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Pictured: Year 10 school students at the inaugural Innovation Challenge held in November 2022.

An annual STEM outreach event that explores and showcases the opportunities possible in STEM careers brought 60 high-school students from three schools across Victoria together for a series of design challenges in November, 2022.

The outreach program known as the Innovation Challenge has been run in Victoria by the EWB Australia University of Melbourne Chapter since 2019. The program engages Year 9 and 10 students, primarily from backgrounds under-represented in STEM, in an in-depth, hands-on socio-technical design challenge.

Supported by Bentley Education, the Innovation Challenge seeks to inspire, empower and educate the next generation of socio-technical professionals. The format is designed with regional school students in mind – ensuring they can easily engage with the program.

Nurturing the next generation of engineers

Hosted at the University of Melbourne Parkville campus, school students from Viewbank College, Wantirna College, and Newhaven College were excited to join the Chapter volunteers to showcase their design proposals. They also got to pick the minds of post-graduate engineering students, tour the university and hear from socio-technical engineering role-models.

The showcase event was the culmination of weeks of build up, during which students were taken through the design context and worked on their proposals by utilising online resources and touchpoints with a mentor from the Chapter.

The design context explored the aspirations of Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation (Dawul Wuru), a current community partner for the EWB Challenge. Dawul Wuru was established in 2010 to protect, secure, support and promote the rights and interests of local Aboriginal Traditional owners and custodians – specifically the Yirrganydji people who are the traditional custodians of the area. The program content that was developed for the EWB Challenge was adapted to be accessible for the high school students participating in the Innovation Challenge.

After spending time with mentors to refine their presentations, which addressed the themes of Structures, Energy, and Waste and Reuse, students presented their proposals to a panel of judges. The judging panel was made up of industry professionals, including Simone Costello from Arup, former Innovation Challenge organisers Maxwell Jones and Warne Lewis, Kuthur Sriram from Bentley Education, John Osmond and Anna Fernandes from Matter Consulting, and Jasmin Goldberg from Aurecon.

The participants presented a range of design ideas, including a solar-powered coral terrarium, a biogas generator made from eco-bricks (complete with an indicative prototype), and a flexible accommodation structure.

A Year 10 school student working on their presentation at the Innovation Challenge.

What they said:

“EWB really challenged us to think outside the box. I have learnt so much and it has opened my eyes to the opportunity that engineering will hold in the future.” – Student, Year 10 

“The Innovation Challenge allowed us to explore and develop young minds across the state, by asking students how they can use their knowledge and research skills to help others in need. It was an incredible experience that allowed me to grow my own understanding of more sustainable practices while also learning to work together as a team to deliver an amazing final product.” Victoria Pitliangas, EWB University of Melbourne Chapter President.  

“I was lucky enough to be working with the winning team during the Innovation Challenge. They were such brilliant, hard-working students who were desperate to know more about what university is like and what careers they could pursue in engineering. Innovation Challenge was an opportunity for them to show off their creativity and problem-solving – and got them a win!” – Stella Ulm, EWB University of Melbourne Chapter Innovation Challenge organiser

“I had such an amazing time working with the students. It was so nice to see them come up with creative and sustainable solutions. It was such a great learning opportunity for me as well!” – Shirdheen Murali, EWB University of Melbourne Chapter Innovation Challenge organiser

Partnership with Bentley Systems

For more than 37 years Bentley Systems, an infrastructure engineering software company, has provided innovative applications to engineers and other professionals responsible for designing, constructing and operating sustainable infrastructure that is essential to the quality of life for everyone, everywhere. Bentley’s partnership with EWB Australia truly aligns with Bentley Education’s core values to help students from all backgrounds rise to the challenges of becoming a world-class talent to improve quality of life and support infrastructure growth and resilience worldwide. 

Engineers Without Borders Australia has partnered with Bentley Systems since 2011, and Bentley Education has supported the Innovation Challenge since 2021.

Next steps

In 2023, the Innovation Challenge will run for the first time in two states. The University of Melbourne Chapter will again deliver the event in Victoria and representatives from the University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology Chapters are planning to deliver the event in Queensland.

Interested in supporting STEM Outreach workshops like the Innovation Challenge? Find out more about joining your local Chapter here