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Engineering a new career

Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Engineering a new career

Taking on a global challenge to help villagers in Nepal has inspired two Year 12 Albany Senior High School pupils to consider studying engineering when they finish high school.

Hannah Cassone and Amanda Tan used the time allowed for their weekly Impact Project to take part in a first-year paper at the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology (SEAT) at Massey’s Albany campus. The paper covered the Engineers Without Border (EWB) challenge that all first-year engineering students take on.

Senior lecturer in Product Development Dr Aruna Shekar says it was a great opportunity for Miss Cassone and Miss Tan to work through the project challenge and create a sustainable solution that can be put to use.

“The EWB Challenge is an annual trans-Tasman design competition where teams work togther to create a tangible solution. This year, the teams focused on the village of Sandikhola, in the Gorkha District of Nepal. Hannah and Amanda created a ventillation system to help dissipate unhealthy cooking smoke in homes. They did a great job of working through the problem, documenting their process and coming up with a novel solution,” Dr Shekar says. “As course co-ordinator, I am proud of Hannah’s and Amanda’s achievements and how well they took on board the challenge. Their efforts earned a special mention from the judges.”

Miss Cassone and Miss Tan created the Venturi 3000X system, using PVC pipe and water bottles which would fit across the ceiling of a village hut over the cooking space. An in-built regulator allows the amount of ventillation to be adjusted, and helps force the smoke outside the hut.

“There was never a dull moment with this project. We had to come up with a concept, test it and then create a prototype. We had to source all the materials, and for the pipe, we ended up going to nine different places to get the right fit,” Miss Cassone says. “We had great support from Johan and all the other students here. They really made us feel welcome.”

They also managed to earn gold marks back at school across all their assessments for the Impact Project.

“The Impact Project enables us to do learning outside the classroom every Wednesday on something that can affect the local community. This coincided nicely with the paper, and we’re so glad we got the chance to do it,” Miss Tan says. “I’ve been focused on studying business, and doing this paper opened my eyes to other opportunities that are out there.”

Miss Cassone says she had originally planned to do architecture. “Because of this paper, and the hands-on work we were able to do, I’m now seriously thinking about doing engineering instead.”

This is the first time Albany Senior High School pupils have had a chance to work on a university paper for the Impact Project. Curriculum leader in product design at Albany Senior High School Mr Tim Cook says the Impact Project day allows pupils to construct their own course within a project-based format.

“We are happy to facilitate and support new opportunities so our students have a lot of choice in what they take on. Through doing this, they typically develop a range of skills to do with organisation, leadership, presentation, teamwork and, particularly, independent learning and problem solving,” he says. “I have spoken to some of our students following their transition from school to tertiary institutions and they have mentioned how quickly they settled in. The opportunity Hannah and Amanda have had is very much in line with our hopes for our students in transitioning into the next stage of their education, and there have been many benefits for them.”

This collaboration came about from a chance conversation between Miss Cassone’s mother, a Massey staff member, and Associate Professor Johan Potgieter from SEAT. Mrs Trish Cassone outlined the aims of the Impact Project, and Dr Potgieter and the entire SEAT team got right behind the high school pupils, adjusting their project brief to take account of their one-day-a-week attendance and introducing them to other aspects of engiineering, including bridge building and 3D printing.

“Hannah and Amanda have gained so much from this experience, and I’m really grateful to Johan, Aruna and everyone in the SEAT team for making the girls feel welcome and helping them feel comfortable,” says Mrs Cassone.

Albany Senior High School English teacher Suhanna Karma says the girls also took advantage of being in a university environment to get help with other school projects, including a prototype for a graphics project, and 3D printing for a business project that was internally assessed.

“Other students have been awed and inspired by what Hannah and Amanda have achieved. It has encouraged others to look at their Impact Project more deeply, and inspire them to make full use of the time,” she says.

Sharing his passion for engineering with others is something Dr Potgeiter is committed to.

“We love getting people excited about engineering – and about learning,” Dr Potgeiter says. “We’ve got an increasing number of opportunities for high school pupils to come over and engage with us, including the VEX Robotics Challenge. The engineering camps we ran in the school holidays were completely booked out. Engineering can be great fun.”

Dr Shekar agrees.

“We encourage high school pupils to visit and see for themselves the exciting engineering projects our students are involved in – including creating a futuristic vehicle, an automatic drink-pouring machine and a soccer-playing robot.”.

Further discussions are currently taking place to expand this engagement to also include business management and media studies courses.

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