Neighbourhood Engineer mentors students


A group of Piripiri School students didn't know much about engineering until they started a Transpower Neighbourhood Engineers Awards project. After working with mentor Shruthi Nair, some are now considering a future in engineering.

Piripiri School

Futureintech Ambassador Shruthi Nair, from Graymont NZ, volunteered to work on a Transpower Neighbourhood Engineers Awards project with a group of six Year 6-8 Piripiri School students. To overcome the challenge of distance – the round trip from Otorohanga to the school takes around two hours – school principal/teacher Tim Fletcher set up a One Note file which everyone could edit, and Shruthi sometimes contacted her group by phone.

“I didn’t know female engineers existed”

Shruthi was particularly keen to promote engineering studies to girls; at the first meeting she gave a presentation about her role and introduced some basic engineering knowledge. “It was an amazing feeling to open their minds to the vast world of engineering,” Shruthi says, “I was particularly surprised when a Year 6 student told me that he was expecting to see a male engineer and didn’t know that female engineers existed!”

“Since the majority of the group consisted of females, it felt very rewarding to introduce science and engineering and give them the confidence to pursue these fields in the future.”

Working collaborativelyPhoto: students working in playground

Collaboration is a key aspect of the Awards – entries are judged on the quality of the students’ practice and evidence of collaboration between all involved, rather than the technological outcome.

 “All my interactions with the students and principal went smoothly,” says Shruthi. “The best part was seeing their enthusiasm and how well they all worked as a team.”

Tim notes that right from the beginning the students were heavily involved in the project. “Working alongside Shruthi they have examined options and explored possible solutions to create a solution that will work favourably for our school.”

Monkey bars

With Shruthi providing the engineering expertise and Tim the educator’s perspective, the students considered potential project ideas. Most were for new playground accessories, and after discussing time constraints and engineering complexities involved they decided to work towards installing monkey bars.

The students had to find and measure suitable ground area, investigate suitable materials and consider safety concerns. They each took on individual tasks as they worked through the project which was completed well before deadline.

Schools registering to participate in an Awards project are explicitly informed that engineers will not provide any materials or services to the school, other than the general advice required to guide students through their project. Graymont NZ, however, is funding the cost of the monkey bars which will be installed by parents.

Site visitPhoto: students on site visit

Graymont NZ invited the Awards group to visit their site in Otorohanga where they met up with Shruthi again and were introduced to other engineers and scientists. “The site visit was great,” says Tim.

“We have two, possibly three kids interested in engineering and science as a career. One in particular was inspired and energised by the whole experience. She wrote down every word, was interested in the problems they face and basically soaked it all up. It was great to connect her with a female engineer and some female scientists too.”

Transpower Neighbourhood Engineers Awards

IPENZ (Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand) established the Neighbourhood Engineers Awards competition in 2001 – Transpower became the sponsor in 2003. It aims to create a greater awareness of the engineering profession and encourage innovative thinking in the areas of engineering and technology.

IPENZ promotes the programme to schools as a practical way for teachers to enhance the Technology curriculum in a primary, intermediate or secondary school classroom.

An emphasis on neighbourhood

An Awards project can involve the whole school, one class or even just one student, but it must demonstrate learning in Technology – particularly good technological practice, such as identifying a problem, assessing options and making decisions that lead to a solution.

Students are encouraged to look for a problem or opportunity within their school or community. Mentors are often Futureintech Ambassadors, although they may be local engineers volunteering to help out. As the focus of the Awards is on technological practice, the mentors use their generic engineering knowledge to guide students through their project.

Practical experience in engineering

As well as raising awareness of engineering, the Awards programme supports teachers to provide students with practical experience in working through an engineering project. Students gain valuable insight into technological knowledge and skills – and have a lot of fun doing it!

Mentoring students is also a great way for engineers to connect with their local community.

Our thanks to Shruthi and Tim for their time and advice; if you have any queries please get in touch:

November 2016