Research School Network: Women in Engineering Award for Derby Research School ELE Gina Wharton shares how she feels to be listed as one of the top women in engineering this year.

Women in Engineering Award for Derby Research School ELE

Gina Wharton shares how she feels to be listed as one of the top women in engineering this year.

by Derby Research School
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Gina Wharton

Derby Research School ELE, Senior Leader at Parkside Community School

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Are you MORE than an Educator?

I am honoured to be listed as one of the top Women in Engineering this year. In association with The Guardian newspaper. The 2022 Awards celebrate the Inventors and Innovators ‘’who identify an unmet need, create a solution, or improve on existing products and processes to make our lives easier.’’

This award is extremely humbling; especially as a school teacher I don’t always think of myself as an Engineer, Inventor or Innovator.

Do we often just think of ourselves as one thing? I wondered if other educators might sometimes feel the same? I think that we can be very modest, maybe even see ourselves as just teachers’ or just support staff’ when in reality we are so much more than that.

During the Covid Pandemic; I had the opportunity to realise that I am definitely more than a Teacher. Alongside the strange world of remote education, the Science and Technology Departments at Parkside School collected all of our PPE supplies. These were donated to local hospitals and care homes, as these pieces of essential equipment were so scarce at the beginning of the pandemic. Chesterfield Royal charity presented the school with a charity champions award to acknowledge the generosity of the school and staff at Parkside.

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When delivering our stock of PPE; the hospital staff shared that they had short supplies of face shields. I felt that we had to do something to support or local medical community. Using the laser cutter in school, my technology technician and I began making shields which met NHS regulations. We used an open source design which was shared by Nottingham based electronics company, Kitronik. I know that many Technology teachers across the country used this design to support hospitals in their area. I collaborated with a charity called Brave Souls’ who crowd funded the industry standard plastics for us to manufacture the PPE.


Healthcare settings shared issues with wearing tight surgical face masks and the abrasions it caused to their faces. This issue prompted me to design a PPE aid which fits at the back of the head to attach to face coverings.

The hospitals and nursing homes requested a product which could be surgically cleaned. Similar products available at the time were not made from plastic, therefore much harder to clean. 3D printed support bands were available however the unit cost was around £3 per item and the manufacture process is slow. My designs were made from high impact polystyrene, which reduced the manufacture cost to 12p per item.

The simplicity of the design enabled it to be mass produced. This invention allowed face coverings to fit tightly to the face whilst relieving tension on the ears and preventing cuts to faces. The support band was manufactured in the school workshop and delivered to local health and social care settings throughout the pandemic including Derby Royal and Chesterfield Royal Hospitals. I made the design available open source, and collaborated with educators and charities nationally to enable this product to be made for health settings across the country.


Teachers are so much more than the job description suggests! Staff did all they could at this time to support our community and the families we serve.

Parkside School food bank, was an amazing support for our community during the pandemic and beyond. The school provided a phenomenal 470 food parcels throughout the pandemic. This was supported by donations from staff and governors. Walton Church in Chesterfield made a financial donation to the work of the food bank. Teaching and support staff delivered these essential supplies to the homes of our families during the lockdowns. The Parkside Support Centre continues to support families within our community.


We had amazing staff at Parkside School who used the time for positive change in the school, painting classrooms, replacing carpets to make the learning environment better for when students returned.

During this time, teaching and support staff worked with young people who needed to be in school, teaching lessons at a distance on the school site. Teachers across the country also got to grips with technology to support distance learning, teachers were using Teams’ and Zoom’ for live lessons and meetings with colleagues as well as becoming unofficial movie stars…recording lessons with apps like Loom’! The rapid change to teaching and how educators adapted to these changes is not to be underestimated.

Some of my colleagues supported our wider community; they made crafted hearts in sets of two, these were for patients in ICU and those struggling with loneliness in nursing homes during the pandemic. The idea was that the patient or the resident received one heart and the second would be given to a loved one who couldn’t be with them at that time.


It is a great privilege to work in a profession where I have the opportunity to inspire young people in my classroom. The women’s Engineering society said that they wanted to ‘’profile people who are part of the solution to build towards a brighter future’’.

As a teacher, I might not have the opportunity every day to be an Engineer, however every day in a school, for every member of staff, we are certainly part of building a brighter future.

So, are we just a teacher?’ Let’s stop being modest! I am an educator, I am a leader, I am an Engineer, I am a learner, I am a mentor… What MORE will you be?

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