Volunteer profile - Robert Dowdall

With over 400 schools registered for a free school visit from an engineer, we caught up with some of the volunteers to talk about why they volunteer to visit schools.

What’s your name and how do you usually spend your days?    


Robert Dowdall. I am trained as a Mechanical Engineer and Specialise in Energy Systems. I graduated from UCD in 2012 and since then I have worked on EU level renewable energy projects and am now running my own renewable energy start-up company, Insight Renewables. Over 3 years we have developed a new technology for creating renewable coal alternatives from trees and plants. With any start-up company you have to be flexible. Engineering has taught me the skills necessary to be able to adapt to any situation. One day I could be planning the company finances, while the next I could be pitching for investment or carrying out vital testing in the lab. As part of my day to day I am also required to travel regularly with the opportunity to meet and work with so many interesting people.

How and why did you get involved with STEPS?

I got involved with steps as a college student and after graduation I enjoyed it so much that I kept up my volunteering. The easiest way I found to get involved was to send an email or make a phone call asking if there were events I could volunteer at.  I find that STEPS is a great way to pass on the knowledge and experience you have had in your career, to a younger generation. I actually remember similar speakers coming to my school and they help shape my decision to study engineering.

What type of volunteering have you done with the STEPS programme?

I have done many different kind of Volunteering for STEPS ranging from primary and secondary level school visits and talks to Higher Options and the BT young Scientist exhibitions. Other events include career talks both in schools, libraries and 3rd level at events such as Engineering Your Future. I volunteer regularly with events such as bridge building or making paper catapults with young kids to teach them some basic and fun engineering. It is really rewarding to see how excited kids get when the realise what engineering is all about. 

What is the best part of volunteering with STEPS so far?

The best part about volunteering with STEPS is that it is quite fun. Kids always think outside the box and sometimes you have to think on your feet. It is also a great way to practice your public speaking skills to a different non-technical audience.  It is rewarding when you meet 3rd level engineering students who recognise you from speaking at their school or career talk and feel like you helped them with their decision to study engineering. 

What advice/encouragement would you give to someone who's thinking of volunteering?  

It is not as daunting as it might first appear. There are always other volunteers who will be happy to buddy up with you if you are nervous or unfamiliar with volunteering. Once you volunteer once you will really want to do it again because there is a small personal “buzz” from doing it.