And the Shropshire Star STEM Challenge 2019 proved that the next generation is bursting at the seams with creativity and promise.
Fourteen schools from across Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin were challenged to create a working prototype using the elements of STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths – to showcase to a panel of business experts.
With the help of mentors from design and technology companies around Shropshire, 14 teams of six pupils had six months to design a product that has a positive benefit for an individual/group and the environment, or just the environment.
Taking place at the Marches Centre of Manufacturing and Technology, in Bridgnorth, pupils came back with all manner of fantastic ideas.
Mary Webb School, in Pontesbury, were named the overall winners by headline sponsor Denso for creating a working prototype of an electrical device that sits inside mains water pipes, using a generator to create power from the water flow.
Similarly, the Business Champion was named as Haberdashers’ Abraham Darby School, with their Hydro Snail water power generation unit.
A turbine inside piping uses water power to turn and create electricity, demonstrated by the school’s team of pupils and partnered mentors from Busch.
Telford’s Hadley Learning Community came together to create a colourful, pop-up, lightweight sleeping device that is easily transportable.
Made from sustainable materials, the design led to the school winning the award for Best Team Work, sponsored by Telford & Wrekin Council.
Among a vast range of creative ideas, the event also saw The Marches School develop a device to help sufferers of arthritis use taps and other levers, while The Telford Priory School worked with Asda and partnered mentors from Epson to create a fruit and vegetable carrier that attaches to trolleys to replace plastic bags.
The device was tested in Asda’s Donnington store as part of the competition.
This is the second year Midlands News Association, the publisher of the Shropshire Star, has held the challenge.
Last year, a joint initiative was run between the Shropshire Star and sister title the Express & Star – but the scheme proved so successful that both newspapers held challenges in 2019.
Martin Wright, editor of the Shropshire Star and the Express & Star, said: “What we found last year in the joint awards was that there was almost too much talent to do everything justice.
“Based on that we split it up and that decision is completely vindicated by what we’ve seen throughout this challenge, high quality, impressive work that bodes very well for the next generation of engineers.
“Some of these ideas look like they could go into production and onto the market tomorrow – it just shows the level of talent we have in the schools in Shropshire.”
Business mentors attended their partnered Shropshire school during STEM challenge sessions over the last six months to help the youngsters make their ideas into a reality, and invited pupils to tour their facilities.
Keeley Fox from Paveaways won the Mentor Recognition Award, sponsored by The Careers and Enterprise Company, for her work with The Marches School in Oswestry.
The Telford Langley School winning Best Presentation from sponsors Avara Foods; The Burton Borough School won Best Work Plan, sponsored by Epson; Idsall School won Best Operating Model, sponsored by Protolabs; Sir John Talbot’s School won Best Entrepreneurial Team, sponsored by Ironbridge Gorge Museums and Haberdashers’ Abraham Darby winning Business Champion, sponsored by Hitachi Capital Invoice Finance.
Among the students taking part was Jacob Rushton, of The Telford Langley School.
The 14-year-old said it was a true team effort in finalising their prototype.
Explaining his group’s idea, he said: “All of us sat around a table and thought about existing designs and how they can be changed to create something new.
“We came up with a speed bump that can drop down if an emergency service vehicle goes over it, before coming back up so a normal citizen car will still have to slow down making it safer for people but reducing the time it takes for the emergency services to get to their destination.
“I’ve definitely learnt a lot, it’s especially helped with my maths and having business mentors come to speak to, it’s been a great way of getting outside the normal school routine and speaking to people from relevant businesses.”
An edible lid for a drinks cup to replace plastic was the eureka moment for pupils at Burton Borough, based in Newport, who have begun to market their idea to an environmental group.
“Our secret recipe involving sugar, rice paper and a few other select ingredients has resulted in a superb idea,” said Lisa Kane, head of professional studies at the school.
“Pupils have had professional business meetings with Sustainable Newport who are really keen on getting on board with the idea.
“It’s been phenomenal to see how their confidence has grown and their communication skills have gone from not being sure how to talk to our mentors from Magna Cosma Casting, to presenting their prototype as if they’ve had years of professional experience.”
Among the judges were Laura Reeves and Charlotte-Anne Smith from Protolabs, who were deciding on the Best Operating Model.
Ms Smith said: “The quality of ideas we’ve had has been incredibly impressive.
“I’ve never been involved in anything like this before but I was really surprised about how good and enthusiastic everyone has been.”
Ms Reeves added: “Some of the stand outs have been the ones showing great consideration into the manufacturing process and a forward-thinking business plan to go with it.”