Meet the Team- Matthew Hall
Matthew is one of our latest STEAMWORKS Activity Officers. Find out how he brings his engineering expertise into our primary school STEAM workshops.
Being based in Sheffield, we’re lucky to work with some of the talented students at the city’s two universities. We chatted with Matthew Hall who joined us at the tail-end of 2021 and has got stuck in with helping us at our FabLab workshops.
Matthew is in his third year of General Engineering at the University of Sheffield. He’s taking some of his spare time to work as an activity officer.
When he’s not helping us, he’s part of projects to design ultra-efficient electric race cars, powering a Derbyshire town’s Christmas lighting with hydroelectric-power, and preparing to start his year-long energy and sustainability placement in the new academic year.
If you didn’t get the impression from the introduction, Matthew already gets up to a lot outside of his degree. So we asked how he found out about STEAMWORKS and why he decided to get involved.
“I got in contact with you via Instagram,” he said, “I was looking for work at the time but didn’t want to do a typical bar job. I wanted something I would enjoy and feel some sense of fulfillment from, I didn’t think I was going to get that from something else. “
Before STEAMWORKS, Matthew has always enjoyed working with young students. He’s had experience leading sessions with young people at a local running club and a climbing wall. He then went on to tutor year 7-11 students while he was at sixth form.
He said: “I’ve always enjoyed working with kids because if you know how to get them engaged in something, like seeing their faces light up during an experiment, it’s really rewarding. That’s part of the reason why STEAMWORKS is particularly interesting for me.”
His first workshop in during October half-term last year cemented his enthusiasm.
He said: “in my first workshop we did a zip line experiment, building something for an animal to sit in and then go down along a string. There was one kid who was quite nervous and quite unsure of themselves. Sitting with them and talking through things really helped them come out of their shell.
“Seeing how happy it made them when, at the start, they weren’t very confident, was the moment I saw that this was going to be a different kind of job.”
What’s being an Activity Officer like?
Matthew has been an assistant Activity Officer ever since, and is considering leading his own workshops as the new university semester gets started. We asked him what it’s like to work at STEAMWORKS.
Matthew said: “Helen’s [STEAMWORK’s Managing Director] very flexible and sends out messages at the beginning of every term to make sure she knows when everyone’s available to work. Once I’ve got my timetable and I know when I have to be at like lectures or tutorials, I can plan around that. I have afternoons on my timetable free, STEAMWORKS is a lovely thing to fill it with.”
“It’s actually a bit of a break. With some of the other jobs I’ve had in the past they’ve felt like a chore, or a means to an end. STEAMWORKS is actually a place where I can unwind from the stress of uni work. “
Matthew told us about his workshops at Dobcroft Infant and Junior schools, he said: “I think the fact that you go back to the same schools for 12 weeks or so is really good.
“You get to learn the kids names and learn about their personalities- what they enjoy and what they don’t enjoy quite so much. It helps you learn how to manage a session, who will enjoy it from the offset and who might need a little bit more support to help them through an activity.
“You get a good view of what people are good at and what people are like generally. It’s really nice to build relationships with them.”
Best parts of the job?
Matthew told us that one of the most rewarding parts about working for STEAMWORKS is seeing students learn and develop their STEM knowledge.
He said: “Seeing the progression of students in the short time I’ve been at STEAMWORKS, especially the few who seemed quite apprehensive or unsure at the start.
“Seeing how much they throw themselves in to it now, asking more and more insightful and interesting questions about things, I can definitely see them going a long way in any of the STEAM fields”
Matthew also finds ways to bring his degree into his workshop activities.
“In my first year we did a module about structures, essentially why buildings stay up. Last week we were doing our structures activity with skewers and blue tac, seeing how high they could build them without falling over. Being able to explain why triangles were the strongest shape, for example, is something I think that has been helped by my degree.”
Have you gained anything from STEAMWORKS?
We asked Matthew if he’s gained or built on any skills he can apply outside of STEAMWORKS. He said the main things he’s learnt is how to communicate engineering concepts inventive ways.
“You don’t really learn a lot about it when you’re in school,” he said, “but when you’re applying for engineering positions the top thing employers want to see is creativity and being able to solve a problem in a creative manner.
“Maths and science can sometimes feel quite constricting, but the real world is not like that. I think that it’s good for people to express themselves in everything they’re doing, by putting a piece of themselves in their work they’ll inevitably grow more engaged in it. STEAMWORKS offers that opportunity
“We spoke about density in a workshop the other week, and density, mass and weight are often thrown around as the same word when they’re not. Having the ability to communicate technical concepts in a way that kids can understand and also be engaged with.”
“In my future career I’m not always going to be communicating with other engineers. I’ll talk to people who might not have that technical background. Being able to simplify things and communicate that effectively to somebody if definitely transferable
At the end of our conversation, we asked Matthew what he’d say to anyone considering a joining the STEAMWORKS team. He said: “I do have a little bit of experience but, even if you don’t and you just want to come in and help, you won’t get thrown in at the deep end.
“You’re going to have people there to support you, it will be a really rewarding experience and you have that opportunity to do as much or as little as you feel you can.
“I’m not planning on going into teaching, but I’m sure what I’ve gained will help no matter what I go into. Everything is there for you and you can absolutely get something out of it.”