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Abi Wetton

Abi Wetton: my journey to winning the 2016 Telegraph STEM award sponsored by McLaren

In a first of a two-part series, Abi Wetton shares her experience of winning The Telegraph’s 2016 UK STEM Awards innovation category, sponsored by McLaren.

Stage: application
Location: my living room

The Telegraph STEM awards. ‘What’s that?’ I thought as I was scrolling down my Facebook timeline. As I started clicking through the link I saw the McLaren logo which then immediately sparked my interest. 

McLaren’s challenge was to propose solutions or technologies that would enhance both the human passenger experience and the performance and management of transport. I already had an idea in my mind, so this was the perfect opportunity to share it.

After submitting my application, I thought I wouldn’t even receive a response and cast it from my mind. But I did. I received an email which said I had been shortlisted as a semi-finalist to present my idea to senior McLaren engineers and scientists at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, Surrey.

I was already proud at this point. It’s an achievement to stand out among hundreds of applicants. I viewed any progression in the competition after this stage as a bonus. 

Stage: semi-final
Location: McLaren Technology Centre (MTC), Woking Surrey

I arrived at McLaren in the morning. The drive into the campus itself was incredible, each blade of grass cut to precision. The inside of the MTC looks like Batman's lair! Beautiful cars, world-class facilities, and stunning views of the lake and the woodlands beyond.  

The building is only open to employees and the team’s sponsor’s, so we all felt extremely lucky to be invited in. Despite the exclusivity, the people inside were very friendly and helpful. If we needed anything, they were on hand to help.

The semi-finalists consisted of people from all different universities and subject backgrounds, including business, science, IT, and maths. This proved that you don’t have to study a STEM subject (science, technology, engineering, and maths), to be involved in the competition. This competition is about innovation and how we can use STEM capabilities on meaningful projects.

I thought the competition would be intense, and it was, but I was confident that my idea was well thought out and I wanted to make the most of the experience.

The panel I presented to made me feel relaxed which took the pressure off slightly. I articulated my idea clearly and demonstrated my passion for why I thought I should progress into the final.

After everyone had presented, we all were given a tour of the whole building, which was a great end to an incredible day. A nice touch by McLaren. 

Stage: final
Location: Heron Tower, London

We were all told which day we should expect to receive an email to let us know if we had won the McLaren innovation category, and to also invite the winner to the grand final, where the overall winner would be announced.

I rushed to check my emails on my phone every time it made a sound, anticipation was killing me. And then the email finally dropped into my inbox. 

The email congratulated me for winning the McLaren innovation category, with what they described as a truly innovative idea, excellently presented. 

My first reaction was to cry with joy, and then to rush upstairs to tell my parents, who were equally shocked and proud.

The final at Heron Tower was incredible. The afternoon started with a drinks and canapés reception which was an opportunity to talk with influential people.

The day celebrated all the finalists and gave us all our time to shine. Despite not being named as the overall winner on the day I’m extremely proud of what I achieved and loved every moment of the competition. Besides, I guess you could say I got the best prize of all.

Through winning the innovation category I won the prize of a week’s work experience at McLaren. Throughout the week, I explored my idea further with experts from across Applied Technologies. After a great week of discovery, hard work and excitement I was then offered a permanent contract at McLaren as an account executive. I now look after the account and service management aspects of the Public Transport contracts.

Catch my blog next week for tips on how to win your category in the 2017 Telegraph STEM awards.

To enter McLaren’s innovation category, click here.