For this instalment of our inspirational interview series we are talking to Natalie Cheung.
Natalie is an award-winning leader, volunteer and civil engineer who is passionate about promoting careers in STEM! She is currently working to deliver the STEM Ambassador programme in London, as STEM Ambassador Coordinator.
For her volunteer work and active citizenship, Natalie was awarded the YMCA England and Wales Young Leader of the Year 2018 and University of Manchester Medal of Social Responsibility in 2019. She is also a Council member for the Women’s Engineering Society and won their Amy Johnson award in 2019 for promoting diversity in engineering and applied sciences.
What/Who inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
At school I was interested in Artificial Intelligence and Technology which led to me studying Computing at A-Level. I wanted to program robots! I considered a wide variety of engineering disciplines to pursue at university and ended up picking Civil Engineering which was quite different to my original plan. This was influenced by a work experience placement in construction where I realised how many roles there were behind civil engineering projects like buildings! I am so grateful for the mentors who opened my eyes to career options in construction when I was 16, I had never even heard of civil engineering before that.
What does your typical day look like?
As a STEM Ambassador co-coordinator I help to deliver the STEM Ambassador programme which gets volunteers from different STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) fields inspiring young people to consider pursuing STEM. In my day-to-day, I work with volunteers, employers, schools, councils, museums, libraries, youth groups and more! I love organising events and supporting STEM Ambassadors to create resources that can reach young people.
Have you had to overcome challenges? If so what we’re they and how did you do it?
Those who know me now would be very surprised to hear I was a very very quiet teenager! Like many others, I have overcome challenges of confidence and impostor syndrome. Last year, I set a goal to improve my public speaking skills as I recognised this is a skill that can support me in my career and personal life. I sought out opportunities to deliver presentations and talks, especially those which were out of my comfort zone. The highlights of my public speaking work last year include coaching from TED, speaking at an international conference in front of the President of the UN General Assembly, being part of an engineering panel live-streamed to ten of thousands of young people and my first paid motivational speaking events.
What do you think can be done to get more girls into STEM?
Girls are already interested in STEM fields but it would help to have further support, mentorship and inspiration for groups which are currently under-represented. We also need to normalise seeing women in all levels of all STEM careers so they are visible to young people of all genders, plus parents and teachers. If you are interested in pursuing a career in civil engineering or STEM education, I would advise using online networks to learn from other people in the field. I have met lots of people from LinkedIn and Twitter who I can learn a lot from, including those in other fields. If you approach people in a polite way, they are often willing to provide advice from their experience or direct you to resources. As a mentor, I have really enjoyed working with engineering students and those seeking to find a STEM education role.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Outside of my day job and voluntary work in STEM, I have started a podcast “Yellow Bee Pod” which highlights the experience of East and Southeast Asians in UK, like myself. This is an underrepresented group in media and I am grateful for the opportunity to provide a platform for voices we don’t hear from enough.
Thank you so much to Natalie for speaking to us about her journey and career, we hope these interviews inspire more women and girls to get into STEM!
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