How A Moment of Confidence Can Change Your Life by Dan Habbershaw

Dan Habbershaw, MEng Aerospace Engineering Graduate, talks about how Get up to Speed with STEM (GUTS) and The Work-wise Foundation helped open opportunities he never thought were possible:

On May 3rd 2018, members of The Sheffield Engineering Academy, SELA, watched on as a box containing 100s of stamp cards collected from young students at Get Up To Speed with STEM were launched 100,000 feet into the atmosphere. This signified the end of Think Inside The Box, our engineering public engagement project that had been showcased at GUTS a few weeks earlier. The footage of a Think Inside The Box placard gently rising, via a large weather balloon, until it is backdropped by the curvature of the earth depicts an incredible journey. However, in comparison to the journey the team went on to pull of the event, it seems like a leisurely stroll!

SELA is a co-curricular programme that runs alongside studies at The University of Sheffield, open to students in the engineering faculty. The aim of the programme is to instil leadership qualities and skills within engineering students, so they are ready for the challenges that come once leaving education for the workplace. This is achieved via skills workshops that are then put into practice in a year long project. Our task was to create a public engagement event that would enthuse the general public about engineering, allowing people to see just how much engineering effects everyone’s daily lives.

John Barber and Janice Richardson came to talk to SELA members about their Get Up to Speed with STEM event, helping young students see the possibilities available to them through showcases from businesses, inventors and education providers from across the country. From the very beginning it was clear our project and GUTS was a match made in heaven. GUTS would allow SELA to reach the most impressionable young minds and open their eyes to what engineering has the potential to be, fun, interesting and incredibly important to all facets of life.

We accepted their invitation and got to work creating 9 boxes, each an interactive piece that depicted a different discipline of engineering. We really wanted to show students that engineering was so much more than spanners and hammers in a workshop. Our 9 boxes included :

  • Mechanical Engineering – In collaboration with Metlase, a large mechanical phoenix with each intricate gear on display.
  • Electrical Engineering – A switch board with circuit themed puzzles, a race against the clock to see if you could prevent disaster in a shuttle launch!
  • Civil Engineering – A shake table simulating an earthquake, with the foundations necessary to keep a building stable on display.
  • Computer Science – An interplanetary VR experience, finding yourself each planet of the solar system.
  • Aerospace Engineering – Lego Saturn V rockets, with our team explaining the processes that went into putting man on the moon
  • Biomedical Science – Keyhole surgery simulation, with the students using a camera to find organs hidden away in a dark box.
  • Material Science – A model space centre, displaying the intricate design process behind the material selection in engineering
  • Chemical Engineering – A model fractional distillation tube showed students how crude oil is separated into the different oils we use every day.
  • Automated Systems and Control Engineering – SELA’s own self balancing robot Wobble-E showed students how coding and sensors are used to automate so much in today’s society.

As an extra incentive to the students, we gave them a stamp card when entering the event. If they engaged with all 9 boxes, and received a stamp from each, they could post their card, with a message on the back, into a rocket post box on their way out. These are the cards that were sent into space, hopefully allowing each student to realise with engineering anything is possible.

As a group of University students running this project alongside our studies, time was of the essence. With just a few weeks to go before the event, many of the boxes were yet to be constructed, yet to be fully working and yet to be paid for! The trust that the Work-Wise team had placed in us (giving us more floor space than McLaren and the Army!) meant that failure was not an option. And although it seemed we may fall at the final hurdle, as a team we pushed through and made sure we delivered the event to it is fullest potential and hopefully inspired the next generation of engineers.

On a personal level, the event allowed me to grow as a project director, and a person, immensely. John and Janice gave me the opportunity to rub shoulders with CEO’s of huge business, have our project coordinated by the same people who coordinate Coldplay’s live shows, and even be offered work experience by the Chairman of British Motorsport, David Richards MBE. It also opened my eyes to the real world of project budgeting, as after the event when we had to pay everyone, we realised we had been a little loose with our spending! It led to some very difficult conversations with suppliers that I will never forget and will ensure never happen again in my career!

Overall, my experience with The Work-wise Foundation, GUTS and the whole project was such a positive one. I’m very proud to have been involved in an event that could shape the lives of young students and I hope they learned something; I know I did!

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