28.07.22 Past Master Group Captain Marcus Wills CVO OBE

And then we built a rocket!


Above: A plastic bottle, water and a bicycle pump demonstrate Newton’s Third Law

Whenever we take any part in our many “investing in young people” ventures, I am sure I am not alone in wishing that we ourselves could start all over again (leaving out all the difficult bits of growing up course)! Coachmaker apprenticeships, engineering and flying scholarships, work experience and a host of similar activities offer tremendous opportunities for the young people we try hard to support as they make a start on their own careers.

The Kingston University Saturday Science and Engineering Club is but one of those ventures, and one where their enthusiasm is dangerously infectious! As you will already know, the Club offers a free 16-week STEM related course for 14-16 year-olds, and our charitable funds have supported it ever since its inception in 2015. The majority of members come from disadvantaged families and groups mostly underrepresented in higher education. It brings together young people to experience basic science and engineering in a fun and informal environment, making free use of the impressive facilities at Kingston University.

The Club’s aim is to increase the number and diversity of students taking up STEM subjects at A level and university, and we Coachmakers can be very proud of our part in making this happen. We now have evidence that early efforts have borne fruit. For example, autumn 2020 was the first point at which the oldest of the early club members could start at university. Excitingly, 15 of the 29 young engineers from the first cohort started their degree courses that year, and this is a truly impressive proportion for young people from groups traditionally under-represented in higher education.

They have also continued down a STEM pathway: an encouraging 87% read STEM subjects, with 27% pursuing engineering. Other degrees included biosciences, geography & environment, computing, maths, veterinary – located at Southampton, Royal Holloway, Westminster, Warwick, Aberystwyth, Sussex, Surrey, Exeter, Sheffield, Portsmouth, Bristol, Bath, and the Royal Veterinary College. I think we can be very satisfied that Coachmaker charitable funds have made a genuine difference to their lives.

The 2022 course & helpers: Launch day with the Master on the sports field

The main theme for this year was climate change, with students pooling ideas and building scale models of their “eco houses”. Several of us paid visits to the Club to join in the sessions, and on the final Saturday – albeit with a different theme – we were joined by our Master, Sarah Sillars OBE, and her husband John. The final two Saturdays turned to aerospace, with a very much “end of term” atmosphere, but nonetheless serious intent to teach basic aerodynamic and physics principles in a thoroughly enjoyable way.

Newton’s Laws of Motion were put to the test by building water rockets from everyday materials and launching them in competition on the sports field. Having calculated the amount of “fuel” (water) to be used, the air pressure required in the bottle, and the launch angle, the results were remarkable. The winner flew the length of a football pitch with an accurate arrival into a 5m square – a remarkable performance with a plastic bottle, water and a bicycle pump! Great fun was had by all – including our Master – and we did wonder at one point whether we should have warned Heathrow!

To round off, a few more impressive statistics. Kingston works directly with local schools to identify eligible students who would benefit from this opportunity. This year there were over 70 applications from 18 local schools for the 35 places available. 72% of participants met at least one criteria of disadvantage, with a 50-50 male-female split. Two are young carers; two have disabilities; three have learning differences; 20% qualify for free school meals; over 60% are from BAME backgrounds; and 29% are from households where neither parent has attended university.

Many congratulations and thanks to everyone at Kingston University for all they have done to establish the Club and, particularly, for keeping it running so successfully through some very difficult times during the pandemic. Mention, too, should be made of the Student Ambassadors – recent graduates and current undergraduates of Kingston University proudly wearing their yellow jerseys and anxious to “give back” by helping with teaching and supervising the younger Club members. Their contribution, hugely beneficial anyway to their own career development, is greatly appreciated. One such Ambassador this year is currently studying for a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering and is absolutely determined to become an astronaut!

Why not indeed? We wish her every success.