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My mentoring journey with Michael Hamilton from Ubele and how it helped me become a change agent in STEM. An interview with Paulette Watson.

December 2nd, 2019

Paulette Watson has been recently awarded with WinTRADE Women of Engineering Award by the Ministry of Defence. Paulette is the CEO for Academy Achievers and works with children and young people aged between 5-19yrs who are vulnerable, disaffected, disadvantaged, and come from hard to reach communities. Academy Achievers is leading in Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM), where everything is underpinned by numeracy and literacy. The activities ranges, building Robots, Coding, cooking, gardening, dancing, Multi sports, arts and crafts.

“There are so many different issues that our children and young people are exposed to, for instance, high levels of obesity, and mental health issues. When they come and work with us it’s like another world for them. They get engaged in conversations with the staff and volunteers from all around the world. We also engaged with children whose first language is not English, but once they are involved with us they become fluent. What we like about these young people is that they’re very resilient and confident and Academy Achievers helps to boost that even more.”

How did you get involved with The Ubele Initiative?

Michael Hamilton really, him! [laughter] His son and I volunteered at  Camp America, 24 years ago and this is how we met. Michael being Michael is just amazing. His impact on our community has been influential and inspiring. I called him one day and said “Michael, I’m looking for you, I’m looking for someone. I need some support, I need some support!”. And he said he could coach me. Michael is a good listener and was able to understand my passion for children and young people, it was at that point, he became intrigued and suggested that I come on one of the Ubele trainings.

Michael helped me to understand what Academy Achievers is all about, he gave me time to think about my business goals and model. What I found invaluable was that he told me to write a story now of what I would have liked to achieve when I’m 96 years old and go backwards. It helped me to map out what it is that I wanted to achieved from now until I am 96 years old. This was a really good exercise. He’s been a strength really. I can call him anytime, talk to him and he’s always got an answer, always knows someone that knows someone. He’s very approachable, confident about knowing stuff and he has an open-door policy. That’s what I like about Michael, I just love that!

How would you describe your mentor-mentee relationship with Michael?

It’s been unique. Very professional on one hand. I have to get things done. He understands things from a very strategic point of view. And on the other hand, we’re just cracking up laughing. It’s Michael you see, his personality, his persona. He’s able to empower me to be an agent of change within Academy Achievers. He has connected me with some key people, key influencers, key shakers and movers.

How long has Michael been coaching you?

It’s been a year. I have developed so much just by him mentoring me four times. I have succeeded and beyond, all based on his leadership and guidance. He says to me “You tell me what you want to do” and he just coaches me through it.

How have you benefited from this experience so far?

Michael helped me build my confidence, even more, we looked at the potential risks that could affect Academy Achievers and he helped me to literally put in place ways in which I can mitigate these challenges, he supported me to write things down and create a  plan. It helped me to evaluate what went well and what lessons we could learn to move forward. Having the opportunity to participate in Ubele’s Sankofa programme in Greece, helped me to really revisit some of the learnings from my time at university. I was able to draw my knowledge about transformative and distributing leaderships and use that in my day-to-day practice.

Describe the biggest challenge you had to face in the past 12 months.

My dad passed away and that broke me. I didn’t want to just crush. I just wanted to keep going. And working with Michael he was very empathetic towards me. Sometimes when you are faced with these situations, it really helps having people in your camp who really understands and can be there to support you. 

How did you get into STEM?

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I got into Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) about 20 years ago. I was in a room at University and my colleague said to me that they are looking for Information Community Technology (ICT)/ Computer Science (CS) teachers. In fact, before that I was doing youth work for about 6 months voluntary at Peabody Trust in Deptford, so I said I am going to do this and when I went to an interview at Brunel University for the Post Graduate Teaching Qualification in ICT/CS, I realised that I was the only undergraduate student, everybody had a PhD title. I did not have one, but I knew how to use a computer and code a robot. I got in to the University to do my PGCE, after 18 months I became Head of Department ICT and E-Learning, then Director of ICT and then was headhunted after completing my MBA in International Leadership, then I  moved to Switzerland for a while, so it’s been a journey of 20 years and me doing Robotics, STEM, computer science. It is a part of me. I’m a Marvel. I’m a Superhero! [laughter]

What’s your advice to the girls and young women who are interested in STEM?

There’s not enough of us women taking leadership roles. We need to make a stand! I’m advising young girls and young women just to dive into STEM opportunities and learn it. It’s hard, but it’s fun. Get into computational thinking, understand how we look at similarities, then decompose it and look at how we solve a problem. It’s innovative, it’s fun, just get involved!

You have places like South Africa, Portugal, Latvia, and Kenya where women are leading in technology. We need to lead! So my encouragement to the young girls is just do it at school, and go out there and make a stand. Get those jobs! You’ve got KPMG, IBM, and International Banks who want people like us to make a change. And there’s money. You can start with 60k. New and emerging technology is making money. You can create and design an app, you can be an inventor, you can be whoever you want. Just make it happen.

I’m so happy to be part of this new era because it’s happening now!

What are you looking forward to in the next 12 months?

I’m looking to blow up even more. London won’t hold me. I remember 2013 when I was sitting down in Switzerland looking at mountains thinking I need to make technology work my girls. I’m passionate about what I do, I love talking about it. If I’m going to be an agent of change, I need to make sure that women are exposed to it and won’t be afraid of it. I need to be able to have a space to be able to speak. So in the next 12 months, I will be speaking internationally about STEM, about new emerging technology. I want to set up different projects, hackathons where children and young people will get an opportunity to be leading in technology, especially girls. I feel like girls are not being remembered, especially BME girls are being left behind. We need young girls to take up courses in schools, we need them to apply to universities and choose these disciplines and be exposed to different STEM-related career paths. There’s so much we can do!

I want to share, I cannot do this alone. I want to collaborate with others. I want to teach others to make them better. It’s not only about London, it’s beyond and where we can make a change.

To find out more about Academy Achievers visit

Interviewed by Anita Duda

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