Girls with Grit was organised during the week of International Women in Engineering Day (23 June) by Ayrshire Connects, a mentoring network for female STEM and construction students across the College.
100 people came to the College’s Kilmarnock Campus to hear Sarah Murray, NASA HQs Council Executive / Mission Support and Partnership Councils, demonstrate how she showed extraordinary perseverance in dealing with sexual and racial prejudice on her way to a 25-year career at NASA. Sarah was at Ayrshire College for the full week with astronaut Mike Foale to run the week-long International Space School Educational Trust (ISSET) Mission Discovery space education school with 150 fifth and sixth year pupils and college students.
One of the most hard-hitting points of her presentation was about her own education. Comparing answers with a male student in her university study group, Sarah realised she had the same answers as him but was given a significantly lower score. When she reached out to her lecturer for a change of grade, she was bluntly told “women do not belong in engineering.”
Despite this, Sarah carved out an incredible career at NASA, where she has been responsible for astronaut training, space walks and robotics, among other key roles.
She shared techniques to build up resilience, and encouraged existing STEM employees in the audience to act as mentors to any students in attendance. Students then networked with STEM employers and college lecturers at the end of Girls with Grit.
Dr Philippa Whitford, MP for Central Ayrshire, shared her story of becoming a surgeon. She was also told she could not do it because of her gender.
Everyone was inspired by what they heard at Girls with Grit, the latest in the college’s #ThisAyrshireGirlCan campaign to tackle the gender gap in STEM.
Jackie Galbraith, Vice Principal at Ayrshire College, said “It was inspiring to hear Sarah and Philippa sharing their stories with an audience that was aged between 10 and 70. We’re on a mission to ensure that girls and women see the potential of careers in STEM and remove any obstacles that stand in their way.”
Sarah Murray said “The phrase ‘Girls with Grit’ absolutely describes girls and women in STEM related fields, because you need to have grit to be successful.
“I believe girls and women will run into obstacles and challenges which will require grit to overcome.”