Rachel is a second-year biomedical engineering student at UCL, a few months ago we had a lovely chat with her about her role as a Project Leader for the student-led project Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Outreach, part of the EWB society. This SLP works with schools across London, including east London, where they have partnered with Kensington Primary School in Newham. Rachel talks about the ups and downs of this role, and how they have learned a lot!

Can you tell us a little about your project?

Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Outreach is a project where we deliver hands on engineering workshops for students in primary and secondary schools all across London. Through those workshops, we encourage young people from different backgrounds to choose a career in engineering. Our ultimate aim is to inspire the next generation of engineers to become more globally responsible in making the world a better place.

Can you tell us about your role as a Project Leader?

As a project leader, I send out emails to schools for partnerships and also manage part of the materials used for the outreach workshops. Engineers Without Borders has an amazing team and my role is mainly to assist the other leaders to work together to achieve our visions for the project.

Why did you want to become a Project Leader?

I really wanted to get involved with Engineers Without Borders as a society. I actually learned about EWB as an organization when I first read a book for my personal statement when I was applying to university, and I just realised how EWB is all about inspiring the next generation of engineers to become more globally responsible and more aware of sustainability and climate change, as it is such an important issue to address in the current world. So I've always liked the society as a whole, and I wanted to be a part of it since last year. At the same time, I wanted to develop my leadership skills and I had a genuine passion for inspiring young children to become engineers. So that's why I wanted to become a project leader.

What difference do you feel you’ve made by leading your project?

I think the most rewarding part was when young students are really happy with their creation and are really engaged with the session. We had three workshops that we delivered, which were building roller coasters, a water filter and a power turbine. All of these have links to sustainability but at the same time they're giving hands-on experience to young students for them to become engineers.  Also, the most important thing is that the young students are engaged, so it doesn't matter if you make the best roller coaster or the sturdiest power turbine, the most important thing is the process of designing and implementing the principles that you learn through the workshop, and of course, to collaborate with other students to build the prototype, because it's all about teamwork in engineering.  Another very rewarding part is getting positive feedback from schools. There was this feedback where they said the students were still playing with the roller coasters a week after workshop.

Knowing that you've made an impact on them was such a good feeling, no matter big or small.

What impact has volunteering, and leading a project had on you?

I think leading a project was a learning process, because last year I was just part of assisting and helping the project leaders to manage the workshops, but this year I am now the main project leader. I haven't really had experience of fully leading an entire project, but fingers crossed hopefully the project will be a success this year too.

How has your network developed whilst being a Project Leader?

We went to eight different schools last year, reaching out to around six hundred children. Just partnering with different schools, sending out the partnership agreements, and having a relationship with the school, like a continuing partnership, has helped a lot because it makes it much easier reaching out to schools that we have partnered with before. Also reaching out to new schools that we haven't partnered with before and spreading our workshops and our outreach to more schools, hoping to reach more children out there is amazing.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered? How did you overcome this challenge?

I think the biggest challenge was actually the very first school I went to. The children were a bit rowdy, and probably they were very excited about the project. While we were explaining the principles, no one listened, they were standing on tables just cheering and screaming and yelling. Before this I had never been to a British school to teach before, so it was a challenge for me. Me and another project leader discussed and decided to separate all the kids into different groups. We gave them materials so they had something to explore with and then we continue to talk about the process of building a roller coaster. Finally, they sat down and listened, which was really great. For the next schools we went to we divided the students into groups, and then we talked about how the workshop went and what we could learn from it.

Tell us something memorable that’s happened to you whilst being a Project Leader?

I think it was mainly the feedback from the schools and the children as well. They all say “Thank you” once we finish the workshop and they are so happy with their creations, they give names to their roller coasters. They had team names, and we had a mini competition for the best protocol, but at the end of the day it was judged on the process of building it and how they collaborated with their classmates.

They don't just gain knowledge about engineering, but they also learn more skills on collaborating and teamwork.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone thinking about being a Project Leader?

I would say, keep calm and don't worry if things don't go as planned. It might be intimidating at first, because you're leading a whole project, and you have to find partner organisations. It's definitely hard, but I think at the end of the day, you just have to accept that things might go wrong, and that's totally fine. Make sure you have support around you like other project leaders, and most importantly, just think about your vision for the project. For example, Engineers Without Borders is all about inspiring the next generation.

Want to start your own Student-led Volunteering Project? Find out more and share your ideas with us here!