Book Review: Engineers Making A Difference

Article by Yasmin Ali

Shini Somara; ISBN: 9781804660270; What on Earth Books; £16.99; 2023

Over the past ten years or so, I have spent a lot of my time telling others about the excitement of engineering and the vast variety of careers it opens up. From audiences of curious schoolchildren to enthusiastic science teachers and concerned parents, I have experimented with different methods of communication and kept a keen eye on what others like me were doing.

Shini Somara’s Engineers Making a Difference is exactly the type of offering I was looking to see. It begins with a heartfelt thank you to Somara’s father – an engineer who inspired her to pursue a STEM career – and from there introduces 46 very different engineers. Each is profiled and fit neatly into one of the 12 chapters that cover areas of life including healthcare, transportation, and entertainment.

Each engineer profile comes with a “fact file”, a small text box in the corner of the page containing quick career highlights and the most fun thing about that person’s job. But each of them lets us in beyond their jobs, into their personalities and lives. One talks about the impact of their parents fleeing war, another of experiencing bullying at school, while a third describes the future they dreamt. Different to other engineering books, this one is brimming with emotion – something that the engineering world often disregards – and it uses a conversational Q&A style that is easy to follow.

But what most stood out for me, even as someone that has been in and around engineering for around 15 years, were the unexpected and unique careers and career routes of the featured engineers. In the Powering our Future chapter – one I was very interested in as an engineer working in energy – Somara surprised me with a nuclear fusion apprentice, a head of hydrogen systems and integration, and an engineer working on uninterruptable power supply (UPS) systems. Rather than going for high level, or generic roles, Somara opted to feature individuals focused on the specifics, demonstrating that she’s not afraid to get into the complexity of engineering and explain it clearly.

As someone who did not have the option of engineering apprenticeships when I was choosing next steps at school, I also appreciated Somara’s decision to include the nuclear apprentice and others like them. It was great to see a high representation of engineers in the book who took this route, many highlighting the benefits of more hands-on learning, and simultaneously working and studying.

Others we meet that drive home the variety of careers enabled via engineering include: an agricultural engineer who devises ways of keeping fruit and vegetables fresh after harvest, someone who makes packaging from seaweed to reduce plastic waste, engineers who work on prosthetics and, my personal favourite, an engineer in the theme park industry who loves “experiencing the rides I have worked on, with family and friends”.

Alongside the inspiring words, colourful photographs of the engineers and technical illustrations draw the eye in. Another feature of note: the double page spreads that close chapters, going into depth on a particular technology relevant to the chapter theme and offering a future focus for the reader to further pique interest – lab-grown meat, drones, and nuclear energy are a few of the areas covered. The book often extends beyond itself; some of the profiles have QR codes that lead to short videos about the engineers, and its website hosts activities and teaching resources.

All in all, I think Engineers Making a Difference is an excellent resource. It can be handed to a young person to show the variety of engineering careers out there in an engaging way, to teachers and careers advisers guiding students, or to anyone who is involved in engineering outreach activities. Testament to my recommendation, after reading this book, I got four more copies to give to our Women’s Engineering Society summer work experience scheme students!

Article by Yasmin Ali

Hydrogen project development manager at RWE and STEM ambassador

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