Inside Revolution: Georgina Harris – Engineering The Future

Tuesday 12 March 2024

The UK has an unrivalled pedigree in motorsport engineering. Colin Chapman. Adrian Newey. Rob Loaring. John Wheeler. Rob Smedley. Bernadette Collins. These are just a few of the thousands of British engineers that have been involved in creating or running title-winning cars throughout the years.

That talent pool continues to flow to this day, with the UK recognised as one of the world leaders, but while the F1 teams offer opportunities for the very top tier, there are thousands of university undergraduates which could embody an untapped resource for motorsport at a national level.

Professor Georgina Harris, a member of Motorsport UK’s Women in Motorsport Expert Committee, and a founding Dean of the Faculty of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) at Arden University, was inspired to follow a career in engineering herself after watching motorsport with her family and believes that giving youngsters the opportunity to engage in all parts of motorsport is “a real lure.”

When she joined the Committee, her eyes were opened to the opportunities that are out there: “Things like marshalling, which is available to everybody, or scrutineering, which is
a great way for future engineers to get their hands on real racing cars, are really inspiring and exciting,” she explains.

“If somebody had told me about those when I was a youngster, my gosh, I would have been there all the time! To have the opportunity to volunteer, learn on the job and build
experience working alongside other enthusiasts is fantastic and it can also help a young person to get on an academic engineering program or to get into employment.

“In education, we love to hear when somebody has gone out of their way to try something for themselves. That is amazing. The same is true for careers – engineering, motorsport, and the wider context. Employers love enthusiasts. They love people who have a passion about something, something that drives them, and it can make a massive difference.”

Harris became involved with Motorsport UK when she was asked to develop a STEM activity for the Girls on Track programme, which aims to engage and inspire potential
future female engineers within schools. Her solution was a hands-on programme in which students are challenged to make a ride-on hoverboard.

That hands-on experience is what really inspires them, and she explains: “By the end of it, they are just stunned that they can get on it and ride it, on a cushion of air, and the ‘I made that’ feeling is a really important part of motivating them. It helps them see that, this is something that women and young people can aspire to do.

“Often, schools, parents and children do not necessarily know what exciting careers there are in the world of motorsport, quite simply because many of them have not been exposed to it before. But there are some amazing opportunities out there, and giving them the chance to think about these types of careers can really help.”

The opportunities in UK motorsport, however, could go far beyond the realm of Motorsport UK’s officials volunteer roles. Every privateer, team and motorsport event running in the country represents an opportunity for future engineers to gain hands on experience – and in many cases it can offer benefits on both sides.

“It is definitely a two-way thing,” says Harris. “Often, just having an extra person can be a real help. However, because educators are continually trying to keep at the forefront of
technology, the students can often bring their knowledge of the cutting-edge to their host companies as well – so it could be more beneficial than you might think.

“I spend a bit of time supporting a racing team run by one of my friends, and they took on a student who now works at Red Bull Racing permanently as one of their engine specialists. Those opportunities are there but connecting them up with people who are genuinely motivated and really want to be there is actually quite tricky.

“It is not easy to find things if you are not ‘in the know’, and connecting the dots is one of the biggest things we need to do – from highlighting track days where independent race teams are looking for engineering talent, to providing details of small privateer teams that are looking for committed volunteers who want to learn, exchanging efforts for experience.”

In her day job, Harris is developing the School of Engineering at Arden University, a new style of university that enables students to study in a more flexible way. The courses, which will run in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, and Berlin, are designed to suit career changers and people who need to flex, or adapt, their study around other things they are doing.

Around ten years ago, she also worked with colleagues from the motorsport and motoring industry to set up Crewe University Technical College, a school that delivers the
national curriculum but does so by putting it into the context of real engineering applications and using live projects for students to tackle design, materials, creativity, and

In the past, Bentley provided a driving seat for students to learn about ergonomics and suggest potential improvements and Harris says: “Those sorts of projects are perfect for
motorsport because the more exciting the project is, the more engaged the students will become.

“Real-life companies offer a different quality of feedback, too. When I tell a student they could improve by doing something, they listen to a certain extent, but when an external party, who the students would really like be involved with comes in and tells them how they can improve, my gosh they move!

“It is almost a catalyst for them – building an extra year of maturity almost overnight because they are genuinely getting to see a potential employer in front of them – and
it also offers the company coming in an opportunity to potentially shop from the best we have before they are on the [job] market.

“Students on a traditional university course also have holiday periods when they can offer their time in return for experience. I did that when I was a student and every time,
I got develop new skill sets and learn the things I wanted out of a job and the things I did not. And being in the summer, it is right in the heart of the motorsport season.”

Ultimately, inspiring the next generation is all about getting their eyes on the prize. To see engineering in action, experiencing it hands-on, is vital if that list of UK motorsport
engineering success stories is to continue, while schemes such as Girls on Track and Race for Diversity are working hard to ensure a diverse talent pool for the future.

There are now many dedicated further education courses for motorsport engineering across the country, while activities such as the Eco Challenge, in which students design and
build electric vehicles to go as far as possible on a single charge, and the iMechE’s Formula Student take motorsport into the classrooms and students out onto the racetrack.

However, in an evolving world, inspiring a diverse pool of youngsters into motorsport remains a constant challenge and Harris concludes: “We need to ensure we are delivering
all the content and experiences that students are going need for entering the world of engineering and we need to make sure they know about them.

“There is a broad network of activities and opportunities across the country that try to support and encourage people to get into engineering and motorsport, but not everybody
is aware of it. There is no national scheme, nowhere that all that information is collected and presented to people, so it is sometimes difficult to find out where they are happening.

“If young people and parents could learn about their nearest activities, they would really value that, and the sport would benefit. It is not necessarily about doing more – we just
need to make sure people can find the opportunities and connect up. And in motorsport, once you have got people in, they usually get hooked!”

Pathway to success
While motorsport can be a career itself, participation as a volunteer can boost your personal development and confidence. And you get to have fun too.

“As a young person growing up in the sport, volunteering gave me so many transferable skills that I wouldn’t have necessarily picked up in school or education”, reveals Sam
Walker, Training Coordinator at Motorsport UK.

“Life skills are the things I picked up the most while volunteering at events. You can learn about maths and science in a classroom, but what you don’t learn are interpersonal skills such as how to talk to adults, how to deal with confrontation or difficult situations. Volunteering in motorsport, particularly at a young age, gives individuals a position of responsibility and authority which you would not necessarily experience until you enter a work environment.

“While academic achievements are a fundamental part of building a CV, employers and education providers do often take extracurricular activities into account even if they are unrelated to the job or course you are applying for. The skills required to be a Marshal, Official or event organiser are entirely transferrable to every-day life, and young people submitting UCAS, or job applications, should take full advantage of their activities within motorsport by mentioning them within personal statements or CVs.

“Volunteering in motorsport also gives you an opportunity to meet a vast number of people who come from all sorts of backgrounds and professions. For many, motorsport is
a hobby outside of a completely unrelated career, and you may meet someone at an event who works in a field you aspire to work in yourself. I was fortunate enough to meet
my future boss at motorsport events, and I’m sure there are countless others who have, and will do, the same.”