Wanganui kid looking at engineering growth

01 April 2013
First year engineering student, Caleb Perry

As the engineering and construction industries learn valuable lessons from the Christchurch earthquakes, 18-year-old engineering student Caleb Perry is hoping to be part of a better prepared future.

Caleb, from Wanganui, is doing an Accelerated Pathway programme at The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Engineering. He aims to complete his Bachelor of Engineering in three instead of four years, specialising in Civil Engineering. “I’ve always been fascinated with buildings and infrastructure and how things are put together,” he says.

Last year Caleb had a placement with Wanganui structural engineers BPL Group and helped assess the earthquake compliance of historic buildings in the city. “We found a lot that aren’t compliant. It’s going to take years to remedy this,” he says. “The challenge for engineers will be to keep the look of buildings and strengthen them at the same time.”

Caleb is one of about 800 new students starting the Bachelor of Engineering programme this year. This intake is not only the largest ever, but also includes record numbers of female and Māori and Pacific Island students. Like Caleb, most will have prepared for an engineering degree at school and will have marks well above the minimum entry threshold.

The University’s outreach programme works with maths and physics teachers in high schools to encourage their students to start thinking about an engineering career as early as Year 11. “For many years we have been responding to signals from Government, IPENZ [Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand] and industry that New Zealand needs more professional engineers,” says Acting Dean of Engineering, Professor Gordon Mallinson.

The University has launched a $200 million redevelopment of engineering facilities on campus including building a new research centre to cater for more than 3,000 undergraduate and 700 postgraduate students.

The Government’s decision to fund an additional 150 undergraduate places from this year is particularly welcome and will enable the faculty to maintain future entry levels. “The demand for BE graduates is expected to remain very high,” says Gordon. “Companies like Beca, Fisher and Paykel and Fletchers are employing a lot of our graduates each year and many top New Zealand business executives now have engineering degrees too.”

The Faculty of Engineering is ranked one of the best engineering schools in Australasia and is 68th in the QS World University Rankings. It has world-leading expertise in areas such as composite materials, inductive power transfer, yacht and sail design, medical applications and earthquake engineering.

One of the big growth areas is mechanical and mechatronics engineering. “Everything we use has a mechanical device and the interface between that and robotics is where engineering is really growing, particularly in the medical field,” says Gordon.

The faculty is renowned for its strong emphasis on design – introducing students to design principles and concepts as early as the first year – and for Systems Engineering courses that show how engineering fits into the world. Last year 500 students tackled the problem of what to do if a cruise ship knocked out the centre span of Auckland’s harbour bridge. This real-life approach appeals to Caleb as he prepares for his new career. “My dream project would be to head engineering for a new construction. In making a building as safe as you can you’d know you’d made a difference.”

This article is reprinted from AucklandNow Issue 12, April 2013