What is engineering? What is your mental picture of the ‘typical engineer’? These were the opening questions from Professor Kim Pickering’s recent presentations to senior students from Napier Girls and Taradale high schools.
The answers are pretty-much summed up by a picture on the next slide of her presentation – a man wearing a hard-hat and looking at a bridge. Building stuff and dealing with motors or electrical equipment are common answers, although rocket science also gets a mention, given Rocket Lab’s operations at Mahia Peninsula in Northern Hawke’s Bay.
Kim was in the region to present her work in materials science to the local branch of the Royal Society, but she also took the opportunity to open students’ minds to the wide potential of careers and projects that the engineering profession entails.
To Kim, engineering is about making the world a better place. As examples, she describes her work and that of her colleagues at the University of Waikato – sustainable energy production, precision delivery mechanisms for new drugs, new products made from waste streams. She stresses the focus on teamwork and the creative design processes that underpin problem solving.
Because engineering isn’t just about building bridges, the University of Waikato’s Bachelor of Engineering programme includes courses on professional practice and the role of engineering in society. Being able to communicate well and to understand what communities value are key skills of engineers, otherwise they might be solving the wrong problem or problems that don’t exist!
The Waikato University programme also supports quality professional placements for students, so that graduates are work-ready. Relationships with some of New Zealand’s larger, integrated companies mean that there are placement opportunities across the range of engineering disciplines taught.
Kim thinks that the future of engineering looks bright, with school leavers like those she met in Napier entering the profession. Students from both schools were keen to interact, asking insightful questions that were clearly focused on the future – both of their careers and the planet.
For school leavers wanting to get a taste of what it is like to study engineering at Waikato, two up-coming events can provide more information and hands-on experiences. The University of Waikato’s Open Day is Friday 17 May, and the annual Experience Engineering event is 16-18 October 2019.