The Engineering Design Competition: Day 2

Day 2! A day of mentorship, networking, strong competition and celebration of success. The morning began with a short opening ceremony and then a set of speakers. These speakers were engineering professionals and motivators, brought to the competition to enhance the learning about industry and career development. They were very well received, and rightfully so, sharing important insights into what to expect in the graduate work life, how to market yourself, and other challenges that these students may face. The students said that such learning is not found conventionally in the classroom and they greatly appreciated the mentorship from these professionals.

Students and guests gathered under the tent for the guest speakers.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to catch all of the speakers as I was doing the run around getting things prepared for the big finale in the afternoon. After working with the last couple judging teams in the morning to get their decision, the results were in! In between two of the speakers I made the long awaited announcement to the students who the final five teams would be.  The silence in the room was tense and the students all listening intently to hear if they had been promoted. Not having seen the other teams designs other than through word of mouth, it was anyone’s game. The winning teams were: Newton, Tesla, Archimedes, Watt and Lamarr. All were great competitors, but after some deliberation it was decided these teams would take their work to the next level. And so I led them back to their projects and they set to work getting their prototypes re-attached and presentations refined.

Lunch time was a great chance for networking and conversation between all the participants. Under the hot afternoon sun people filled their bellies and minds with great conversations while the final preparations from the afternoon came into place. The closing ceremony was set to open and end the final round of judging, so as teams filed out and everyone congregated under the tent the excitement started to build. This was with one delay, however, as the special guest for the closing ceremony had an emergency to attend to and so we paused the day to give his representative time to hustle across town. During this time our affable emcee, Mr. Bowa, offered to give the crowd a dance if they played his favourite song on the PA. Of course the students thought this a great idea, though they figured a better one was to get Zac to dance. Aha. Nah. My dance moves aren’t quite worthy of stage performance back home, let alone in countries who’s moves (of which I’ve had good witness) put our’s to shame. So after laughing it off and saying they wouldn’t want to see the result of my impromptu dancing, the guest arrived in another short period and we were off and running!

Team Newton’s bike – first to present in the final round. Might be hard to see, but note the charger box and dynamo mounted.

And so the competition commenced. In front of the crowd, the high table, and a panel of our five expert judges, teams had ten minutes to present their design from conception to final product. After the ten minutes judges had another ten minutes to test the performance and ask some more in depth questions to challenge the teams’ design choices.

Team Newton’s charger box being displayed up close to the judges. Note the circuit panel, LED indicator and phone compartment. A great design!

A judge asks Team Newton a question about their circuit diagram.

After Team Newton had completed their presentation the other team’s followed. Newton did great as the first team, bringing out their well performing charger with a great packaging in the charger box. Points for aesthetics and usability! Next was Team Tesla, with another great design, with even more successful electronics and a great job sharing around the presentation between team members. Team Archimedes followed them with the first design to utilize the larger charge storing capacitor which would carry on charging after the rider had come to a stop. A fantastic execution and a huge improvement in the usefulness of the charger! Their circuit design was also found near infallible by the judge panel. Team Watt followed with a new adaptation of placing the charger in the middle of the bike frame instead of on the handlebars. They suggested it would improve the continued use of handlebar and rear mounted storage on the bicycle while still not interfering with riding. The last group, Team Larmarr, brought another stellar design and had a strong, succinct presentation. In all it was a fantastic performance by our final teams, all with functional prototypes and unique innovations all around. With a short design period, it was quite the feat to pull off such successful designs!

The high table members take a moment to get into the action and check out the designs.

Watching from the sidelines administering the presentation time warnings. Another couple of the bikes in front of me.

As the judges made their final deliberations, the closing ceremony continued. I was invited to make a speech to everyone, which was a little nerve wracking at first. Once I was at the podium though, it was just like speaking to a group of my peers back home in Canada. All of the students shared my enjoyment of engineering and sat attentive to what I had to say. I shared something similar to my post a couple weeks back about “Being Big and Serving Society”.  I think it was well received by the students and I was grateful to have such an opportunity to share my perspective with everyone in attendance.

After two more great addresses by the Deputy Vice Chancellor of CBU and the a Deputy Registrar from the Engineering Institution of Zambia, the results were in! The top five teams carefully chosen by the judging panel, it was time for the suspense of who was victorious. We presented in reverse order, leaving the eventual winners holding their breath until the final moments. And so the results were delivered to cheers: 1) Archimedes 2) Newton 3) Tesla 4) Lamarr 5) Watt!  The top two teams were awarded laptops, the third place team a bike and cellphone, fourth a bike, and fifth a cellphone.  All participants received certificates of participation signed by the special guests and the country director of Kulemela; an important record of their great work at the competition. As I left the high table after the certificates were given I was stopped by a lecturer from one of the institutions who said to me something that framed our work in a way that resonated with me deeply:

“Many NGOs come here and give us technology; they give sewing machines, electronics and more. And that is all fine and we appreciate their generosity, but what [Kulemela and EWB] are doing is given us the tools to make those technologies on our own. To tailor them to our needs and to foster new innovations here in Zambia. That approach is even better, giving us the ability to improve our country by our own inspiration instead of by that of others.”

If that was the sentiment of all in attendance, then I feel we had a job well done. My heart warm with my shared passion for engineering and a weary smile on my face from all the energy well spent over the two days, we headed home for a well deserved rest. I hope within these two posts I was able to capture the great experience that the design competition was. It brought together an exciting and youthful group of Zambian leaders who I have full faith will bring their strength in engineering to the benefit of tomorrow’s Zambia.

If you want to know more about any details please post a comment below!  I would love to have some dialogue on your perceptions of the competition and potentially find some new dimensions to discuss that I have missed in my synopsis. I love to have that feedback from my readers, so post whatever is on you mind as you finish this post – I want to hear whatever it is!

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