Connecting students with engineering and industry


Students in Unitec's Year 12 engineering programme enjoyed the experience, particularly the industry visits. The Engineering Secondary-Tertiary Pathways Project (ESTPP) team is now working with schools to redevelop the programme to include modules, links to New Zealand Qualification Authority standards and projects for Years 9-13.

Year 12 engineering programme

Students from Green Bay High School, Massey High School, St Dominic’s College, Waitakere College, Kelston Girls’ College and Kelston Boys’ High School participated in the three-term programme, with two groups of students coming to Unitec one day a week.

Operations coordinator Sarah Sommerville says those who completed the Year 12 Engineering programme enjoyed the experience, and have a better understanding of engineering as a career and the pathways into engineering.

Showing students the relevance of maths and physics to engineering

Over the year, students worked on engineering-related projects and visited engineering sites and offices. Project manager and teacher Ellimay Hendricks and engineering lecturer Anastasis Niumata reinforced the calculus and physics students were studying at school. “I went through old NCEA papers to ensure that our lessons complemented the curricula, and our activities were aimed at showing the students how these subjects relate to careers in engineering.”

Designing and launching rockets

After working on civil and environmental engineering-related projects in Terms 1 and 2, the students moved on to rockets in Term 3. With help from Unitec staff and Aerospace Education tutors, they worked on a design thinking project. Teams of students developed rockets and then launched them. “This was a project they really enjoyed.” Sarah says.

Developing electric cars

In Term 3, students began developing electric cars in preparation for the 2017 Evolocity competition. However, although they were very engaged at the start their enthusiasm waned. Time constraints, due to industry visits and school exam preparation, meant they would have had to complete the project during a school holiday most needed to use for exam revision.

Sarah and Anastasis asked the students to vote on whether to continue. Most said no, so they withdrew the teams from the competition.

Making links with industry

Making links with industry is an important part of the programme, says Sarah. “So that students can see what engineers do, and how the calculus and physics they’re learning is applied in practice.”

Following a visit to Wynyard Quarter construction site in the first half of the year, they visited other sites to get an insight into other engineering disciplines. The visits included:

  • Auckland airport – where Fulton Hogan staff discussed how engineers develop carparks and drainage projects
  • Beca – students were introduced to augmented and virtual reality, the internet of
    things and electrical engineering as part of the organ system of the human body
  • Warkworth Radio Astronomical Observatory
  • Ports of Auckland – which included the Maritime Museum and boat tour of the different ports
  • Schneider Electrical – where they looked at designing technology into a real-world building.

The visits also provided an opportunity for students to network, says Ana. She notes that a student approached one of the companies and was offered an apprenticeship for next year.

Redeveloping the programme to include NCEA credits

A key learning from the pilot programme, says Sarah, was that students found it difficult to use 20% of their learning time without gaining credits towards NCEA.  “They spent one day a week at Unitec on top of their other school commitments, but didn’t receive any payback for their work in the form of NCEA credits.”

That, she adds, is why only 28 of 41 students completed the course. “There was less incentive to keep going, especially as school commitments increased. Those who continued were still very much engaged, but we would have retained more if their work had been assessed towards NCEA.”

Changing to three-day block courses

Offering a three-term, once-a-week programme is challenging, in that it requires a long-term commitment from both school and student. The ESTPP team suggested to the partner schools that they change the structure of the programme to short block courses or modules. These would be more accessible for students, and could potentially be run during earlier school holidays when there is less exam pressure.

All the schools agreed, so next year five block courses will be offered to the partner schools – two for Year 12 students, and one each for Year 11, 10 and 9 students. There will be 30 students in each three-day course, five per school.

Students will go on an industry visit, be given a related project brief and develop a design solution which will be presented back to the industry partner.

The team will involve the Year 13s who completed this year’s programme in the industry trips, to keep them engaged with engineering.

A greater input to the programme from school teachers

Each course project will be developed by a team of two Science, Technology or Maths teachers and at least one engineering lecturer.

Teachers attended some of the lessons this year, so have already gained some experience in teaching their subjects within an engineering context.  “Working within development teams to create the block course projects, says ESTPP project manager Robyn Gandell, “will allow both secondary school teachers and Unitec lecturers to work closely together on both project development and co-teaching.”

“They will be able to gain a better understanding of secondary and tertiary education environments and liaise with industry partners to further understand the links between education and industry.”

"It was a good opportunity for teachers"

Mala Sinhalage, Maths teacher at Kelston Girls’ College, says the programme was a good opportunity for teachers. “I immensely enjoyed my visits and seeing our girls applying the knowledge gained at school to engineering.”

“They first made bridges from spaghetti, using their knowledge of trigonometry and forces to calculate the forces acting on the frames.”  Mala plans to use a similar activity in next year’s Year 10 trigonometry course. She notes that other activities could also be done at school; for example, using a clinometer to measure angle and then calculating the height of buildings and trees.

After hearing Mala talk about the bowling alley activity – students played ten-pin bowling to experience velocity, momentum and impulse, then measured or calculated each parameter – the school’s Physics teacher is thinking of introducing that to her students.

Gaining an insight into careers

Students Sonia and Anshika say they enjoyed the visits in which they learnt about civil, structural, environmental and electrical engineering. “On one visit, we got to experience the latest technology and had a sneak peek at future equipment for electrical engineering.”

“The programme gave us a wider knowledge of physics and maths, and an insight into careers in the engineering field. We also learnt that there is a lack of women in the engineering field.”

Changing the student selection process

The ESTPP Operations Group and schools agree that the selection process for the programme needs to change. Although many of the 2017 students are considering engineering, they are looking to the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) degree.

“Schools picked students with higher academic achievements,” says Sarah. “We’ve talked to them and explained that next year we’re looking for students who have that interest but maybe aren’t sure they can do it.”

Future leaders programme

Unitec is developing a Future Leaders programme in which Year 13 students will have internships with local industry. The STPP team is already approaching companies and local government about engineering-related internships.

Case study: Engaging students with engineering
Case study: Plugging the engineering skills gap

Our thanks to Sarah, Anastasis, Robyn, Mala, Anshika and Sonia for their time and advice; if you have any queries, please contact

December 2017