Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering Dr Dame Sue Ion DBE FREng FRS urged young women to take up a career in engineering to help address the world’s greatest challenges, when she gave the autumn term Principal’s Lecture at Cheltenham Ladies’ College on Saturday 12 October 2019.

In her final speech as Chair of the judging panel for the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award, Dame Sue told the inspiring story of geologist, suffragette and philanthropist Lady Rachel MacRobert, who attended Cheltenham Ladies College herself in the 1890s. Born in Massachusetts in the US, Rachel became the first woman to study at the Royal School of Mines, and the MacRobert Award – the most prestigious annual prize for UK engineering innovation – was founded in 1969 to reflect her lifelong love of science and engineering.

Only 12% of UK engineers are female and just 9% are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, but the UK has an annual shortfall of up to 59,000 engineers. Dame Sue highlighted the benefits of engineering to society and shared the achievements of some of the women engineers who have won the MacRobert Award.

Dame Sue hopes that this personal address will help inspire the students to find out more about engineering, how it works and how it impacts every aspect of our day-to-day lives.

She also talked about her own career to date and how it challenges society’s widespread misconceptions about engineers and the profession among young people. Aged 16, with the support of a championing chemistry teacher, Dame Sue won a book on atomic energy as a prize for her O-level attainment in science, which encouraged her enthusiasm for the subject. After studying for a degree and PhD in Materials Science at Imperial College London she spent 27 years with British Nuclear Fuels Limited, rising to the position of Chief Technology Officer, and has held numerous national and international energy policy advisory roles. She is currently Honorary President of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear.

Dame Sue believes that by highlighting the variety of ways engineers shape the world around us – often unseen, taken for granted and unsung – she will help encourage more pupils from all backgrounds to consider a career in engineering.

This year, the MacRobert Award celebrated its 50th year and Dame Sue is stepping down from the position of chair of the panel judges after five years.

Dame Sue Ion said:

“I am passionate about engineering and the difference it makes to our daily lives. More and more women are realising what fantastic careers they can have and the wealth of areas in which they can work.

“The traditional image of an engineer as someone in a hard hat isn’t a reality. There are amazing opportunities for engineers affecting every aspect of our lives from manufacturing to transport to construction, fashion, food, healthcare, energy, cyber security and making the world a better place.  Nowhere is that so apparent as in the winners of the MacRobert Award over the last 50 years.

“I could never have dreamed how rewarding and exciting a time you can have with a background in engineering nor of the amazing and talented people I’d be lucky enough to work with and have as colleagues and friends.”

Notes for Editors

  1. Cheltenham Ladies’ College

    Dame Sue gave her Principal’s Lecture in the Princess Hall at Cheltenham Ladies’ College at 11am on Saturday 12 October 2019. For more details of the event and a biography of Dame Sue, see: https://www.cheltladiescollege.org/community/parents/events/calendar/principals-lecture/
  2. MacRobert Award for engineering innovation

First presented in 1969, the MacRobert Award is widely regarded as the most coveted in the industry, honouring the winning organisation with a gold medal and the team members with a cash prize of £50,000. Founded by the MacRobert Trust, the award is presented and run by the Royal Academy of Engineering, with support from the Worshipful Company of Engineers.

Some of the previous winners of the MacRobert Award have been:

•   2019 - Bombardier for an advanced new composite aircraft wing that reduces aircraft weight and fuel burn

•   2018 - Owlstone Medical for developing non-invasive breath tests for cancer and other diseases.

•   2017 - Raspberry Pi for re-inventing computing through its low-cost, easy to use, credit card-sized microcomputers.

•   2016 - Blatchford for designing the world’s first ever prosthetic limb with integrated robotic control of the knee and foot.

•   2015 - Artemis Intelligent Power for developing technology to make hybrid buses commercially viable.

•   2014 - Cobalt Light Systems for designing a unique liquid scanner for airports.

  1. Royal Academy of Engineering

As the UK’s national academy for engineering and technology, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers from academia and business – our Fellows – to advance and promote excellence in engineering for the benefit of society.

We harness their experience and expertise to provide independent advice to government, to deliver programmes that help exceptional engineering researchers and innovators realise their potential, to engage the public with engineering and to provide leadership for the profession. 

We have three strategic priorities:

  • Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation and businesses
  • Address the engineering skills and diversity challenge
  • Position engineering at the heart of society

We bring together engineers, policy makers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, academics, educators and the public in pursuit of these goals.

Engineering is a global profession, so we work with partners across the world to advance engineering’s contribution to society on an international, as well as a national scale.

For more information please contact:

Beatrice Cole at the Royal Academy of Engineering:

T: 020 7766 0745

E:  Beatrice Cole