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Jodie is trailblazing her way to the top

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Mechanical engineering student Jodie Howlett, along with almost half of Sheffield Hallam University’s student population, can proudly call themselves trailblazers.

This is because Jodie and 48% of undergraduate students here at Hallam are the very first in their families to go to university.

For many first generation students, freshers week can feel like a step into the unknown. When you have little or no family history of university attendance, or come from a community where attending university is not the norm, the experience can seem overwhelming. Furthermore, first-in-family students may also have additional and often invisible “work”, such as reassuring others, like parents, partners and children that they have made the right decision by studying.

Jodie, who is now in her third year, said: “Both my mum and dad left school at 16 with one GCSE each. They weren’t able to give me much advice when I came to university as they didn’t have that experience themselves but they have been really supportive in other ways, such as backing my decision to study engineering."

As well as being the first in her family to go to university, Jodie is trailblazing in other areas too. Earlier this year Jodie was named as one of the top 50 women under-35 in engineering in the country, in a list compiled by the Telegraph in collaboration with the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) celebrating International Women in Engineering Day.

Jodie said: "I got invited by WES to a couple of events in London. I got to meet lots of inspiring people from lots of different industries - people who worked on cool projects like this one woman who makes stars in a laboratory out of plasmas and high energy magnets."

Jodie was chosen as one of UK’s top rising female stars of engineering from more than 500 nominations following a year-long placement at Rolls Royce last year. Here she worked as a product definition engineer creating technical drawings through CAD models, a role she landed through Sheffield Hallam's partnership with Rolls Royce.

Jodie is also the Yorkshire representative for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) Young Members Board. The Young Members Board represents the interests of more than 65,000 students and young professionals in the UK and reports directly to the IMechE Council. As part of this role she helps to inspire more young girls to consider engineering as a career, which is something that she is very passionate about.

She said: "There are a lot of common misconceptions that engineering is dirty work that men do. Being able to break down those barriers and show that engineering is a range of different things in different industries helps people understand the breadth of what you can do. Getting more women involved will help with some of the diversity issues we have in engineering, as currently only 9% of UK engineers are female. This isn't enough; engineering needs to be more representative of society as a whole.

"In the past I have come up against some comments that I have got the internships I have just because I'm a woman, and some people have assumed that because of my gender I don't have the skills or knowledge to make decisions. Trying to battle that has been challenging but in the end once you do show that you are just as good as the boys you gain respect that way. I hope that I can act as a role model for other young people so that these misconceptions are removed."

For now, Jodie is looking forward to next summer when she will be travelling to South Africa to undertake an internship in Cape Town, the World Design Capital 2014 - an opportunity that has been made possible through a scholarship from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Here at Sheffield Hallam we are committed to breaking through barriers so that all students, no matter their background, have equal chance at success. Find out more about the impact the Hallam Fund is having to support students from a variety of different backgrounds here

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