Suzie & Ricky – by Elizabeth Kapasa

A little bit about me

Currently, I am pursuing a PhD joint between Sheffield, Leeds and York Universities because it is the White Rose funded joint DTC for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine (DTC TERM) – This is under the department for Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leeds. I did my undergraduate degree in Biomaterials Science and Tissue Engineering (MEng) at the University of Sheffield, so I spent my first year of my PhD in Sheffield where I began the public engagement with the children’s book project.

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Picture of me at the book launch at ‘Engineering Imagination 2015’

How did we create a Children’s Book?

jkAbout 2 years ago, I was chosen to lead this University of Sheffield Women in Engineering Project to write and publish a children’s book to inspire primary school children to want to become engineers, rather than doctors, teachers, athletes etc. ‘Suzie and Ricky: The Crash Landing’ is about how the children find a friendly engineering team to help their newfound alien friend return home. 

This children’s book is a fantastic and creative idea aimed to reach young children aged 8 to 9 years old. We specifically chose this age because a national study showed that children decide whether they like and continue further studies in science and maths between the ages of 10 to 14 years old. So we hope to plant this idea before children finally make their decision.

Our society has slipped into unhelpful gender stereotypes, and I love being a part of a like-minded team that wants to help inspire young children (girls in particular) to see STEM subjects as an opportune job option alongside the other popular jobs like being a doctor, lawyer, athlete etc. That is why we chose Suzie and Ricky to co-star the book, so that in the story, every child has a starring character to associate with. We took particular care in working with the illustrator on creating Mike the alien, who we hope will be a friendly and lovable character the children can sympathise with. We hope throughout the book the children see themselves alongside Suzie and Ricky, who are eager to find a team of engineers to help get Mike back home and want to become engineers themselves too! Through the book we explain the role each engineer plays in helping Mike cope on Earth and to build the rocket in order to illustrate the variety in engineering disciplines. Finally at the back of the book we have profiles to give each engineer a real, tangible personality. Then the book ends with the key, intriguing question to make the children think . . . “What kind of Engineer will YOU be?”

What to take away from this?

I could not have dreamed how far this project has come – To everyone involved, I cannot thank all of you enough. It has been a genuine joy bringing the book to kids. As many of you will know, they ask the greatest, funniest and most curious questions. I remember one group of children in particular. They were asking questions about what I do, to which I explained that I am a bioengineer and I’m working on a PhD project to grow bones. The jaw of this one boy literally dropped like a cartoon and he paused for a moment before putting his hands on his head over his eyes and exclaiming “You’re like…breaking the laws of physics!” 

Public engagement is a great way to get out of the workplace and remember why we do the work we do, and reignite that passion, curiosity and excitement for that work. The most exciting thing about this project is that the story is not over yet.

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Snapshot from the IET Programme ‘Engineering Our World’.

I was interviewed by ITN productions for the IET programme ‘Engineering Our World’, where we took the book into a local school to read and do related activities.

 

 

Feel free to contact Elizabeth via email (elizabeth.kapasa@gmail.com) or twitter (@elizabethkapasa)

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