Sara Underwood, a higher apprentice at Rolls-Royce.

Introducing Sara Underwood 2013 Mary George Memorial Prize for an Outstanding Apprentice winner

Rolls-Royce higher apprentice Sara was recognised for her determination and drive to succeed in all aspects of her career as well as her STEM volunteering work.

Sara was always destined for a career in engineering. At school, maths and science were her strongest subjects and she enjoyed classes like product design. To her, engineering felt like the natural career path to take, however her route into her first job wasn’t as smooth as she’d planned.

Her original plan had been to go straight to university, however her move from an all girls school to a mixed college and the freedom that comes with higher education was a big learning curve for the teen.

“I struggled with the freedom I was given there and having to work for myself,” she explains. “I was missing my focus – I knew I wanted to do engineering but I didn’t have a definitive plan in place, I just didn’t know what kind of engineering and what course I wanted to do! Then one evening I was watching a TV show with my parents on how to build a jumbo jet engine, which really caught my attention. I thought, hey, why not, I’ll give that a go. So I applied for an apprenticeship with Rolls-Royce and that was it!”

Working as a higher apprentice at Rolls-Royce

As a higher apprentice at Rolls-Royce, Sara spends time working in multiple teams with the manufacturing engineering department. She works on process, quality and product improvements to help cut time and costs to the business and she’s also had the opportunity to complete a HNC in manufacturing.

Sara’s really enjoying the apprenticeship experience and feels thankful for the opportunities she’s been given.

“I’ve had the chance to do so many things,” she says. “I’ve had the opportunity to go on loads of training courses, which has been amazing as Rolls-Royce has some really great in-house training courses. I also got to go along to a test pilots reunion event, but I’ve especially loved the STEM work I’ve got to do.

Running an afterschool engineering club

“Recently I’ve been working with Skipton Girls School, running an afterschool club. There’s a nationwide programme called Girls Engineering the Future, run by the Smallpeice Trust and the Outward Bound Trust, and Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, Network Rail and Bentley Motors have all bought into the programme. They’ve trained up female apprentices, graduates and engineers as mentors and we’ve been running these clubs all across the country to encourage young girls into engineering.

“It’s amazing and I love it,” she enthuses. “Because I didn’t have anything like this at school it’s really nice to be able to share this information, show girls the kinds of things you can do with a career in engineering. You can see them all really enjoying it and I’m hoping a couple of them will be considering an engineering career quite seriously.

“I’ve taken in my award to show them and played them the video from the awards and one of them turned round to me and said ‘you know what, I wanna win something like that!’ That was brilliant to hear,” she adds.

Sara’s big career goals

In January Sara began a BEng in Manufacturing Systems Engineering and hopes to go on to complete a master’s degree and eventually work towards Chartered Engineer status.

“I’m hoping to get onto Rolls-Royce’s assembly and manufacturing leadership scheme, where you get to do six month placements in different areas of the business around the UK, working in anything from civil aerospace or defence to marine or energy. With that you get to do an MEng,” she explains.

“I definitely have the goal of getting Chartership, however when people ask me what I want to achieve I always say I want to be the first female CEO of Rolls-Royce! I know it’s a hard goal to reach but as the saying goes, aim for the moon and if you don’t make it you’ll end up in the stars anyway!”

Winning the 2013 Mary George Memorial Prize for an Outstanding Apprentice

Sara was overwhelmed when she heard her name being read out at the Young Woman Engineer of the Year (YWE) awards ceremony, and cannot wait to see what the next twelve months will bring.

“I just can’t wait to see what opportunities this award is going to open up for me,” she says proudly. “I’ve already met some great people through this process and I have plans. I definitely want to increase the amount of STEM work I’m doing - I’d like to visit more schools and interact with more young people.

“But I’d also like to use this opportunity to increase my network within the company, try to use this opportunity as a chance to meet as many of the senior members of the company as possible, so I can get my face well known for the future.”

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