Leading the charge: CIBSE’s STEM ambassadors

CIBSE President Adrian Catchpole speaks to three engineers who have responded to his call for more STEM Ambassadors and finds out what they are doing to promote building services in schools

At the start of his CIBSE Presidency, Adrian Catchpole called on engineers to volunteer as STEM Ambassadors and help recruit the 200-300,000 people needed to deliver net zero in the UK across the built environment. 

In his Presidential address, he said engineers needed to ‘step forward with solutions and commit to taking a lead’ and announced a new science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) initiative that would involve CIBSE teaming up with STEM Learning to match engineers with schools and colleges. 

Catchpole set a target for CIBSE regions to attract 10 STEM Ambassadors during his 12-month presidency. Last month, he met three young engineers who have responded to his call – Silviu Sidovici, Natalie Collcutt and Ikechukwu Umeokoli – and spoke to them about their experiences.

How to sign up as a STEM Ambassador

  • Register online at www.stem.org.uk/register and select ‘STEM Ambassador’. List CIBSE as your professional institution.
  • Complete the online induction. You’ll be sent a link from STEM Learning.
  • Apply for a free DBS or PVG – essential for working with young people. Read our guidance how to prepare for this here: bit.ly/CIBSEDBS
  • Download CIBSE presentation templates and career guides from bit.ly/3UPbpFX
  • Visit the STEM Learning portal for activities in local schools and colleges.

There are nine free training modules to help people prepare to start volunteering, as well as on-demand e-learning modules to further develop their presentation and communication skills.

Adrian Catchpole is director of Johns Slater and Haward and CIBSE President

Adrian Catchpole (AC): What attracted you to become a STEM representative?

Ikechukwu Umeokoli (IU): I wanted to help younger people. I worked as an online maths tutor and was delighted to see someone gain a deeper understanding after sharing knowledge with them. Often, young people don’t know what is involved with being an engineer. There is a knowledge gap there that STEM Ambassadors can fill to give them a sense of purpose and stronger drive.

Natalie Collcutt (NC): I signed up to encourage more women to get involved in engineering. I went to an all-girls school and, apart from engineering evening events, there was nothing that would make me consider construction or engineering. The attitude was always ‘oh why don’t you do drama?’. Engineering covers such a wide range and I didn’t understand that until I did my engineering A Level. I also volunteer with SheCanEngineer, which is linked to STEM Learning. 

Silviu Sidovici (SS): I was inspired by one of Adrian’s speeches last year. I heard him say that 300,000 people are required to deliver net zero carbon, which is astonishing. Being a STEM Ambassador ties up with my long-term objective to teach. I would love to go into schools, and deliver lectures at university, to talk about engineering. I have a mechanical basis, so I really enjoy explaining the principles and I’m very passionate about sustainability. 

Natalie Collcutt is a senior buildings services engineer at Watkins Payne

AC: What STEM activities have you taken part in so far?

IU: I have attended a careers fair, where I gave advice and speed-networked with students. I had a huge number of students asking me about engineering. I broke down what I did in an easy-to-understand way. I don’t want to overcomplicate anything and I emphasised the fundamentals.

NC: I attended a careers fair where there were 100 people exhibiting, and I was with other engineers. It was really interesting talking to students and I found parents also asked how their children could get into the industry. There were a couple of children interested and they said they would apply for work experience when the time came. 

SS: I attended Skills London at ExCeL alongside a company called Quantum Learning. We had a working air source heat pump installation, and students were engaged and very curious to see how it worked. I also went to an engineering day at Bexley Grammar School, where there was a competition to design a research station in Antarctica. I presented the prize for the best design, and I really enjoyed the experience.

Ikechukwu Umeokoli is a graduate mechanical engineer at AtkinsRéalis

AC: What presentations have you got planned for the future?

NC: I’m going to do six presentations at school in one day for Years 4 and 5 in Key Stage 2. I will use the CIBSE Stem Learning portal for a presentation template and will put my own spin on it. I find presentations easier than those asking for a practical activity. I’ll take along a hi-vis, hard hat, and maybe a schematic and some attractive pictures of our projects. 

AC: A practical demonstration for building service engineers would be using a computer. This is very attractive to young people because we can show off 3D modelling and daylight-based simulation. Our industry has got sexy. On top of all of that, the world now knows about net zero and how engineers are playing a part in achieving it. Together, that’s quite a pull for youngsters that we have not had before.

SS: On my previous job, we had virtual reality glasses that allow you to explore building services models generated from Revit. That would be interesting to young people. 

Silviu Sidovici is a senior mechanical engineer at Buro Happold

AC: What would you say to anyone thinking of becoming a STEM Ambassador?

SS: Being a STEM Ambassador is rewarding. I enjoy explaining engineering to people and I’m an advocate for saving the planet – and we’re definitely in a crisis. I want to communicate that to people. I’m taken very seriously at Buro Happold and am supported by the directors, who regard my time spent on STEM as business development. It is an opportunity to promote the company and, in practical terms, it improves my presentation skills. 

NC: I have convinced one electrical engineer to become a STEM Ambassador. I told them it’s an opportunity to find people at schools who maybe, one day, they’ll be able to train. Most engineers like talking about engineering, so it’s not hard to convince them. Part of it is letting them know they only have to do one activity a year. Most companies give you a day or two to volunteer.

Catchpole says another benefit of volunteering as a STEM Ambassador is that it counts towards your CPD hours, and he believes it is the right call to ask for a doubling of CIBSE’s STEM ambassadors. 

‘We are well on the way to doing that, but it’s only a small step in the overall journey,’ he adds. ‘I challenge you to become STEM champions and persuade others to join the initiative. It’s a fairly low commitment and you only need to do one activity a year. There are 22,000 CIBSE Members – if each did one activity a year, we would smash through the 1,000 activities-a-year barrier.’ 

Popular STEM Ambassador activities

  • Workshops/practical activities in classrooms
  • Presentations on becoming a building services engineer; careers advice/speed-networking sessions
  • Mentoring
    Careers fairs
    Judging STEM competitions
    Educator development/CPD
    School governor/senior leadership advice

  • If you wish to become a STEM Ambassador, visit the CIBSE website at bit.ly/CBSESTEM