Today on the blog we hear from Bethany Jim, a second year undergraduate studying Materials Science and Engineering here at Sheffield. Bethany is one of four female students on the first cohort of the SELA programme and we asked her to describe how the experience had affected her.
Sheffield Engineering Leadership Academy (SELA) is an extra-curricular leadership programme launched by the University of Sheffield. I first heard of its existence and an opportunity to apply to the academy in the middle of my first year studying Materials Science and Engineering, and thought, ‘What’s the harm in applying?’ SELA appealed to me because I wanted a chance to develop my own skills and confidence as a leader to follow the path I want in engineering, especially as a female in the field.
After a concentrated effort with the challenging online application, I was invited to attend an interview and give a pitch to the SELA board. The thought of doing so made me extremely nervous, but I knew how much I wanted to seize the opportunity to better myself. Doing the interview and pitch alone gave me confidence in spades, so I was both surprised and excited to be offered a place on the first-ever cohort of SELA.
After a brief meeting with the other members at the beginning of the year, the first thing we were all required to do was attend a ‘leadership boot camp’. The title of the event had me imagining crazy scenarios. The only information we were given was a web link to the majestic-looking hotel we were to stay at in the Peak District, and a time and place to climb aboard the bus which would take us there. An air of mystery floated through the bus, and upon arrival at 9am, we were greeted by a glorious view complete with golf course. The SELA board members and our mentors for the weekend appeared in the doorway of the hotel shortly after and we were led to the luxurious suites where the boot camp was to begin.
The modules in which we participated over the two days included role play, which required a decision of whether or not to race a Formula 1 car; skyscraper building using spaghetti and marshmallows; and how to negotiate as business owners. We also learned new ways of thinking using different brightly coloured hats, what our working styles and drivers are, and how to effectively problem-solve in time-pressured situations. I found the modules were brilliant for understanding the importance of communication and learning how to differentiate between technical and business aspects. We worked in multi-disciplinary teams for the modules, ensuring healthy debate.
On the Saturday evening, we relaxed and admired our bathrooms, wandered the grounds, and swam until the dinner bell. A delicious three-course meal was had by all and a ‘pitch club’ followed – we were told to pitch a product which would be useful for elderly people, and the winner would be awarded a beverage of their choice. After working hard at the modules the next day, our long-anticipated year’s project was revealed to us. We, as a cohort, now have the task to raise £10,000 to organise the following year’s boot camp in September 2015.
Now that I’m in my second year, I am focused on maintaining the best grades that I can, and as part of SELA, I receive mentoring, attend skills workshops, guest lectures and networking with leaders from industry and academia and will continue to do so alongside project work for my third year too, before I hope to complete a Masters in materials. One particularly memorable workshop I’ve had so far was on networking; I never knew how to approach people in networking events. After being thoroughly trained by a brilliant professional, I now finding the prospect of talking to people that I don’t know much less daunting, and I look forward to making connections with a wider circle.
To become a member of SELA, each cohort member is required to have a range of attributes, but I will never undervalue the simplest qualities of ambition and willingness to improve. I am one of only four girls selected for SELA this year, bearing in mind there are eighteen members in my cohort. I have tried not to let being a part of any ‘categories’ of people dissuade me from trying to achieve and I don’t believe anybody should let it dissuade them either. I want to grasp opportunities, generate new ideas and close the gender gap in STEM subjects as a young female engineer, whilst inspiring others to do the same. Since coming to university and winning a place in SELA, I have found the inner confidence to really go for the things which I want, and I hope it can be beneficial to my career in the future. It is impossible to avoid rejection completely, and in times where I have faced rejection, I have tried to learn from my mistakes and continue being brave. If I hadn’t mustered the confidence to grasp opportunities including SELA with both hands I don’t believe I would be typing this article.
Congratulations, Bethany - a brilliant message. We're hoping to hear more from Bethany about her fund-raising efforts this year and will keep you up to date on her success.