IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year update

28 May 2013
By Yewande Akinola
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Yewande Akinola teaching a lesson

Yewande Akinola guest teaches as part of the TeachFirst Every Child Can campaign

Yewande Akinola tells of her busy year so far.

It feels like only yesterday when the Young Woman Engineer of the Year (YWE) 2012 finalists sat in the front row of the theatre in Savoy Place....all nervous and excited.  We were full of gratitude for the recognition and encouragement and definitely fuelled with inspiration for the future.  It has since been a whirl wind couple of months.


First Lego League UK Final

My first official engagement as Young Woman Engineer of the Year Winner will always be one of my claims to fame. I was invited by the IET First Lego League (FLL) organisers to be part of the UK National finals of the First Lego League competition in Loughborough.

I was excited. Super excited about what the teams will build and how they’d control their robots. When I was a kid, I could only get as far as building objects with Lego. I had to rely on my imagination to get my objects to move! The event was more impressive than I imagined it would be. There was an amazing buzz in the venue-from gangnam style dancing to presentations; loads of Lego robots working away and teams working hard to perfect the seamless operation of their robots.  The winning team, Untitled 1, true champions, have since gone on to win the WORLD LEGO Championships in the States. It was such an honour to present them with their FLL UK Champions award.


Engineering Ambassador at St Ursuline Academy and the Big Bang Fair

St Ursuline Academy in Illford, Essex was my next stop as Engineering Ambassador. I was invited to a design session with the ladies at St. Ursuline Academy. Two teams from the school had given up a day of their half term to work on innovative projects for the finals of the Big Bang Fair One group, known as the Science Angels, who design greenhouses for farmers in the Third World. They built prototype greenhouses with innovative solar glass to make it easier for different crops to grow. The other team, the Sus-tain-ables, investigated how mud can be used as a building material by building a model of a home in Bangladesh. They used cheap, natural and recycled materials to ensure their design is directly applicable to developing countries. We had a great design session. I was impressed by their hard work and enthusiasm. With lovely banter within the teams, it really did feel like I was hanging out with my younger sisters. Weeks after, when I popped by their stand at the Big Bang Fair, it was great to hear that their project caught the interest of the Prime Minister. He stopped by their stand and listened to them talk about their project. They went on further to win the Shell Prize for Sustainability. Well done to all of them and their absolutely dedicated teacher Rose Russell.


Working in Shanghai

It’s been a real mix of experiences for me so far…..combined with the fact that I am currently based in Shanghai working on projects in China. With no Mandarin speaking abilities, it was a mammoth task settling-in in my first couple of weeks. Google Translate has come to the rescue many times.  Working on 300-400m buildings comes with tons of thrills and it has been interesting to get more of an understanding of how culture meets engineering.  Our world is shrinking and the interconnectedness is profound.


Global Grand Summit

With this insight, attending and being part of the first ever Global Grand Challenges Summit on 12 and 13  March held at Savoy Place, London was a great opportunity! The event brought students, forward thinkers, innovators, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs (and more) from the U.S., China, the U.K and Africa to one location and under one roof.  I learnt an exceeding amount about the breadth of engineering in the two days to last me a while!  The Royal Academy of Engineering, The US National Academy of Engineering and the Chinese Academy of Engineering worked super hard to make sure the two days served the purpose of progress for our world.


Next Steps

I joined a panel for the final session which was titled Next Steps. Eleanor Stride, Jilei Hou, Jared Dunnmon and I shared our thoughts on how the grand challenges agenda can be used to drive change in the future. We shared the need for better collaboration between engineers and other industries and talked about the importance of investment and innovation in solving our world’s water problems. We also touched on the structure of current educational systems, the adaptations needed to make science, technology, engineering and mathematics more appealing to students. The links below are of the summit and video footage of the Next Steps session.


Continuing to work hard….!

I have been encouraged to keep on working hard. Two very recent programmes have demonstrated the importance and the truth in the saying ‘To whom much is given, much is expected’.  At a Designed to Inspire 3-day programme organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering, students from all over the country and from diverse backgrounds had career path questions to ask. I was so glad that the super cool line up of Designed to Inspire Role models  and I were there (thanks to the RAEng) to help them understand and  get first-hand accounts of life in engineering.  Also as part of Teach First’s Every Child Can Campaign, Year 9 students (from Highgate Wood Secondary school) and I  explored what our world might look like in 2050 and came up with ideas for products fuelled by sustainable energy. The pupils’ ideas included an ear-held projector iPad that runs on thermal energy, a high-rise skate park that uses energy from skaters to power the lift and a flying scooter powered by internal mini wind turbines -a perfect example of the importance of grooming creativity.

I am looking forward to the next couple of months. The work of all the fantastic people involved in celebrating and encouraging Engineering Excellence is definitely bringing refreshing changing. It must continue. I have been moved by emails I have received from people who have been inspired to have confidence in their creativity and now see a place for it in our world. …..SUPER COOL!!