Junior engineers enjoy The Year 8 ChallENGe

Across the week, Monash Engineering welcomed 169 secondary school students to this year’s Year 8 ChallENGe. Enjoying seven separate workshops across three days, the students had the chance to explore each engineering discipline through fun, interactive and challenging practical activities, while also gaining an early taste of life on a university campus.

Working together in groups, the students built bridge structures out of spaghetti; performed chemical experiments with soft drink, salt and balloons; generated wind power through household fans and simple turbines; constructed a working electrical gadget; commanded robots and quadcopters; created 3D game characters; and explored the materials that make the built world.

Four friends from Gippsland - Caterina, Eliza, Ella and Flynn - attended the Year 8 ChallENGe thanks to a scholarship program offered to regional Victorian students.  After successfully applying, the girls had their registration and Clayton-based accommodation covered by the university’s Engineering and IT faculties.

Caterina, 13, said she enjoyed working with robots in the mechanical and aerospace engineering workshop the best. “I’ve never been to a university before,” she said. “I wanted to find out what it was like; it’s very different to school.” Eliza, 13, who likes to work with chemicals in school science, enjoyed the chemical engineering workshop most. “We had to do a test with iodine and extract it from water,” she said. “It was fun!” Ella, 13, came simply to try something new. “I really enjoyed the civil engineering workshop,” she said. “Our spaghetti bridge was the lightest one and only carried 450g of weight, but it looked really good!” Flynn, 13, came to “check out how engineering works” and to cast an eye on the university her big brother hopes to join next year. “They’ve made everything fun,” she said. “It’s been really enjoyable.”

Flynn’s mother Jodie was the catalyst that brought Flynn and her three friends to the ChallENGe. “She was reluctant to come by herself, but we thought it was such a good opportunity, we put the word out and got three friends to come along with her,” explained Jodie. “They had a lot of fun, were happy to go every morning, and reflected each night on what they’d been learning. It was so valuable for them to share the experience and learn from each other.”

Jodie feels that her daughter has improved confidence thanks to the ChallENGe. “Flynn went with the perception that she wasn’t going to be as good as her ‘brainiac’ friends, and questioned, 'Will I be smart enough?'” she said. “She’s come away from the ChallENGe realising that she’s got as much opportunity, and is capable as anyone else. She’s found a ‘can do’ attitude.  When we got home, it was great to watch her demonstrating the electrical circuit she made to her dad and older brother, it was something she could teach them that they can't do themselves. The best outcome for me as a parent is seeing her feeling confident and capable.”

Michael Pattie, technology teacher from Sale College, brought another female scholarship student along to attend the ChallENGe. “It’s great to give a student an opportunity out of their comfort zone and normal experience,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of girls going into technology and science in my area of rural Victoria, so it was great to be able to have one of our female students come along.”

Michael also found the experience highly valuable as a teacher working in the technology space.  “I run a small Technology Club at school twice a week at lunchtime, where we do things 3D printing, laser cutting and electronics,” he said. “We’ve modified the curriculum quite a lot in technology though. This experience, in the university, has confirmed to me as a teacher that we’re on a valid pathway.”

Monash University Associate Professor of Resources Engineering Mohan Yellishetty was delighted with the outcome. “As the academic lead, the Year 8 ChallENGe has been a fulfilling and exciting opportunity for me over the past two years we’ve run the event,” he said. “It was such a delight to see 40% girls enrolled into this 3-day activity filled with fun, challenge and excitement. Monash University is truly committed to fostering innovation and nurturing future talent to help create a workforce that supports Australia’s future.”

If you’d like to help change the conversation about STEM and encourage more young people to participate, It’s not too early to get involved in next year’s event. “We’re calling upon industry and other like-minded organisations to come forward and sponsor our 2019 Year 8 Challenge!” Associate Professor Yellishetty said.