Westminster Abbey hosts engineering celebration

Article by Adam Duckett

Dame Ann Dowling: we hope future generations will be inspired to discover new ways to improve lives

ENGINEERING was the focus of celebration today at a first-of-a-kind national service held at London’s Westminster Abbey.

The ceremony saw guests from across the engineering community, including trustees of IChemE, gather with politicians and school children to mark the government’s Year of Engineering initiative. The multi-faith service celebrated those inspiring the next generation of engineers and engineering greats including Thomas Telford and Robert Stephenson who are buried at the Abbey.

Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling said: “In a year which has seen government and industry join forces to raise the bar for inspiring the next generation of engineers, what could be more fitting than to come together to celebrate the contribution that engineers have made and will continue to make to all of our lives?

“The Year of Engineering has been a chance to show young people across the UK all that this profession has to offer them – and to spread the message that engineering needs talented young people from all walks of life to tackle some of the biggest challenges we face.

“I hope today’s service serves as an important reminder not just of our proud engineering history but of the role young people will play in writing its next chapter.”

The service led by John Hall, Dean of Westminster, included personal testimonies from engineers on how the discipline has changed their lives and enabled them to help inspire others through their work.

Roma Agrawal, associate director of AECOM and famed for her work on the Shard skyscraper, offered a heartfelt account about how engineering is her present and her future, referring to the fact that she will undergo IVF to get pregnant.

“Like thousands of women before me, I will depend on the doctors, scientists and engineers that have relentlessly worked to engineer babies, and I am thankful for the innovative medicine, engineering equipment and scientific breakthrough that has allowed us to literally create life,” Agrawal said.

Next-gen outreach

Agrawal: "Engineering is my future, and in my future will hopefully create life"

Agrawal spoke about the importance of inspiring the next generation, and estimates that through her own outreach activities she has spoken to some 20,000 people about engineering.

“The best engineers are those who can get their ideas over to non-engineers,” Agrawal said.

Dame Ann Dowling, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “Engineering expertise will be critical to tackling the global challenges we face in the years to come. Engineers will play a central role in addressing the effects of climate change and rising sea levels, and in ensuring that our growing population will have access to food, water, clean energy and affordable healthcare. We hope future generations will be inspired by the opportunities engineering offers to shape their world, to discover new ways to improve lives in the future and to help meet the needs of the twenty first century and beyond.”

Working together

After the event, members of IChemE and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) held a join networking reception where leading members of the two institutions discussed the successes of the Year of Engineering, including the promotion of new, more diverse role-models.

A theme repeated during discussions was the need for engineers of different disciplines to see themselves as engineers first, and then chemical or mechanical engineers second.

This was echoed by IChemE president Ken Rivers who noted that both institutions now share a home on Birdcage Walk. 

“The year has opened up the doors for collaboration, which can only be a good thing for us as professional engineering institutions,” Rivers said.

Said at the Abbey

Selected quotes from the ceremony:

John Hall, dean of Westminster: “We recognise the work engineers from the beginning of civilisation and the transformative power of engineering in whatever realm, including mechanical and civil, electrical, chemical, and bio-medical.”


Yewande Akinola was IET's Young Women Engineer of the Year 2012

Yewande Akinola, of Laing O’Rourke, read the poem What is an Engineer? by Varun Narayanan:

What is an engineer? Well, look around:
Our monuments are everywhere – we make
and speculate, design, create, and build,
then bridge the continents or search the stars,
bring information into every hand,
shape air and fire, sea and land – each one
an element with which we innovate,
imagining how lives might be improved.

To generate the new, the future now,
ingenious, from backgrounds of all kinds,
inventing at all ages, for all time,
with individual spirit and joined minds,
to tackle any challenge, far or near-
is what it means to be an engineer.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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