An Engineering Role Model

Kari Eide is a dance student turned engineer. She now speaks to Norwegian schoolchildren about the benefits of studying maths and science.
Engineering Norway school

Kari Eide NorwayKari Eide is a dance student turned engineer from Molde. She now speaks to Norwegian schoolchildren about the benefits of studying maths and science, through programmes run by the National Centre for Science Recruitment here in Trondheim.

Kari spoke to Technoport about her background and what inspired her to share her story with the next generation of Norwegian engineers.

So Kari, as you talk to 15-16 year olds about science and engineering, I assume you wanted to be an engineer at 15?

Actually no, I wanted to be a dancer!

I was a good student with top grades in every class. My parents always wanted me to use my academic talent and pursue engineering or teaching. Because I was a good student I was bullied, so I didn’t have the motivation to study for anything, I just wanted to work on my dancing. When it came to choosing what to do at Videregående skole (Upper Secondary School) I chose dancing at a school in Ålesund. 

So why the switch? 

Half-way through my first year, I started getting really bad back pains. My doctor discovered a problem with my spine and told me to stop dancing. I was crushed! I switched to more traditional education and really struggled, to the point where my maths teacher told me I shouldn’t pursue anything involving maths.

After Videregående, I started working in a furniture shop, and because I knew I had to continue studying I chose interior design. I hated it. The teachers were not good and the tuition fees were high. I made few friends and felt alone, but to keep my parents from nagging me about education I stuck at it. Half-way through the first year I became pregnant and panicked. I began to doubt how I would support the child in a city with few friends studying something I didn’t enjoy. 

After I finished the first year and had my baby, I moved back to Ålesund with my boyfriend to be closer to family and friends. I realised that if I was to support my little girl like my parents supported me, I had to take action and get a proper education that would lead to a job. When I was a child, my father told me I have such great possibilities and should look at engineering, so that’s what I did. I knew with a lack of engineering skills in Norway I should have few problems to get a job.

Kari Eide

Was it easy to become an engineer without the maths background?

I checked with Ålesund University College to see if there was anything i could study there and they ran a range of engineering courses. I chose structural engineering becausee of my experience with technical drawing in interior design. But there was one problem. To become an engineer I needed maths.

Ålesund University College ran one-year pre-courses in maths and physics. They were really intense, like cramming three years of study into one, but the teachers were fantastic. They knew not everyone had the same ability or ways of learning things, and so explained things and motivated us on an individual level. I began to love it, and became one of the best in my class. It was this experience that opened my eyes as to what motivation can do. With no motivation I almost failed but with someone supporting and encouraging me, everything worked out great!

So what’s the role of the mentoring programs?

ENT3R is the motivational programme I worked in as a mentor and project leader when I studied in Ålesund. They help 15 & 16 years old with their maths problems, and try to introduce alternative methods of learning, to show them that maths and science can be a lot of fun.

I used to be the good student that was bullied. ENT3R gave me the courage to believe in myself, it meant a lot to me.

Through the rollemodell program, I've visited four schools and spoken to over 350 students, sometimes in a small classroom and sometimes in a large assembly. I really open up, share this story and watch their reactions. I change my style depending on their reactions and speak to the teachers before i come, to ask them to encourage the children to ask questions.

I recognise a lot of the types of personality from my time in school, like the tough guys and the shy girls who don't really want to be noticed. It’s funny to see how they change when I talk. The shy girls open up, smile, and lighten up. Seeing these reactions showed me that I’m getting through and encouraged me to keep on going.

What's your aim?

It’s simple really, we aim to inspire more schoolchildren at the ages of 15-16 to pursue science and maths. Both genders, but in particular girls, as I think many get Bs and Cs and think they’re not good enough to become an engineer. That’s just not true. I think to some extent they are afraid of choosing the wrong thing, but I tell them no matter what you choose in Vidergående there is always a way back.

Last weekend, one of the ladies in my choir told me her daughter is going to become a structural engineer now because of my talk.

I could have cried! 

What more can be done? 

I think the Government do a lot already but right now it’s predominantly based around the university cities. In More og Romsdal, Ålesund is the only place to have Enter. So I think they can expand by having smaller groups working with schools that are outside the big cities so that more people can join in.

Photo by Chris Isherwood


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