Re-Engineering Australia Forum’s Michael Myers has presented his views on child’s play in AMTIL’s magazine.
What do you get when you cross Formula One, CAD CAM technology and a bunch of creative high school kids?
A record-breaking mileage marathon car and some of the most innovative manufacturing minds the world has to offer.
Nicole Azzopardi talks to Re-Engineering Australia Forum founder Michael Myers.
Michael Myers admits he was feeling fairly confident when he walked into a year 9 and 10 high school Mileage Marathon Cars workshop one Monday night almost a decade ago.
With a day job providing high-end computing aided engineering tools for people who build trains, planes and automobiles, the CEO of Concentric Asia Pacific thought perhaps his engineering skills could be put to good use.
“I was thinking, I have all this technology in the world – I am going to blow these kids out of the water; but when I got in there, it was a carbon fibre monocoque designed car with a world record of 3200 miles a gallon. I fell over.”
For Michael Myers, it was the humble beginning of something that has grown into something much bigger - the beginning of a movement, which now challenges thousands of high school students thinking differently about engineering.
“The bit that is stuck with me ever since that night was when I asked the kids how they got such a phenomenal result, one of them turned around and said: No-one said we could not. That is the one line that is driven me ever since.
“I got to thinking here are these kids doing this without any technology and me with all the technology in the world. What would happen if we gave the kids the technology?”
The result: The Schools Innovation Design Challenge (SIDC), a structured engineering design project based on the development of a Formula One racing car. The winning school group would have to tour the world showing off their achievement.
“My idea was that if the kids got to see the world they would see how good we are as a nation,” Michael Myers explains.
“There is a perception in Australia that everyone overseas is better than we are but it is not true. We are more intrinsically driven than any other country in the world. We are incredibly childish as a nation. We’re young and we don’t have the burden of history on our shoulders.”
For Michael Myers, it is this kind of intrinsic thinking that needs to be encouraged in schools to keep Australia’s manufacturing industry alive.
“When you are being intrinsic, you are in your happy mode, you are thinking creatively,” he says. “The more we can get our kids to be intrinsically motivated we will have all the creative drive that Australia needs.
It is the difference between saying: Ok kids, here is the text book and there will be a test at the end of the day and saying: we are trying to build a Taj Mahal, what are we going to need? Well, we need some maths for this and now we need some English.
“It is saying, we are heading in this direction and then asking the kids how they think we should get there?”
With a wave of enthusiasm coming from the education system, Michael Myers asked from a little help from his friends, turning to mates at IBM, Telstra and GKN Aerospace to help grow the concept.
Aware of the widely accepted perception that few young Australians viewed engineering as a preferred career path, the group of like-minded people from industry and later government came together to establish Re-Engineering Australia Forum (REA).
The aim was to develop stepping stone activities, starting from the young level to form a pathway of encouragement to engineering activities, trades and professions. In essence, REA would provide technology, motivation and opportunities across Australia.
“We give kids CAD CAM technology, CFD and FEA - exactly the same tools used by Toyota, Ford and Boeing,” Michael Myers says.
“We have found they can adopt this technology in minutes. It is funny; everyone said it would never work.” But work it did. In fact, the program is now linked with the international F1inSchools challenge which now runs in 18 countries and REA is recognised as being the fastest growing and global best practice example of how to implement the F1inSchools programme.
Using the notion of providing access to young people’s heroes to inspire and motivate, REA has a host of additional projects which help to link schools, industry, TAFE, universities and parents in a collaborative and experiential environment focused on changing the metaphor of the education process.
“Michael Schumacher is a hero but one among our roles is making people realise that everyone is a hero and can be a hero,” Michael Myers says.
“Research shows that by 15-16 years old, parents start to diminish as hero figures. Young people start opening the door and looking outside for heroes. If they do not see them, they look outside for something cool. This is often where the influence of drugs comes in.”
“Providing heroes for young people is something fundamental that has been missing in our communities,” he says.
“We hope to stand at the door as a forum and guide children in troubled places. If there are a lot of people willing to be heroes and we offer them something they perceive as cool then they have a chance at making a different choice.”
Last year more than 280 secondary schools across Australia, together with numerous universities and TAFE colleges participated in the program, providing a platform for more than 30,000 students to actively participate and another 30,000 to be exposed to the outcomes.
In May this year, two Australian schools proudly stood on the dais at the F1 in Schools World Championships in Malaysia.
As for Michael Myers, it is all systems go as he speeds ahead with a new V8 Supercars in Schools Program, a Marine Design Challenge and the Oz-Blobs Challenge.
But the entrepreneur responsible for reinvigorating engineering in schools insists he has never had a good idea in his life, attributing the influence of his 8-year-old daughter for much of his creative intelligence.