Ask our STEM Ambassadors: Focus on Arundathi Shanthini
2 March 2018
I am currently pursuing my MEng (Electronics with Computer Science) degree in the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering here at UCL. As a part of our course, I mainly get to learn a lot about circuits and the physics behind the working of circuits and semiconductor devices. We learn how to design, simulate and analyse circuits, the theory behind communication systems and the various processes involved behind its working; designing, synthesizing and testing digital circuits in various different ways and a lot more! But its not all theory, we also have lots of practical work in our course in the form of challenges, scenarios and lab work, which gives us exposure to working in teams (big and small). This also helps us develop project management skills whilst learning various practical skills like designing circuit boards, designing and building prototypes, simulating communication systems on software etc.
How did you decide to study in your chosen field?
In Year 8 of school, we had to choose between Economics and Computer Science as an elective subject. I wasn’t really a person who enjoyed reading and memorising a lot of theory and so I was very sure that I wanted to choose Computer Science. I never knew then that I would develop a lot of interest in programming, to an extent that by the end of Year 10, I was pretty sure I wanted to pursue a career in the field of computer science and engineering. However, a year later I found out my new interest for electronics. I started indulging in a lot of hobby projects. Around the same time, I discovered the Arduino board with which I could now apply my programming skills and for the first time I saw my code in action. To me the combination of electronics and programming seemed much more interesting then as results now extended from just the monitor to LEDs and actuators. When the time came for me to make a choice I chose Electronics or more specifically Electronics with Computer Science so that I get to learn modules from both fields.
What attracted you to participate in outreach and engagement activities?
In my first year at university which was also my first year in London, volunteering helped me a lot in connecting with more people. I met new people in the context of sharing my passion and interest for STEM subjects and to me there couldn’t have been a better way to start a conversation with a new person. This was the reason why I got involved with more and more organisations and projects which mainly aimed at promoting STEM subjects. Also, I have always enjoyed teaching and therefore this still motivates me to participate in outreach and engagement activities.
What are the best things about being a STEM Ambassador?
To me being a STEM Ambassador is also a platform for sharing my interest and love for a subject with another person, whilst promoting STEM subjects. The best reward is to see them smile when they understand a topic or when they celebrate the joy of seeing the circuit or project they worked on function the way they expected it to work. By the end of most programmes we see a change in most of the pupils in the way they look at STEM subjects and this becomes more evident when they ask you practical questions about how we got an offer at UCL. Some pupils go even further and ask questions about how we pay the tuition fees, about the scholarships that are available and about working while at UCL. These were important concerns and questions I had before I came to UCL and it makes me happy to be able to be of help to at least a few aspiring engineers. Being a STEM ambassador has given me an opportunity to eliminate certain misconceptions and worries about pursuing a career in STEM related fields among young people and sometimes even among their parents. Being a girl, mothers (of especially young girls) are convinced the most because for them seeing a girl pursuing her studies in the field, talk about her choice with confidence is a lot of assurance.
What type of activities or programmes have you led / run as a STEM Ambassador?
Currently, I am a UCL Engineering tutor teaching maths to secondary school students and I visit them at their schools for weekly one-to-one sessions. Earlier, I have led the UCL Engineering After School Clubs which is an activity we run every year through the Fleming Society,our student led departmental society. In this programme, we teach the pupils how to program microcontrollers, design printed circuit boards (PCB) and design simple circuits to build a PCB in the shape and size that they want. I am also the project leader of Mathomaniac; a student-led volunteering project where we visit schools to teach Mathematics to kids in Year 5 and 6. The aim is to introduce a different perspective for learning Mathematics and to show them that it can be fun as well. Apart from these, last year I have visited schools to assist in workshops on building obstacle avoiding robots conducted as part of the various sessions organised by the UCL Engineering Engagement team. I have also volunteered with various charity organizations like Action Tutoring with whom I have worked as a Maths tutor.
What are the benefits of volunteering as a STEM Ambassador?
Undoubtedly, the most rewarding part of volunteering as a STEM Ambassador is the joy of being able to share and develop an interest in subjects that I am passionate about among the young people. But that’s not all. From volunteering as a STEM Ambassador, I have been personally benefitted in various ways too. Through these programmes I could meet a lot of students from across different departments who share similar interests with me. Planning and conducting sessions, preparing study materials etc. added a lot to my experience at university and it helps develop your personal skills as well. Now that I am tutoring secondary school students I feel like the more I teach the more confident I feel about my knowledge in the subject. The different questions they ask makes you think in different ways and makes you think and learn more about the different ways of solving a problem. Often, even I get to learn many newer approaches and methods in this process.
What was the reaction of the young people you worked with?
While teaching when I introduce a topic, I also tell them what I find interesting about it. I believe that this helps them develop an interest in the subject. The students react in varied ways. Initially, some are doubtful about their interest for STEM subjects even though they come for our programmes, but towards the end of it we always see a lot of positive changes in the way the perceive the subject. This becomes more evident when they start asking practical questions about university life. Many students are very keen to know about my current personal experiences at the university. Usually during the last few sessions, we get some spare time to talk to the pupils and I often ask them whether they would choose Engineering and majority of them say yes! (Even though sometimes they say it with reluctance) Even though some others say they wouldn’t choose engineering, they always name another STEM field instead. However, irrespective of their choices, we always observe an increase in their interest towards STEM subjects.
What advice would you give young people wanting to study or work in STEM-related fields?
Most people tell me that the reason they wouldn’t choose a STEM related field because they it hard to understand. I don’t think STEM subjects are hard but they demand a bit more time and practice to be able to master the concepts. But if you give it that time and make your basics strong STEM subjects are really easy, interesting and much more fun to learn. Right now, at school you are learning these subjects alongside so many other subjects but when you choose a STEM related major at university you are learning modules about the same subject and then you will be able to give these subjects the time it demands. That is when you will realise and say to yourself that – “Actually I wasn’t that bad at this as I thought I was.”