To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, we spoke to Dorrette Hanson about her experience as a woman who pursued studying engineering at NCATI later on in life.
Can you tell us about yourself and how you came to study engineering?
I’m currently in my fourth year of study at NCATI, having first joined the College on its Access to HE programme in Engineering when I was 53, and now completing my three-year degree in High Speed Rail & Infrastructure. I’ve always believed in the value of adult learning opportunities: before joining NCATI, I had just completed my English & Maths qualifications at Matthew Boulton College, which I’d achieved previously but had to repeat as they had become outdated. However, it was the opportunity to study railway engineering that really sparked my interest. Hearing about NCATI from the Victoria Derbyshire show, which emphasised the skills shortage/gap and the growing demand for rail engineers, I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to pursue studies in this specialist field – particularly as a woman in a historically male-dominated sector.
What have you enjoyed about studying engineering?
I chose Engineering because I wanted to do something completely different, and push me out of my comfort zone. I’d spent the previous couple of years suffering from depression due to being a victim of a hate crime, and knew it was time to get my confidence back. Studying engineering has given that to me.
I’ve also really loved how varied my studies have been: ‘High Speed Rail & Infrastructure’ sounds like a very niche course, but it’s ended up providing me with a really solid foundation in engineering fundamentals (both in civil and systems engineering), as well as covering project management, feasibility studies, and consideration of community and environmental impact.
As the only black woman on my course and the oldest learner at the College, with complex learning needs and hidden disabilities of dyslexia and hyperacusis, I’m living proof that engineering is for everyone – and also that there is still a lot more to be done for this to be reflected in the rail workforce!
What do you think needs to be done to get more women into rail engineering?
As part of my studies at NCATI, I carried out a research project on women in STEM, with a focus on engineering. A lot of the data suggests that female representation in engineering could be improved if there were more signposting of engineering opportunities to girls at a young age, after school and holiday clubs, and more female role models to look up to as they then progress. I think this is very likely the case in rail too, and I hope that my story helps inspire women of all ages to consider Engineering as a route for them – to further study, to a new career, or to increased confidence in what they can achieve.
My mantra is: “HS2 is coming, creating jobs and I do not want to miss it. I want to be part of it, and not be at the stops letting it pass me by. In order to do this, I need to get out of the congested lanes and into the empty lanes where there are more opportunities and diversity. I’m on track – pass the baton on.”