When Lauren Powell, 27, isn’t studying for her BSc (Hons) Combined STEM degree at The Open University, she’s helping to keep planes flying safely as an aeronautical quality engineer. Lauren shares why combining work and study has enabled her to achieve heights she never dreamed possible:
“I started a degree at a brick university when I was 18, however, six months in I disliked it and didn’t feel I had the support I needed. I found that brick university just wasn’t for me.
“I felt I had slightly let people down as I was the first member of my family to ever get to university. After a lot of thinking, I decided I wanted to fix this. My dad was an aircraft engineer, so I decided to go into aviation to try to make him proud!”
Taking on the world of aeronautical engineering
With the OU’s supported distance learning model, Lauren realised she didn’t have to choose between a career and a qualification. She could jump into the world of work, while still achieving her degree ambitions:
“I started to work in aviation around 19 years old and decided that learning on the job and advancing a career was the way forward. However, I still really wanted to get a degree. It felt like a huge achievement for me if I could accomplish it. I chose the OU and the flexibility it offered.
“I wanted to achieve something that seemed impossible to me and basically prove that I could do it.
“Choosing the path of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) has helped me to progress in my working career and will continue to help me move forward.”
Encouraging female STEM stars of the future
Lauren has held many roles in the aeronautical industry and is current working as a Quality Engineer at a business jet maintenance hangar. Alongside a team of engineers and the Quality Manager, Lauren conducts safety and quality audits to ensure that aircraft are fit to fly.
Though it is a traditionally male-dominated field, Lauren believes that more women should feel encouraged to pursue a career as an engineer:
“I have always been the minority within aeronautical engineering, and I wish more women would pursue it. To women considering a career in the industry, I’d say ‘go for it!’ Even if you don’t want to work ‘on the tools’, there are so many roles within the STEM sector that are interesting and have great career growth potential.”
The support available is fantastic
“My work is fantastic in supporting my OU study,” explains Lauren. “They allow me to work four long days and study on the fifth which makes the world of difference. My boss is always telling everyone I am studying with the OU!
“The past year with the pandemic has been hard though, I ended up losing my job, relocating, buying a new home, starting another job and even an internal promotion all within a few months. The OU were great and so supportive throughout. Any problems my tutors are on the phone, holding a Zoom or Skype meeting to go through anything extra I’m unsure of. I can’t fault them at all.
“The quality of the OU’s teaching and resources are very good. I have received talking books on a few modules to provide me with extra support. It’s something that my brick university struggled to help me with and eventually led to my decision to leave.”
Achieving what seemed impossible
Looking back on where she started, Lauren says studying with the OU has helped to transform her confidence and self-belief:
“I always joined the OU with the intent to graduate but honestly deep down, I never thought I would manage it. The positions I have gained at work I believe have been a lot through the dedication I have shown from studying part time and working full time. I think it displays the right attitude to employers. The OU has simply made me realise I can do things I had always told myself I couldn’t.
“I am considering undertaking a Master’s in Human Factors and Ergonomics next year, which is an area I am incredibly passionate about. However, for now, I think I will have a short break from the textbooks!”
Don’t doubt yourself, you can do it
“My advice to current or future students is to just do it! You will be amazed at what you can achieve. The support, if you want it, is there and is incredible but sometimes working through things at your own pace and in your own way makes the world of difference.
“For anyone currently studying, my advice is to make little goals. Focus on that next TMA and then the EMA, then the next module. You do not always need to look at the big picture, so break it down. Smaller goals are often easier to achieve but just as satisfying.”