Subashini Suganthakumaran, mathematics teacher at Hammersmith Academy, shares her experience during a recent STEM Insight placement at SNC-Lavalin's Atkins business.
Earlier this year I was invited by Lauren, the DT teacher and STEM coordinator at Hammersmith Academy where I work, to take part in the Insight Program at SNC-Lavalin's Atkins business. We spent a week in two of their four offices in Epsom, with employees from the other offices coming to visit us, and we ended the week with a site visit to the construction of the new Atkin’s office building.
Upon our arrival at The Wells office in the centre of Epsom on Monday morning, we were greeted by Vicky Stewart, an acoustic consultant, dedicated STEM Ambassador and generally amazing woman. She showed us around the office, got us settled into the meeting room she had booked as our base and ensured we were comfortable. Our morning comprised of a detailed overview of the company and its functions, as well as case studies of ongoing projects, giving us an understanding of the company’s scale.
We were shown their transformation of the crossing at Oxford Circus which, inspired by the famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, manages crowds by incorporating both straight and diagonal foot flow. As well as the removal of furniture and bins, improved lighting aided the transformative success.
We were also told about Atkins’ involvement in the London 2012 Olympic Games, including projects like ensuring the once-contaminated land in Stratford was fit for purpose as the Olympic Park. Different employees shared the expertise they brought to the table and answered my numerous questions about how they used maths in their work.
Our days were filled with meetings with engineers from various fields; from Sophie, a tunnel engineer who uses first principles of differentiation when looking at papers about different tunnelling methods, to Louise, a structural engineer who told me how she uses trigonometry on a regular basis when resolving forces in buildings. Our conversations made me excited to go back to the classroom and share with my class the very real examples that had been shared with me.
On Tuesday afternoon we transferred to the Woodcote office, a larger office slightly out of the town centre. We were hosted there by Rivers, Dams and Maritime Engineer, as well as the STEM Hub Coordinator for Epsom, Rachel. She had a very impressive itinerary lined up for us; we met with everyone from engineers to CAD technicians, and even the company’s legal team. Everyone was so accommodating and genuinely cared about spreading the STEM message. Our Insight placement coincided with a technology exhibition, so we were able to try some of the technology Atkins has been developing, such as a Virtual Reality headset that allowed us to tour the design of a new building for Bournemouth University, and even change aspects of individual rooms.
What have I taken away from the experience?
Since returning to the classroom I have been using examples I heard about in Atkins frequently. When learning about probability, it is fascinating to know that tunnel engineers are using probability to analyse different scenarios for the Heathrow expansion and determine which design would work best. I appreciate this can be read online, but for students learning about topics that can seem very distant from their lives, having your teacher share first-hand experience of seeing it in action can make it seem more relevant and exciting.
For me, the best thing about the experience is that it was exactly what I hoped it would be. In one meeting, a civil engineer took far more time than scheduled to discuss the problem solving aspect of the GCSEs, formulating a problem solving task for me to use with Year 8 when studying area and volume. He used diagrams to show how accuracy could be improved by using different shapes to calculate an area, bringing to mind the trapezium rule recently introduced to GCSEs. Problem solving tasks like this have been embedded into the department’s scheme of learning for the year ahead.
My school is very fortunate to have a strong STEM network, led by Lauren and our careers lead, Sophie (who shares all sorts of resources and opportunities with students via @HA_6thform) who were already spreading STEM and engineering careers with students. Lauren and I now have a better knowledge of the variety of roles within engineering and different routes into the profession, which we are able to share with students. We have also been able to invite all the wonderful Atkins employees that we met in to share their STEM story and inspire our students like they did us.
At the end of last year, we set all Year 12 mathematics students the task of researching and exploring how mathematics is used in an industry of their choice. Students presented this to their class followed by a Q&A session, which was especially valuable when preparing for UCAS and other applications.
I would highly recommend the STEM Insight Programme, especially if possible with another member of staff from your school; I really appreciated being able to bounce ideas off Lauren, both during our placement and since going back to school. I am very grateful to everyone at Atkins and STEM Learning for making the experience possible.