Engineers Week spotlight: STEPS volunteer John Oxley

Nineteen-year-old STEPS volunteer John Oxley explains how meeting an engineer inspired him to put engineering first when it came to making his third-level choices.

In this article, John explains what student life is like and why he decided to volunteer with STEPS. With Engineers Week fast approaching (March 4 – 10), engineers all over Ireland are busy planning events aimed at inspiring young people to consider engineering as a career.

Through the Engineers Ireland STEPS outreach programme, hundreds of schoolchildren will be meeting volunteer engineers from all disciplines during the week, with dozens of engineers planning classroom visits in their local communities.

John Oxley, a 19-year-old student at Waterford IT, chose to study electrical engineering after a volunteer visited his school during Engineers Week 2016. Now himself a volunteer with the STEPS programme, John explains why he chose engineering, what student life is like, and why he decided to volunteer with STEPS.

What led you to study engineering?

I’ve always loved to understand how things work. I can still remember wiring up some lights in our tree house when I was younger. Since my father is involved in the electrical industry, I had always seen the practical side to engineering.

Then, while I was in secondary in Heywood Community School in Laois, they organised a guest speaker as part of Engineers Week. When we found out we had a guest speaker, my first thought was “Yes! No class”. But when we sat down and listened to him, I realised that engineering might be for me.

The engineer was well-prepared and passionate about what he was saying. He obviously knew the type of audience he had as he was able to make it relevant and interesting to us, a whole class of Leaving Cert students.

Are you enjoying college life?

It’s very interesting because every day we are always doing new things, from learning how electricity is made to designing our own circuits. My lecturers are very approachable, which is a huge help when I may not fully understand the topic.

During the day, I attend lectures but, other than some study in the evening, I am constantly researching and learning new things online and I am involved with a few international engineering groups and forums. I’m fascinated with the way engineering is done around the world.

You’re now volunteering with the STEPS outreach programme. Why did you decide to sign up?

I wanted to share my experience with others, to meet other engineers and benefit from their knowledge, and to make contacts in the field of engineering. It can be great fun to interact with young students. Another reason – and really the main reason – is to help young people make the right college choice, as when I was in their situation I was really confused and didn’t know what to pick.

Tell us more about your experiences as a volunteer. What benefits do you get out of it?

I volunteered at a careers fair with STEPS and visited a couple of schools to give a presentation on engineering. Recently I volunteered at this year’s BT Young Scientist exhibition, demonstrating science and engineering experiments.

It was enjoyable to see the interest on the faces of the students. I enjoyed their interaction and their questions. I tried not to make them feel as if their questions were silly or irrelevant.

Volunteering is a great public speaking exercise for me. It makes me feel good about myself to do something for others, and it helps build my confidence.

I enjoy meeting students and awakening their interest in engineering. I like clarifying what they’re not sure of, as I remember being in their situation. It’s great when you get feedback from the students, especially when they say thanks for the information.

What advice would you give an engineer who is thinking of volunteering?

Just to think about the benefits to themselves, as well as to the students they will be helping. It’s a great opportunity to meet others and it helps your social skills. You get great satisfaction from it.

Also, the people who organise the programme are there if you need assistance with a visit; they’re a great help to volunteers because you know there is someone there to support you and answer any questions.

Engineers Week runs from March 4 to March 10. Engineers are needed to visit schools, libraries and organise events. Find out more about how to get involved at

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