A STEM ambassador, an entrepreneur and an innovator: Jessica, 18, was rewarded for her many achievements at this year’s IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year award ceremony with the 2012 Intel Inspirational Award for Entrepreneurship.
Jessica recently began her astrophysics degree at Cardiff University. Although she’s very much at the beginning of her career, she already has a wealth of experience under her belt. This is thanks in part to her dad, a trained electrician and currently a lecturer, who’s always involved her in the world of science and technology.
“When I was really young he was teaching me things like the AC/DC theory and Ohms law, I never stood a chance,” she chuckles. “I used to do the weirdest things – Dad told me that when I was about three I was in the garage watching him take out the headlight of his car. The phone rang and when he came back I’d picked up a screwdriver and taken the other one out!”
“I guess I’ve just always loved taking things apart and putting them back together, so a career in engineering seemed the logical choice.”
Jessica got the chance to really get her teeth into engineering when she left school at 16. Entering college, she joined the Engineering Education Scheme Wales (EESW). Through this scheme she was given the opportunity to work with a local company.
“I was linked with Huntleigh Healthcare Diagnostics, where two of us worked on redesigning a foetal contraction monitor,” she says.
She left the company having developed a working model, however Jessica wanted to improve the concept further and when her time with the company ended, she continued working on her own concepts at home.
It wasn’t long before she came up with the concept of a fibre optic foetal contraction monitor, which negated the risk of any electrical shocks. Thanks to this discovery she is now in the process of patenting a form of fibre optic sensing technology and setting up her own limited company with her father, to market the product.
“Developing the fibre optic foetal contraction monitor did change my life,” she says. “I’m now working towards the patent and the company, but the fact that somebody saw something in me and my product is a really amazing feeling,” she enthuses. “I’ve always been a bit of a nerd, a bit different, so getting noticed for what I do is really nice.”
So how does she feel to be an up and coming entrepreneur?
“I’d never really seen myself as an entrepreneur but I do enjoy it,” she says. “It’s such an exciting experience and you can’t knock it. I’ll push it as far as I can and look into other applications. I think optical fibres have more applications than people realise, so hopefully I’ll start branching out, but it’s still early days.”
As well as creating new technology and studying at college, Jessica also found time over the last two years to work as a science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) ambassador and promoter of females in engineering.
She’s already talked at a number of IET events including the Cardiff Present around the World (PATW) competition heat, judged at FameLab and worked on a project called Get On With Science run by ChwaraeTeg and ContinYou Cymru in conjunction with the Welsh government.
“To be honest this work began for me when I joined the IET,” she explains. “I met a lot of interesting people including a volunteer named Rhys Phillips. I’m a shy person and I didn’t like speaking in front of an audience, but he pushed me and now I enjoy it – if you can see that people take something from it then it’s worth it. But now more and more people ask me to talk!”
Jessica does find it hard to consider herself a role model, especially when so young, but she can see that being just a few years older than some of the teenagers she speaks to allows them to relate to her better. She feels if she can just inspire one person to pursue a career in engineering then she’s achieved what she set out to do.
“I think it’s important to talk about what you do and why it’s exciting – to stimulate an interest in people. And it really is exciting – I’m not making it up, I love it. We need to put an end to the engineer stereotype: even dippy blonds can be engineers,” she laughs.
Winning the 2012 Intel Inspirational Award for Entrepreneurship was a real landmark for Jessica. The fact that she is being noticed for her achievements means the world to her, and she hopes that it will help support her career and business goals.
“I still can’t really believe it, it’s really special,” she says. “It means a lot to me and I think it will really help me because people are now beginning to take me seriously.”
Whist developing her company and studying at university she plans to use the award to support her work promoting engineering.
“The whole point of the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year awards and prizes like mine is to encourage more young women into engineering. I’d love to do my part to support that. Whether it’s standing in front of ten people or a thousand I’ll do it. I just want to help, because I think it’s such an exciting career if given a chance,” she concludes.