Published: 19 July 2016

Summer school of engineering


A four day summer school of engineering took place at Coventry University in July. Around fifty students aged between 16 and 17, from around the UK, attended the event - which is organised by educational charity, The Smallpeice Trust, and sponsored by Coventry University and the Institution.

The course provides students with practical knowledge of fundamental materials, structural behaviour, and the design and construction of a structure – learning through a practical course that emphasises hands-on learning through a bridge design competition. 

Students learn about fundamentals including pressures, stresses and strains; the principles of statics, mechanics, and structural forms; and key skills such as teamwork, problem solving and time management. They also had the opportunity to find out about relevant engineering degrees. 

The ten bridges constructed at the event

Here a few of the student thoughts about the event and engineering careers:

17 years, from Leamington Spa

I’m really interested in structural engineering and have been for a long time. Most likely it was the creativity of architecture and my maths skills that got be interested. I think my favourite example of engineering is The London Underground. I attended the summer school because I wanted to make sure I would enjoy engineering by getting an early taste. It was really useful mixing with other students and it really gave me inspiration to work hard since everyone else here was so smart! My favourite part of the event was watching our bridge break as we added heavier and heavier loads.

17 years, from St Albans

I am thinking about an engineering career because I always liked building things and structures generally, and I like the opportunities for travelling to other countries to work as an engineer. I’m most interested in civil and structural engineering, so the bridge building competition –designing and testing bridges made of balsa wood – was perfect. This was a great course as it was really hands on, whereas what we learn in school is very theory based. It was a really fun and valuable experience, not only because of the building but the design process – and meeting other people interested in engineering.

16, from Milan, Italy

I am interested in an engineering career because I study maths and physics at school and I enjoy construction games like Lego – that’s why I’m most interested in civil and structural engineering, especially stadium design, like the San Siro or Allianz Arena. I went along to the Smallpeice Trust event to learn more about engineering and university life and it was very useful for both. It was a fun event and I learned a lot.

John Nolan with one of the bridges

Alfred Gand, Course Director says: 

"Thanks to all the students who attended and brought such imagination, energy and creativity to the event. Thanks to Institution Past President, Professor John Nolan, for judging our bridge building competition.

​"The atmosphere during the final presentation and testing of the bridge models was fascinating, with each competing team keen to impress the judges on their understanding of structural behaviour and bridge failure mechanisms. A few of the designed and built bridge models sustained loads in excess of 100 kg."

Learn more about the Smallpeice Trust here.


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