Young engineers, designers, and marketing managers of the future demonstrated their skills to a panel of impressed judges at the final of the very first Mid Sussex STEM Challenge.
Year 9 teams from Oathall Community College, Warden Park Academy and St Paul’s Catholic College gathered at the district council’s offices in Haywards Heath on Friday to show off their products and pitch their ideas in a ‘Dragons’ Den’ style showdown.
The challenge - aimed at encouraging interest in science, technology, engineering and maths - was launched back in October when the schools were tasked with building and marketing an electric bicycle, using a components kit and an ordinary mountain bike.
They were supported through the project by companies from the Haywards Heath Town Team’s Burrell Road Action Group, whose members include engineering and medical employers.
All the hard work was put to the test when the teams came together to show off the end products, as well as their project and business plans.
First each team was assessed by judges who spoke to them about their designs and plans, and saw the bikes demonstrated.
The students are a credit to their individual schools and the young people of Mid Sussex
Assessments were made by judges including EEF’s Regional Manager, Gayle Oliver; Mike Brookes of STEM and Tomorrow’s Engineers at Brighton University; Donna Hitchcock, Executive Director of Colas UK; and Judy Johnstone and Theresa Elkin from Lloyds bank.
Two finalists were chosen - the Hairy Cyclists and the Cycling 5, both from Oathall College - to go on and pitch their ideas and answer questions in a Dragons’ Den style presentation.
MP Sir Nicholas Soames joined the panel, along with Deputy Lieutenant Carole Hayward, Rhiannon Scott of Women in Engineering, and leader of Mid Sussex District Council Garry Wall.
They were left with a difficult decision, the competing teams all performing exceptionally, but in the end the Cycling 5 were named as overall winners.
They were presented with the challenge trophy, and will also enjoy a visit to leading electric bicycle company Bromptons.
All participants wre given a certificate and thanked for taking part and making the first STEM challenge such a success.
Mr Wall said: “I was very pleased to be part of the judges panel.
“Everyone who took part in the event demonstrated a comprehensive understanding of the technology and business skills required in a competitive economy. The students are a credit to their individual schools and the young people of Mid Sussex.”
Sir Nicholas said he was ‘enormously impressed by the work done by all the schools.
“The thought and skill put into this has been remarkable,” he said. “It’s very encouraging. It shows that our schools train exceptionally good people and they have brilliant futures. I hope they have been excited by the STEM subjects.”
Sir Nicholas praised the event organisers and said he hoped the challenge would expand in future: “I’m really excited by what I see, and I want many more schools to take part.
“Everybody gets a lot out of it including the community where we live.
“It’s urgent that when Haywards Heath sixth form comes back to life it has a component that teaches STEM - there is such a demand for skills in this area.”
The companies involved in the challenge included Flowserve, PSM Marine Engineering, Nuffield Hospital and Bike Smart together with expertise from Lloyds Banking and Colas UK to support the students with business plans and marketing.
Not only have STEM ambassadors from each company worked alongside the schools but the students have all visited to see ‘behind the walls’ of the real world of work and how exciting it can be.
Flowserve’s Director, Nick Green, has been delighted by the sheer excitement of the students as they grappled with the project: “This has brought back memories for all of us as we set out to make a difference at the beginning of our careers. From the reaction of these – and other students and companies – I’m very much hoping this pilot scheme will grow to incorporate many more schools and companies in the years ahead as we prove the diversity and rewards to be had in such careers.”