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Born before the arrival of the humble telephone, Sir Joseph Whitworth founded a scholarship for ex-apprentices to attend university and gain a theoretical education to bolster their practical experience. Now, 150 years later, the Whitworth Society (founded in 1923) has commissioned interviews with eminent Scholars from across the engineering spectrum.
On this page you can explore the lives of these Scholars and hear their stories in the short podcasts that have been recorded. The interviews were conducted at the IMechE library in Westminster, London and over Skype.
The Scholars are:
For Monika Sud, discovering the Whitworth Scholarship brought a sense of belonging.
A student at the time, she knew of only one other person in her year that had taken the apprenticeship route into university.
"I was amazed that there was a scholarship out there for people who had taken a different path," she says. "It was a great way to join something, where I would find others like me."
At university, Sud discovered she had a different set of skills to her peers, who had travelled along academic channels. She excelled at hands-on tasks and project management. In 2005, Sud left England to live in Australia, where she is now a senior associate in a management consulting firm, which handles giant infrastructure projects. She says the Whitworth Scholarship helped her build her career. It helped fund her studies and opened up a whole new network. "I met engineers from across all levels of the industry," she says. For Sud, some of the great global challenges for engineers include climate change and population growth, which puts strain on food and water supplies. In her line of work, engineers are trying to find ways to integrate autonomous vehicles into the available infrastructure.
To find solutions to these problems requires different and creative thinking. Sud says she is pleased to see engineering opening up and becoming more diverse. "I see more females entering engineering, which is great," she says. "There's lots more diversity. Here in Australia, we've got all different races, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, coming into the career, which has been fabulous to see." Sud may find herself 10,000 miles away from where she studied and received her Whitworth medal, but she says she is immensely proud to carry the Whitworth name with her, wherever she goes. "My message (to those considering the scholarship) is: it's definitely worth applying. It's a prestigious award, if you're successful," she says. "It has really lifted my career... and I am proud to have the words 'Whitworth Scholar' on my business card."
Gill Cooke was applying for a new job at an aerospace company when the manager interviewing her brought up her Whitworth Scholarship.
She had finished her apprenticeship, qualified as an engineer and had no idea of the door her recently-obtained Whitworth medal was about to open.
"The managing director actually said to me that it was the scholarship that made the difference," Cooke recalls, explaining how she was hired. "His professor at Cambridge had been a Whitworth Scholar had been more proud of that than his PhD and his research."
Later in life, being a Whitworth Scholar would help make important connections as Cooke secured consulting work, before moving into academia. "It helps you stand out," she says. "To be different. To add something that others don't have. More informally, it's the network, the society and being part of a group of like-minded people who are there if you need them."
Professor Cooke, who is now head of teaching at the engineering school at The University of Warwick, is responsible for every aspect of what she calls the "student journey". With a background in quality engineering and machine tools, she feels a strong connection to Sir Joseph Whitworth's work in the field of standardisation and precision measurement. But for her, Whitworth's legacy stretches beyond his "technical creations" to the scholarship he founded in 1868, which continues 150 years later. She is a past president of the Whitworth Society, which supports scholars.
"Engineers have a duty to contribute to a better world. For me, the most important thing is that we have the best engineers. Doesn't matter whether they are male or female, what their country of origin is, or what their political and religious beliefs are. To solve societal problems, we need the very best engineers. We should all be treated with dignity and respect." Cooke thinks that were he alive today, Sir Joseph would look at modern technology and think of ways it could make an impact in the future. He would be "looking for opportunities", she reckons.
To those weighing up a career in engineering or applying for the scholarship, Cooke has this to say: "Engineering is the most worthwhile and rewarding career you can follow. It has the potential to impact many, many people in a positive way. It's not an easy route. It's a hard qualification to get. But that's what makes it valuable. So hold on to your dreams, work hard and go for it!"
Ben Hughes left school at 16 with a bad attitude and a chip on his shoulder. A four-year engineering apprenticeship at Shell UK sorted out the bad attitude, he says, the chip fell off and before long he was craving to do more with his life.
Working nearly 50 hours a week and studying part time, he obtained the engineering degree he wanted. Hughes was ready to go further, but it was not until he stumbled across the Whitworth Scholarship that he was able to quit work and focus on obtaining his PhD.
Today, Dr Ben Hughes is a trailblazer in the energy sector, a reader at Sheffield University and one of the brains behind innovative global projects, including the construction of air-conditioned stadiums in Qatar.
He says the Whitworth Scholarship gave him the confidence he needed. "The most important thing is the network of contacts within the Whitworth Society," he explains. "There's a network of people who have been on the same journey. You can pick up the phone and get some advice. They can phone you, and you can help each other. It makes a big difference." Hughes has worked in Dubai and runs a research company linked to his university. The money generated through the company's products - such as low-energy cooling wind towers - is channeled back into the university, allowing for more PhDs to be awarded and for further research to be undertaken into things like smart homes and buildings.
For Hughes, what makes the Whitworth Scholarship unique is that it's designed for people who take a different route into academia. However they get there, he says, they can help engineer solutions to some of the world's most urgent problems, such as climate change, food security and the depletion of energy resources. Hughes believes pioneers like Sir Joseph Whitworth, who founded the scholarship 150 years ago, come once in a generation. He thinks that if Whitworth lived in this era, he would still be at the forefront of advancing manufacturing. "I am sure there are many people looking at scholarships, looking at the lists of scholars and being put off, thinking they are not at that level," Hughes says. "But the reality is that if you were at that level, you wouldn't need the scholarship. So apply. Come speak to us. We can help. Just believe in yourself. Have no fear."
Rachael Hoyle believes legendary toolmaker, Sir Joseph Whitworth, used his core skills to make the world a better place. Modern day engineers, she says, should aspire to do the same.
Hoyle, a scholar since 2013, did her apprenticeship at BAE Systems and decided to study further because she craved knowledge about the engineering industry. The firm supported her and, over the years, she has used her background in mechanical engineering to move into a project management role at the company.
When Hoyle discovered the Whitworth Scholarship she felt inspired by Sir Joseph's life. She saw him as someone who may have been an "abrupt and direct character", but also a man whose intentions were always to advance engineering. In her eyes, Whitworth had the right idea: to merge the spheres of practical experience and theoretical learning. "Having an understanding of the practicalities of how engineering works, and then to be able to apply the theory in an academic approach, gives a different perspective to problem solving," she says. "Diversifying how we solve problems can only give us better solutions in the long run."
Hoyle says obtaining her Whitworth Scholarship had a "massive impact" on her life. It introduced her to a wide group of people who share core values and who want to see progress in the industry.
"It opened my eyes to a world beyond North West England," she says. Looking at the wider engineering sector, Hoyle sees perceptions changing. No longer is being an engineer considered "dirty work", she feels, but rather an "intellectual challenge". With more diverse role models emerging, diversity will also continue to flourish. She thinks Whitworth would likely be overwhelmed by the progress made over the past 150 years, if he could somehow see it.
"I would hope he would be impressed... but we can always do better." Hoyle encourages others to apply for the Whitworth Scholarship. "It's a great opportunity," she concludes. "It brings different kinds of people into the industry. So it's what you make of it. You get out of it what you put into it."