Above: Bridge designs produced by the teams.

Fifty students descended upon Coventry University this month, to participate in a structural engineering course organised by educational charity, The Smallpeice Trust, and sponsored by the Institution.​

Taking place over four days, the course offered students aged 16 to 17 a unique insight into the fundamental concepts of structural engineering through the design and building of model bridges. 

Students used a variety of materials to strengthen their models
The course was also an invaluable opportunity to get expert guidance and degree advice from technical specialists including Alfred Gand, lecturer and Course Director at Coventry University, and President of the Institution of Structural Engineers, Ian Firth - who chaired the judging for the bridge test competition.

Speaking on the success of the course, Alfred said:

For the seventh consecutive year, we have enthused over 300 budding engineers with fully packed activities specifically designed to cover some of the fundamentals in engineering principles and theoretical based approaches to solving engineering challenges.

The young engineers worked hard in teams to produce their models
The students were introduced to key principles of materials and structural behaviour, and learned to apply their ideas to real world situations. The teams explored pressures, stresses and strains, as well as statics, mechanics, different structural forms and materials to create model bridges and put them to the test in a final head-to-head competition.

Ian Firth said:

I was really impressed by the level of interest, enthusiasm and ability among the young students at this event. They clearly enjoyed it, and I certainly enjoyed judging the entries. I hope many of them will go on to become engineers designing bridges for real. 

Students comment on the course and explain what inspired them to consider an engineering career:

17 years old, from Bedford
"I was inspired to consider engineering as a career by my teachers and my love for physics and solving problems. I thought the course was practically oriented, unlike the very theory-based approach I am used to in school. The idea of mixing with other pupils who were also interested in engineering was great, as we found new ways of thinking and using the ideas gathered to influence our final choice of bridge concept."

17 years old, from Northamptonshire
"I attended the summer school to expand my engineering knowledge and meet like-minded people, and particularly enjoyed the construction of the bridge model and the introduction of CAD session. I was inspired to consider engineering by being shown some amazing examples of engineering by teachers at school and through my enjoyment of physics and maths."

While the students could model digitally, the bridges still required precise calculations by hand

17 years old, from Bromley
"I was introduced to physics and maths by my father, who is an engineer. My interest in these subjects led me to visit science and technology museums, where I witnessed the achievement of engineers. I am particularly thinking about structural engineering as a degree course at University and enjoyed the series of complimentary lectures on the course. The hands-on practical experience enabled me to solve the problems in a logical manner and gain new skills in engineering that I could not easily gain elsewhere. I would now like to be able to undertake my own projects using the skills acquired."

17 years old, from Tonbridge
"I had originally considered studying chemical engineering, but now that I have attended the course civil and structural engineering has become more interesting as well. My interest in engineering was inspired by my teachers and seeing examples of engineering in places such as London.  It was useful mixing with other pupils interested in engineering as everyone brought on board their own creative views."

The Smallpeice Trust organises engineering education events for young people aged 12 – 18 across the UK, including visiting STEM days for schools and focussed courses on specific aspects of engineering. Learn more about The Smallpiece Trust or visit the Institution's new education pages.


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