‘Equip young people with a problem solving mind set’ – Amanda Regan, space engineer

Amanda Regan is a trailblazer in the technology of space craft design.

She is an engineer at the European Space Agency, Earth Observation Future Missions.

Amanda was speaking at FutureScot’s EduTech conference in Glasgow.

In the run-up to the event, she took part in this Q&A.

Are the Scottish and UK Governments doing enough to support STEM in schools?

Of course every government can and should be doing more. STEM is the corner stone of any economy. STEM is about effective problem solving and economies need effective problem solvers to deal with national and international issues

What about the STEM-related industries?

STEM industries can always do more. When I was 15 and still at school I completed my work experience in a brewery in the engineering department and I really enjoyed it. It gave me a glimpse of a possible future and for them it opened their eyes that a 15-year-old girl could work in the engineering department. When companies work with schools it changes their perspective, forces them to look further than the office door and gives them new perspective and this is always good.

And at a European level?

There is a lot of support at European level but I am not sure it is always communicated the widest possible audience.

Do you think the UK’s exit from the EU threatens its status within STEM industries?

I hope that the UK STEM industries are robust enough to withstand this uncertainty and look at Brexit as an opportunity rather than as a threat. It will certainly be a challenge. There are several European space projects that the UK has heavily invested in and the future for the UK within these projects will have to now be negotiated – so lets see what happens.

Are there examples of best practice in STEM teaching, and support for teaching, that you would like to see more widespread?

Best practice for me is to teach effective problem solving and teach that failure is part of the process – it is not an ending. If something goes wrong you try again. Through this process you learn and become better.

What was your own experience as a young person with ambitions, and how easy was it for you to fulfil them?

It wasn’t easy but you have to set yourself up to take advantage of every opportunity, which comes your way. I have fulfilled a number of ambitions but I did not do it alone. You have to surround yourself with the right people, people who get you, people who motivate you, people who are better than you and this forces you to be better.

How can teachers and mentors best advise and support young people to achieve their ambitions, particularly when faced with obstacles?

We have to equip young people with a problem solving mind set – life is all about perspective, choices and obstacles. Success and failure are just outcomes and should be treated with equal respect. I would teach young people to get used to making mistakes, get used to making a mess, but then give them the tools to deal with the problem, sort it out, and move on to the next thing. If you know how to deal with what is in front of you then you make better choices and you start seeing obstacles as opportunities. After all, a mountain can be seen as an obstacle or as an opportunity to see a spectacular view!