such as: Dr Sally Day and Prof Polina Bayvel.
Looking back, have there been any experiences working with young people that has changed you?
As part of UCL Engineering’s London Special Leaders Award I visited secondary and primary schools to talk to students about engineering. The students were then asked to write about their own engineering project. I was amazed by the ideas those young students had. This experience increased my appreciation to the ideas of younger students. Students at this age often have a wider imagination; they do not restrict their ideas with their previous knowledge on whether or not this engineering project will work. In my opinion, this creativity is much needed for new engineering projects. After this experience, I started to continuously ask younger students around me on engineering ideas and projects.
My role as a STEM ambassador increased my professional skills and confidence. Before every talk I deliver to students, I recap my journey in engineering and think deeper on how each class and each project I took part of reshaped my perspective of engineering. Before my talks, I ask students on their thoughts and opinions of engineering to stress on the points that appeal to them and try to fix what discourages them. I end up going home more confident and happy of my decision to become an engineer.
As an international student, what was it like to support students in the British system? How did it differ?
Students in the British system have a broader knowledge of different careers. It seems like there are many opportunities for them to do internships, carry out workshops in universities or attend career talks.
Back in Jordan, fewer universities undergo career workshops and talks. Students mainly depended on online career articles to choose their future job, they lack hands on experience and the ability to ask questions.
From my experience with high school students; hands on experiences are very important. During the UCL Engineering After School Clubs programme, myself along with some of my classmates taught high school students how to print circuit boards. We guided them through the whole process, starting with the design on a piece of paper to programming the software and building the hardware. There was nothing more rewarding than a student approaching us towards the end of the workshop and explaining that after her hands on experience with electronics, her first career choice now is electronic engineering even though she never considered it as an option before.
What is next for you as a STEM ambassador/ as an electrical engineering student?
I will be starting my undergraduate masters this September in Electronic Engineering with Nanotechnology. Throughout my next academic year, I plan to continue volunteering as a STEM ambassador. I would like to deliver more talks to students on engineering and to volunteer in workshops that run in the department. Along with other members of the Fleming Society I am also planning to release a series of videos to teach simple electronics to school student in different countries around the world.
What advice would you give to future STEM students and ambassadors?
I encourage STEM students to volunteer as STEM ambassadors. It is definitely one of the most rewarding experiences I ever had. Running workshops increased my confidence and understanding of related topics. Delivering talks to students boosted some of my soft skills, like delivering presentations in public. Finally, running one on one engineering projects with enthusiastic school students increased my passion to engineering.