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MNA STEM Challenge 2018: Engineering a bright future

By Heather Large | Education | Published:

Young engineers of the future can put their classroom lessons to the test in a new challenge launched for schools across the Black Country, Shropshire and Staffordshire.

Top left to right, Dudley College of Technology assistant principal Shaun Hunt announcing the STEM Challenge 2018, and STEM ambassador Liz Smith, with, bottom left to right, Entrust's Claire Barker and JCB professional registration manager Simon Wood, and Darren Griffin from MNA

MNA, publishers of the Express & Star and Shropshire Star, has launched a STEM Challenge 2018 – Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths – to boost student engagement with these key topics and also give them an understanding of how what they learn in the classroom will play a vital role in future careers.

The competition is also forging valuable links between business and schools and provides students with an insight into the world of industry.

There are around two dozen schools signed up with each one partnered with a mentor from a business or organisation. Together they will work to design and manufacture a product.

They have been asked to design a product to improve or enhance the quality of life for a group or person they consider to be disadvantaged.

The STEM challenge

The teams of six pupils will need to demonstrate their product as a working model at a presentation event on July 5 at Dudley College of Technology, which is the main sponsor for the challenge.

They will be judged according to four criteria – Best Work Plan, sponsored by Entrust; Best Team Work, sponsored by KUKA; Best Operating Model, sponsored by DENSO; and Best Presentation, sponsored by the University of Wolverhampton.

Before judging day they will have the opportunity to visit either Dudley College of Technology or the University of Wolverhampton’s Telford campus to view the facilities and use equipment such as 3D printers and laser cutters.

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Mentors, who have all been given formal STEM training, will visit schools regularly between now and July to work with the teams to monitor progress and provide support where needed.

The challenge was announced by Shaun Hunt, assistant principal at Dudley College of Technology, at a launch event held at GTG Training Academy on Tuesday.

Adcote School for Girls head of science Ivan Phillips, with mentor, Salop Design & Engineering apprenticeship recruiter and centre co-ordinator Amy Farley

“I live and breathe STEM every day because a large part of our curriculum is STEM-based. It is important to ensure young people are equipped with the skills they need for the future in a world that is ever changing.

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“These subjects are incredibly valuable and there are endless opportunities for careers in engineering, manufacturing, building technologies and digital engineering.

“This challenge will give pupils the chance to find out more about these different careers, try out the facilities at Dudley College of Technology or the University of Wolverhampton and hopefully be inspired,” he said.

“I think many people still see engineering as a dirty job working in a dirty factory.

“Some may have even seen their grandparents and parents losing their jobs so there is also a view that it’s not a career for the future.

“What we hope to do is to inspire them by showing them what different careers there are and how they could be an engineer in a well-paid job in a laboratory environment. It’s not the world it used to be. We want to show them how important these STEM subjects are and what opportunities they can open up for them in the future,” he added.

Mentor and Western Power Distribution team manager Neil Edwards with Sandwell Academy employment engagement officer Sue Timms

Among the schools taking part in the challenge is Colton Hills Community School in Wolverhampton, which has been partnered with City of Wolverhampton Council.

Dave Berry, who oversees careers advice at the school, said he was pleased with the STEM Challenge brief. “I think it’s a good brief because it there offers a lot of scope and I think the pupils will be passionate about it. What is also good is that it’s achievable. It may be that the pupils will already know of someone who needs some help and now is there chance to help them.”

Mentor Laura Palmer, a project team manager at the city council, said: “I thought the challenge was really interesting and now I’m very excited to get started. I’m looking forward to working with young people and helping them to find the right career. I’m also interested in encouraging more girls to be interested in STEM subjects because the statistics show far fewer girls continue to study them so I want to show them that engineering can be a career for them too.”

Ivan Phillips from Adcote School for Girls says he hopes the challenge will encourage more girls to go into engineering and manufacturing.

Latest figures show that just 35 per cent of girls choose maths, physics, computing or a technical vocational qualification at the age of 16 compared to 94 per cent of boys.

Colton Hills school lead on careers Dave Berry with mentor, City of Wolverhampton Council project team manager Laura Palmer

This is said to reduce the number going on to do a degree or level 4 qualification in maths, physics, computer science or engineering to nine per cent of girls compared to 29 per cent of boys.

Ivan, who is head of science at the school in Shrewsbury, said: "As it's an all-girls school, it's good to get involved in projects like this to inspire the girls.

"We've got some brilliant girls that are good at science and maths so I'm hoping this project will interest them, inspire them, push them and test them.

"It will be interesting to see what they come up with. It's good to encourage them from a younger age to be interested in these subjects so that they continue to pursue them," he added.

Neil Edwards, a team manager at Western Power Distribution, based in Tipton, volunteered to be a mentor because he believes it is a worthwhile project as it will help to ensure young people are equipped with desirable skills in the future.

“STEM subjects are important because that’s what we are looking for,” he said. “We need to ensure that enough young people are taking these,” he added.

He has been partnered with Sandwell Academy whose employer engagement officer, Sue Timms, said: “It’s an interesting brief and there should be plenty of opportunities for the pupils.

“I think this project will help to get them excited about STEM subjects and help to raise awareness among parents as well.”

Overseeing some of the STEM Challenge projects who works at the West Midlands STEM Ambassador Hub based at the University of Worcester.

The MNA STEM Challenge 2018 launch event

She will be working with schools in the Black Country and Staffordshire during the challenge and providing support to the mentors along the way.

Speaking about the challenge, STEM ambassador Liz said: "It's all about inspiring these young people about STEM and about the career opportunities that can arise from having these qualifications. It's not just about science or technology,or engineering or maths individually, it's also about showing them how all four of these can work together.

"What I hope is that everybody follows through on their aims, makes the most of the support available from their mentor and a designs a product which meets the need they have identified. It could be something to hold a key for someone with arthritis, it doesn't matter as long as it meets the need they have found," she said.

Helping the Shropshire schools will be Malcolm Eyre who is based at the Staffordshire STEM Centre and has more than 20 years of teaching experience, specialising in design and technology.

Challenge sponsors have also spoken about why they wanted to be involved in the scheme and the benefits they hope it will bring.

From sponsor KUKA are sector manager Alan Oakley and marketing manager Katherine Johnson

Claire Barker, from Staffordshire-based education organisation Entrust, and Simon Wood, who works at JCB and sits on the employers panel, said they hoped it would encourage pupils to study STEM subjects at higher levels.

“The country has a shortage of engineers so getting more young people interested in STEM subjects is vital to ensure we have a workforce for years to come,” said Mr Wood. “The stereotype is that engineering is a dirty job but most engineers wear a suit and tie like I do.

“People don’t expect it to be office-based. There are lots of different types of engineering jobs available but young people don’t know what careers are out there.

“I hope this challenge gets them excited about engineering and hopefully some will go on to have engineering careers,” added the professional registration manager Simon.

Phil Tomlinson, from Telford-based automotive industry supplier DENSO, will be sitting on the judging panel for Best Operating Model.

“We’ve been in Telford for 25 years but now we are looking at the next 25 years and the skills that we are going to need in the future,” he said.

“It’s very hard to find entry-level engineers and it’s really difficult to find mid-level career engineers. The skills and experience in this country is behind our counterparts in Europe so the more we can do to encourage the next generation of engineers the better,” he said.”

Phil Tomlinson, of Bewdley, from sponsor DENSO

Katherine Johnson, marketing manager at Wednesbury-based KUKA, which specialises in industrial robots, said: “We want to encourage interest in robotics and automation. I think this challenge will inspire to children to consider careers in engineering and manufacturing as this will show them what opportunities are out there.”

Professor Nazira Karodia, dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Wolverhampton, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to support the Express & Star’s STEM Challenge and look forward to working with local schools and businesses to raise the profile of STEM activity across the region.”

Express & Star editor Keith Harrison said: “As local newspapers, we are in a unique position to bring together businesses and schools.

“And, hopefully, some of these partnerships might last past the current school year providing a valuable platform to showcase what the young people really can achieve.

“This campaign will give young people new skills and encourage them to display real lessons learned in the classroom and demonstrate the key Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths disciplines. With the Black Country undergoing a resurgence in high-tech industries, from luxury car making to aviation engineering, there has never been a better time to equip our young people with the skills our businesses require, right here on our doorstep.”

Shropshire Star editor Martin Wright said: “The Shropshire Star is delighted to support this exciting campaign. The challenge provides an opportunity for young people around the area to showcase their talent and innovative thinking and I am really looking forward to seeing the ideas as they take shape in the coming months.

“I would like to thank all of those businesses – our sponsors and the mentors – for coming forward to support us on this project and I am absolutely convinced we will unearth some outstanding talent during the course of the campaign. Good luck to all those people who have entered.”

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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