An exciting taste of all things engineering was given to 208 Grade 9 learners – 122 girls and 86 boys – from schools around Johannesburg in July at PROTEC’s first GE (formerly General Electric) Next Engineers camp at Wits University.
The GE Next Engineers programme, designed to inspire the next generation of engineers to build a more innovative, sustainable world and boost the uptake of engineering as a career, launched in Johannesburg at the start of 2022. PROTEC was selected by the GE Foundation through FHI 360 as the South African NGO best equipped to be the implementation partner in their goal to grow the global pool and diversity of engineers. PROTEC this year celebrates 40 years of delivering impactful educational support for successful STEM careers to disadvantaged high school learners.
The camp youngsters – many from disadvantaged schools around Johannesburg – were accommodated at a Wits University residence for the duration of the five day immersive camp that delivered a wide range of activities, challenges, prizes, teamwork, inspirational talks and presentations, and a lot of fun and excitement, not least because most of the learners had never before been exposed to an experience like it. The rationale behind hosting the learners on campus was to remove them from distractions and enable the team to pair them with postgraduate student mentors to inspire and help the learners imagine themselves studying at university one day.
Balan Moodley, PROTEC’s CEO, says the vast effort put in by the camp’s operations team from PROTEC, FHI360 and GE, GE volunteers, and staff and students from Wits University’s Engineering Faculty, ensured that the camp was motivational for all the learners. “GE Foundation’s Next Engineers programme is an important step towards uplifting the lives of many aspiring young engineers, while also contributing to strengthening our engineering industry. The camp offered the learners the opportunity to start building on their passion for engineering, with the ultimate potential to turn it into a successful career in one of the many engineering disciplines.”
Prof. Rodney Genga, director of the Academic Development Unit at the Wits Engineering faculty, says the camp was designed to immerse the learners in the world of engineering, its impact on society and the role they could play in improving society through engineering. This was to be achieved through a five-part camp programme:
- Interactively educating learners on the nine different engineering disciplines
- Motivational talks from GE leaders and staff
- Workshops on their personal development
- Practical engineering exposure through science, engineering and computing laboratory access
- Exposure to the fundamentals of engineering design and problem solving from idea generation to prototyping to product development and presentations.
The camp’s learners were divided into 41 teams of five, in which they then chose who would be responsible for project management, financial management, civil engineering, design management, and quality assurance. The teams were given a design challenge inspired by real-life scenarios, which involved building the highest structure using styrofoam cups, markers and scissors, that could withstand a certain weight. In between this project and coming up with names, slogans and war cries for their teams, the learners were also addressed by and interacted with engineers from GE Southern Africa, including CEO Nyimpini Mabunda, and from Wits, including Prof. Thokozani Majozi, dean of the Engineering Faculty, as well as others.
The learners also spent time with students and lecturers from Wits University, and were taken on laboratory tours in the different schools of engineering such as mining, mechanical, industrial, aeronautical, electrical, information, civil, environmental, chemical and metallurgy – in order to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the engineering journey.
Before the close of the camp, the teams created and delivered presentations about their structures to panels of judges, which proved to be a challenge they embraced with enthusiasm, imagination and newly acquired skills. According to the panellists, presentations and structures were of a high standard, and there were no failures or disqualifications among the teams. The four winning teams were TKRN Squared, uMkhonto WeSizwe (MK), Talend Techies, and Solutions 141.
PROTEC’s camp coordinator, who is an aeronautical engineer and an alumnus of both PROTEC and Wits University, Luyanda Mamane, describes the camp as “an unforgettable experience for everyone who was involved – the learners, GE volunteers, Wits University participants, staff from PROTEC and FHI360 – and who experienced or witnessed the first sparks of interest in pursuing a successful career in the limitless world of engineering.”
GE’s Next Engineers programme launched in Johannesburg in October 2021 and is committed to inspiring more than 3 500 Johannesburg learners aged 13-18, providing first hand experiences in engineering and awarding financial support to pursue further education in this profession.