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Brunel tackles 'boring science' with grant for women engineers to teach robot lessons at school

Female students at Brunel University London will teach schoolchildren to programme robots in a new bid to balance the gender divide in STEM subjects.

The university will train 40 Women in Engineering postgraduates to deliver the unique Robo-Code sessions at secondary schools – the result of a £29,625 Ingenious grant from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Pupils will use the code to create their own robot – and then programme it to do battle with their classmates’ creations, introducing them to engineering thinking and computer programming.

The Robo-Code initiative is part of a wider bid by Brunel University London to engage all genders in science and tackle teenage drift away from the subject.

The sessions will complement the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) outreach lab being created as part of a facilities upgrade to excite young people about the jobs that flow from STEM.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at Brunel University London, Professor Geoff Rodgers, said: “Thanks to the backing of the Royal Academy of Engineering, our fantastic female engineering students will be able to share their passion and expertise for science and programming with a new generation of potential scientists.

“As women in engineering they are forging new ground and we hope this will challenge pupil perceptions that science is boring, irrelevant or not for them. The experience will in turn give our students vital career skills.”

Brunel University London students taking part in Robo-Code will be taught creative public engagement and communication skills. The grant will also provide the specialist equipment and tools needed to run the sessions.

Over time, the participants will share their knowledge with other students and professional engineers. This “train the trainer” model should mean the effects of the Academy’s Ingenious grant will be felt widely for years to come.

The Brunel project is one of 22 to be supported by Ingenious grants.

Professor Sarah Spurgeon, chair of the Ingenious funding panel, said: “The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Ingenious projects are finding new and innovative ways to get the public – whether student, family, or adult-audiences – engaged with engineering. Our projects don’t just showcase the diversity of engineering – they also give the public a meaningful opportunity to interact with engineers, ask questions and share their views.”