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STEM on track: Siemens and The Greenpower Trust’s life changing hands-on experience

by AprilSix Proof

Author: Richard Moss, Founder

In our industry we ask lots of questions about why there aren’t more younger people selecting STEM careers. This past weekend, at The Greenpower Trust International Final, I found the answer.

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It’s because we don’t offer enough hands-on opportunities to apply STEM theory in a way that drives excitement as well as learning. There are lots of events for people to attend and plenty of organisations showcasing the wonder of science in kid-friendly demonstrations but there is nothing that comes close to building your own race car and putting it on a world-famous track with hundreds of other school teams to win a podium place. The Greenpower Education Trust is a charity that helps schools teach pupils about sustainable power and engineering. Every year it engages more than 500 schools and provides them with the tools and support to design, build and then race an electric car at a world famous circuit. As a way to engage the next generation in the power of engineering, and light a fire within them that drives them into a career in STEM, nothing I have seen comes even remotely close.

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It not simply the enthusiasm of the teams for the cars they have built. This is a given. If you have spent six months designing and building a race car and competing in front of thousands of people on a real motorsport circuit, there isn’t a chance you would be anything other than full to the brim with adrenaline. It’s more about the whole environment – it’s alive with energy and infectious enthusiasm. As you walk through the paddocks and across the pit lanes, everywhere you turn there are children engaged in engineering activity. Some are sketching the parts they need to build to fix their cars, others are problem solving break-downs. There are even film crews, run by kids capturing the essence of the day. Everything is at fever pitch. There is no one here under 16 who isn’t having the time of their life. It’s about the creation of an environment that fuels energy and enthusiasm about what the next challenge might be.  Industry is clearly stepping up to the plate too – there are hybrid supercars here from BMW, McLaren and Nissan. The crowds around the new P1 are enormous, and the level of questioning from the 16-year-olds surrounding the experts is considerable.

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At the pinnacle of demonstrating the inspiration required to drive the future of engineering and science sits the Mandela School of Science and Technology. Supported by Siemens, these 10 young learners from rural Africa have travelled outside their country for the very first time with a car they built in the farmlands of the Eastern Cape. They have come to race the best of the rest of the world and they are absolutely not here to make up the numbers. It’s quite staggering and frankly unbelievably moving to see these young budding engineers, many of whom live in regions without running water or electricity, going shoulder to shoulder with state and public schools and privately-funded teams from across the UK. The physical distance between them is monumental but they are toe to toe when it comes to desire and ambition. Behind this incredible achievement is Clifford Klass, responsible for HR and sustainability at Siemens South Africa – a giant of a man both in stature and social endeavour. He has led this team from start to finish and helped them gain a taste for science, technology and engineering by showing them that there is something beyond the world they know. It will, undoubtedly, change their lives forever. You can see it when you watch them compete and when you talk to them about what they have learned. The difference for them has been taking their opportunity beyond the classroom and into practical application in a challenging, alien environment.

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Greenpower has done something rather wonderful here. It’s taken the idea of inspiring engineering through practical work, and turbocharged it. It’s led kids from across the world to a central location where they can share their love of making things that work. But what it has done most of all is  found the secret formula to growing our pool of future engineers.

So my question to you is: does anyone want to enter a team in 2015?

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