Engaging students with engineering


There's lots of enthusiasm around a Year 12 engineering course at Unitec – students enjoy what they're learning, teachers can see how their subject is applied in engineering, and the local community is becoming more aware of opportunities for their young people.

 Working with local schools

Unitec’s Secondary-Tertiary Pathways Project (STPP) programme involves 41 students from six West Auckland schools – Massey High School, St Dominic’s College, Green Bay High School, Kelston Girls’ College, Kelston Boys’ High School and Waitakere College. With two girls’ schools involved, there’s a good gender ratio – 18 students are female. One-third of the entire group identifies as Māori or Pasifika.

Unitec runs the programme twice a week – students from three schools attend for one day, and the rest on another. Having a whole day allows for more in-depth activities and longer visits to industry or other sites.

The programme

Unitec’s STPP Lead Ellimay Hendricks says the programme is designed to appeal to students and show them the relevance of the Maths and Physics they’re studying to careers in engineering, and also respond to the opportunities available in industry.

It is run over three terms so that students can focus on their other studies in Term 4, and involves:

  • Term 1: Civil engineering – includes surveying, trigonometry , drafting designs, eco-education and environmental engineering. The students visit the CBD to see civil engineering projects and do stream evaluations on the North Shore.
  • Term 2: Evolocity Challenge – students will learn about electrical engineering and combine this with understandings of kinematics to design electric vehicles to enter into their regional Evolocity competition.
  • Term 3: Design thinking & rockets – tutors and teachers are working together to create a project on rocket engineering. This will allow the  students to apply their learning from the previous two terms and offers a connection to ‘waves’ – frequency and transmission.

A ripple effectPhoto: students sitting at table

Students aren’t the only ones learning. Teachers who visit the class can observe how their subject is applied to engineering and how the students are learning in the tertiary environment. Ellimay notes that she too is picking up engineering-related skills while sharing her experience as a secondary school teacher with tutor Anastasis Niumata, whose background is in lecturing and researching.

Massey High School teacher Alan Viskovich takes turns accompanying students with the other Massey Physics teachers. “It creates a ripple effect,“ he says. “Having seen Maths and Science taught in a different way I’d like to take those ideas back to school and become more of a facilitator for students’ self-learning.” Other teachers are interested in what the students are doing, he adds, and a Social Studies teacher recently visited, just to see what’s going on.

One school is changing its Maths programme in response to what the students are learning – trigonometry is now being introduced at Year 10 and students will continue studying trigonometry through to Level 2 Maths, so that they’re fully prepared to pursue engineering and complete the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering or Bachelor of Engineering Technology.

Ellimay says that Unitec has led the programme this year, but as teachers from the six schools gain more awareness of how their subjects are applied to engineering, it is expected that the schools will drive the programme more next year.

Sharing with the wider community

Raising awareness within the wider community of career opportunities and alternative pathways into engineering can be a slow process, so Anastasis was delighted when a Pasifika church group asked her for more information about engineering. One parent had discussed her daughter’s involvement in the programme, and church leaders were keen to find out more about potential career opportunities in this field for their young people.

Tutors, teachers and students can share their experiences in the programme through a closed Facebook group which parents can also join. This has proved to be a useful tool for keeping everyone up to date with upcoming activities or any changes to the programme, and provides a forum to ask questions, make comments and celebrate student achievements.

Industry visit

The students’ first industry visit was in April, to Auckland’s CBD Job and Skills Hub. “It was aimed at creating excitement about what’s going on in their city and how they could fit in to this scene,” says Ellimay, “by showing them some of the construction projects and talking to people working in the area.”

During the visit, Ellimay encouraged the students to consider looking for part-time work opportunities in city construction projects. The students don’t often travel into the city so, as a practical way of familiarising them with the journey they’d need to do if the opportunity for part-time work should arise, they were encouraged to make their own way to the Wynyard Quarter. It also provided an opportunity for a few latecomers to apply the compass-reading skills they’d been taught, “and it worked, they found the meeting place!”

Two engineers and a quantity surveyor talked about their roles on various projects in the area, then the students split into three groups to walk around the quarter and look at some of the construction sites. Putting the girls with the female engineer provided an opportunity for them to ask  questions about what it’s like for women in the industry.

What next?

The focus shifts to Year 9/10 students in Term 4. Students from each school will work on a science project, possibly something to tie in with the rocket project the Year 12s did and that can be easily replicated in schools next year.

A Year 13 programme is planned for 2018, running on the same model of four 4 days at school and one at Unitec. It is anticipated that this will be more project-based and have closer connections with local industry. Unitec will continue the Year 12 programme with its six partner schools, and is looking at possibilities for extending it to other schools.

Read last year's case study about the programme

Our thanks to Ellimay, Anastasis and Alan for their time and advice; if you have any queries please contact

May 2017