With the help of an Unlocking Curious Minds government grant for almost $30,000, engineering academics Dr Don Clucas and Dr Stefanie Gutschmidt will invite 60 Year 9 students and ten teachers from ten local lower decile schools to take part in a three-day workshop at the University of Canterbury (UC).
The teachers and school pupils will gain first-hand experience using state-of-the-art 3D printing and 3D scanning equipment. As well as learning about exciting new technology, including virtual and augmented reality, 3D scanning and laser cutting at UC’s College of Engineering, they will get the chance to learn directly from local engineering industry experts.
Previously, Dr Clucas, Senior Lecturer in Design and Manufacturing, in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UC, has 3D-printed a prosthetic foot for a penguin amputee at the Antarctic Centre, and 3D-scanned and reproduced items from UC’s priceless Logie Collection of antiquities, thousands of years old.
This year, Dr Clucas and Dr Gutschmidt have moved from 3D printing ancient Greek cups and penguins feet to helping dozens of school pupils get to grips with engineering.
“We know from our statistics that certain ethnic and social groups, especially from lower decile schools, and females, are significantly under-represented in our engineering intake. We know that ability-wise there is no fundamental reason why these people should not be able to succeed in achieving a tertiary degree,” Dr Clucas says.
With this initiative, they aim to increase diversity among future tertiary students in engineering disciplines.
“Innovation through stirred curiosity and thinking is so important to our future economy and society that we need to give more encouragement and guidance to the next generation of potential engineers. With this small workshop on our turf at UC we are reaching out to pupils that may not have either the facilities that higher decile schools have or the family, peer or community support needed to successfully take on the challenge of tertiary education,” Dr Gutschmidt says.
The mechanical engineering academics say the ultimate aim is to inspire and guide the young students and demonstrate that there is no fundamental reason why they cannot succeed at university, providing they prepare themselves at secondary school by studying science and maths, and keep their natural curiosity alive.
“We’re not aiming at the top achieving or older students who have likely already decided their path. We want to inspire the students who are showing good promise with science, maths and technology, and could benefit from a bit of encouragement. At this stage of their studies, Year 9 students still have the chance to choose their subjects and part of our goal is to give them direction.”
Dr Clucas says the decision to also include ten teachers is so that knowledge and inspiration is spread to other Year 9 pupils and older students.
“We want to sustain the momentum and motivation gained from these few days. This way we capture a far greater pool of potential engineers.”
The 60 students will be split into three streams: general mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering and mechatronics. Over three days, 26 – 28 April, the streams will cycle between activities, including 3D printing, virtual and augmented reality, 3D scanning and laser cutting. Each stream will also visit an engineering industry organisation featuring degree-qualified engineers working on the students’ bias topics.
“We will also have industry experts giving short talks and helping with the workshops. All students will take away items they have made, and they will inspire other students at their schools.”
The event will end with a prize-giving where family, whanau and caregivers can come and see what the students have achieved, Dr Clucas says.
Unlocking Curious Minds is a cross-agency programme of work led by MBIE, the Ministry of Education and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor. Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith announced the funding in February.