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The Times: Case study: student speedway

So how does someone who specialises in the development of medical devices find himself back in the classroom?

November 15, 2007
Sarah Hiscock

It somehow seems fitting that someone whose interest in engineering started with Meccano sets is now teaching students how to build cars.

“I’m acutely aware of the falling number of young people tackling engineering as a career and so encouraging enthusiasm at an early age seems essential,” says Darren Hodson, a senior engineer at a major pharmaceuticals company.

So how does someone who specialises in the development of medical devices find himself back in the classroom? “As a committee member of IMechE in Shropshire I was introduced to a group of volunteers called the South Shropshire Engineering Ambassadors,” he says. “The group has been running for more than 15 years and encourages primary and secondary school students to tackle extra-curricular engineering challenges with the support of 40 professional engineers.

“We don’t get directly involved with the curriculum, however we aim to complement it, to allow students to see the wider view of engineering.”

At Ludlow Church of England School, Hodson and his team of students, aged between ten and 15, take part in the Shell Eco-marathon project. The aim is to design, build and race a car that will use the least fuel and produce the lowest level of emissions possible. “I was certainly dropped in the deep end,” Hodson says. “Within six months of joining the group I was in the school, and having had no experience of dealing with young people it was incredibly nerve-racking. Thankfully I had lots of support from teaching staff and from other volunteers in the group.”

After a few weeks building relationships with the students, the project officially started in January and the first car was built within four months, from mainly recycled parts: an engine from a scrapped Honda Vision, the chassis from a shelving unit and recycled brakes from bikes. “The students’ enthusiasm is just amazing,” says Hodson, for whom the highlight was race day in July at Rockingham Motor Speedway. “Having a car on the start line is a measure of the success of the project. Shell said that many schools don’t make it to the track on their first attempt. We raced and achieved 170.4 miles per gallon.”

As older students move on to GCSEs, so younger students join the project. The plan is to build a second car and Hodson remains committed to teaching the young engineers hands-on engineering, communication and team skills with the prospect of a highly creative career ahead of them.

“From a professional development perspective I would recommend it to any engineer – after all, we’re creating the engineers of the future.”

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/career_and_jobs/careers_in/careers_in_engineering/article2870022.ece

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