Author: George Surtees, MEng Aerospace Engineering
Recently, I took the initiative to propose, plan and take part in an outreach event for my department and university. I had the great opportunity to present my experience as an engineering student to the 93 (City of Bath) Squadron RAF Air Cadets. I joined the RAF Air Cadets the day I turned 13, something I’d been waiting to be able to do for years before. Ever since I cut my tenure short to come to university, I’d been looking for a way to give back and here was my chance. I hoped that in doing this, I could open the door for a wave of students to promote their passions and help others realise theirs.
For me, the Air Cadets married everything I loved and found interesting in life: adventure, camaraderie, discipline, and of course, aircraft. I spent over five years there and the experiences I shared with some of my closest friends are the most memorable and influential of my entire life. From getting to fly powered aircraft and gliders, to spending weeks away from home at military bases. I have no doubt that the organisation helped me become the person I am today.
Putting an idea into action
Once I had the idea that I wanted to present to the Air Cadets at Bath, the first step was to approach my department for approval. Needless to say, they leapt at the idea, and I was partnered with the department outreach officer, Dr Sam Bull. Together, we decided on a structure and were ready to take the idea to the cadets. After dropping in, they were more than happy to host a former cadet for the evening and relished the opportunity to build a connection with the university.
Writing the presentation
As any final year student can attest to, free time isn’t something you’re afforded a lot of. And especially not while studying an engineering degree and maintaining part-time employment. Despite this, any minute I could find was spent brainstorming and writing what I hoped would be an engaging and intellectually stimulating presentation. My department was incredibly supportive throughout this; I had help with anything I was unsure about, and we were even offered additional funding for anything we wanted to add. As part of the presentation, I wanted to highlight the possibilities an engineering degree offers, for which the careers department were indispensable. We wanted to conclude with Dr Bull’s design for a portable wind tunnel, an excellent practical demonstration of the work of an aerospace engineer.
Presentation day arrives!
With everything ready to go, the final steps were polishing the patter and adding the finishing touches to the slides. Dr Bull and I had planned to present together, playing to our strengths to give the best presentation possible. But due to unforeseen circumstances, I ended up fully taking the reins. However, if the cadets taught me anything, it was to take challenges in stride and persevere through adversity . Thankfully, everything went as planned, and the presentation was very well received by all those involved.
Where to next?
After my experience, I am eager to continue my involvement in this project. I feel promoting degrees in the sciences, especially to younger audiences, is an incredibly important process and deserves wider exposure. After the presentation, the cadets were open to future outreach opportunities and the possibility of building a stronger rapport with the University. I also aim to extend the reach of the project to more squadrons, such as those in the Bristol area.
What I learned from my experience
For others looking to take inspiration and promote their interests, I feel it is important to convey what I learned from my experiences. Firstly, my department was very upfront and supportive of the entire process. They gave me complete creative freedom of the content I wished to include and were able to educate me in the correct prose and presentation style expected from professionals. While it was a daunting task, as I hadn't presented in person outside of mandatory assignments since pre-COVID, the squadron was very welcoming and hospitable, helping to ease my nerves. The cadets themselves were very engaged, asking many excellent questions about a range of topics, and getting heavily involved in the logic puzzles. Overall, it was a terrific experience and helped me appreciate further the outreach process. It was certainly an excellent exercise in developing my presentation and interpersonal skills, as well as allowing me to further cement my fundamental knowledge of my chosen discipline.
I would personally like to give thanks to Dr Sam Bull for helping coach me through the process; I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do this without him. I’d also like to thank 93 (City of Bath) Squadron for being so hospitable and open to the opportunity we presented them with.
 The motto of the RAF, Per Ardva Ad Astra, translates to “Through adversity to the stars”.