Headstart for Sixth Formers

This year the Department of Engineering Science ran its sixteenth Headstart residential course for sixth formers from throughout the UK. The programme included practical problem-solving activities, team projects, industrial site visits, lectures and tours of laboratories - including a gala dinner at Hertford College.

The Department’s Headstart course, sponsored by international construction company, Laing O’Rourke, enabled sixth formers to meet and talk to University staff, postgraduate students and representatives from industry.

Headtart 2012 Group Shot 

Doug HamiltonDr Douglas Hamilton, who has been Course Manager of the Department of Engineering Science’s Headstart courses since 1997, said: “On the Oxford Headstart course this year we had 37 students who came from different types of school and from all over the country.  They very quickly got to know each other and threw themselves wholeheartedly into their first experience of engineering at university.  Their enthusiasm for all parts of the course including practical work and design projects based on many aspects of engineering was truly impressive”.

Tony BrownMr Tony Brown, Design Leader with Laing O’Rourke, commented: “At Laing O’Rourke we are always striving for Engineering Excellence in all our works, and are delighted to be able to support the Engineering Science Department on the Headstart programme.  It was a pleasure to show them around our projects on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter site. We were impressed with their attitude and engagement.  I wish all the students every success in their chosen fields of Engineering, and hopefully one day we might see one or two in our organisation. We look forward to maintaining our involvement with Headstart in the future”.

Headstart 2012 Site VisitOver 2,500 sixth form students applied nationally to Headstart this year, with 37 attending the Department’s course in Oxford. Students came from a variety of schools; including maintained non-selective, maintained selective, independent, further education and sixth form colleges, and academies.

Headstart, part of the Engineering Development Trust, has been established for more than 16 years as a charitable trust providing hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) activities and engineering taster courses to encourage young people into technology-based careers.  It is run under the auspices of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The following photo montage gives a taste of this year’s Headstart course.

What the sixth formers thought ...

Headstart boysAfter his Headstart experience, Jake, from Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Salisbury, said: “Engineering initially caught my eye as the idea of tackling real-life practical problems really appeals me. The Headstart practical lab sessions were the most exciting part of the course for me. They gave a real insight into what studying engineering is like and offered an experience you can’t get in schools”.

Freddie who came on this year’s course from Prior Park College in Bath, added: “I enjoy taking on a challenge and working through it scientifically, and the end result is always very satisfying. My favourite part of the course was programming a robot to follow a line on the floor. We had to think of solutions for when it got lost or hit an obstacle, and then input the code. There were a number of solutions and working through them was really fun. I wasn’t expecting to have as much fun as I did, but the course has shown me how enjoyable working with a group of enthusiastic engineers can be! I am looking forward to university a lot”.

Passion for F1 motor racing leads to new friendship

During this year’s Headstart course two students from different parts of the UK got an introduction to mechanical engineering.  Whilst dismantling a SMART car engine they discovered they both had a real passion for Formula One motor racing.  That was not all they had in common… both are girls from Asian backgrounds whose parents wanted them to study medicine and become doctors. Both are determined to study engineering science with a view to entering the world of F1 motor racing.

F1 girlsNiruna, from Wallington High School for Girls in Tooting, London, said: “I had been told by everyone around me that I wouldn’t be able to do engineering because I’m a girl, and it’s a hard industry, and that I wouldn’t fit in… but instead of deterring me, it just made me want to do it more!

Ishani, from Peter Symonds 6th Form College in Winchester, said: “Formula 1 really interests me and it has played a major part in my desire to study engineering. A lot of people think it is unusual because I ‘m a girl, but Formula 1 is something I am really passionate about and it has really inspired me to break the stereotype and pursue my goals”.

How the volunteers benefited…

Headstart volunteer and Keble College alumnus, Rebecca Threlfall, came back from her job with Fraser Nash to assist with Headstart activities. She said: “I finished my Engineering Science degree in 2011 and now work for Frazer-Nash Consultancy as an engineer. This is my second year helping out at Headstart; I found last year great fun and a very rewarding experience, so was keen to come back. I took part in Oxford Headstart when I was in year 12 and experienced first-hand what a useful insight it provides. It is important to promote studying engineering and science subjects to young people and I hope to continue this work throughout my career. I'd like to congratulate the students this year on their considerable achievements on the course; they are a fantastic group and deserve the best of luck for the future”.

Bethan Haig, who represented Headstart, said: “I first heard about Headstart from a fellow civil engineering graduate from University of Bristol; she had taken part in Headstart as a student and gone on to be a supervisor and recommended that I enrole. I have since supervised five different courses around the country. I have been very lucky that both my previous employer, Mott MacDonald and current employer Normet UK ltd understand the importance of encouraging good students into engineering careers, and helping to highlight the range of opportunities that are available. I take part because I enjoy meeting the students and watching them develop their school knowledge of maths and physics to solve problems and create solutions, as they would do in industry”.

Research by Headstart (not by Oxford) shows that the scheme is very important in helping students decide on their course of study and over 60% tracked through university are reading engineering degree courses.  Approximately 86% of participants declare engineering or science-based roles as their first job destination.

An evening at Hertford College

Headstart 2012 Dinner

The dinner at Hertford College provided sixth formers with the opportunity to mix socially in historical surroundings, and gain a sense of what life at the University would be like should they decide to study engineering science in Oxford.

Our special thanks to Laing O’Rourke, Headstart, Sharp Laboratories of Europe, Culham Science Centre, and Hertford College, as well as to all volunteers, technicians and academics from the Department of Engineering Science who helped to make this year’s Headstart such an enormous success.