Monthly Archives: June 2017

I started my day - like many New Zealanders - up earlier than usual to watch the America's Cup racing.  As an engineer I find the technology and aerodynamics involved fascinating.  However I also enjoy the human factors involved - in particular the display of grit and resilence involved in Team NZ's win.    The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines resiliency as

Capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture; tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

I think it's fair to say Team NZ showed true resilience in recovering from their stunning pitch pole incident in the Challenger series.  Image from

Definitions of grit normally involve a combination of perserverance, committment and passion in achieving long term goals.  There was no shortage of grit in Team NZ's achievement!

Grit and resilience are topics of interest in the higher education community as well.  These traits are being shown to be important in academic success.  In an earlier post I've described myself as being someone who is good at failing.  As I get ready to lecture first year engineering students for a few weeks next semester I am thinking about how I can support students to embrace "failure", to take risks, and to learn from their mistakes.

I lecture part of  a introductory computer programming class.  One way I'll be embracing the possibility of failure is by writing code "live" in class.  I lecture in large theatres (500+ students) so it is in many ways live theatre.  Not always demonstrating code examples by using pre-prepared files is a risk.  My fingers fly over the keyboard as I type and talk, and with 1000 eyes on me a fumble is ever possible!  However as Margaret Perlis says "The supremely gritty are not afraid to tank, but rather embrace it as part of a process."

The other attribute I would love to encouarge in my students is a growth mindset.   Programming isn't easy for everyone.  So the teaching team aims to create an environment where students have a chance to practice and develop their skills, as opposed to believing their ability in the subject is innate and pre-determined.  Seeing students tackle the challenge that programming poses is exciting.  Learning to code well oftens means making a lot of mistakes (coding "bugs") but being gritty about tackling them.  Over the years I've seen some great examples of students who started the class not thinking they had significant pre-existing skill in the subject, but by being open to growth went on to get A+ grades in the course.

I can't sign off without acknowledging that Team NZ had two graduates from the Department working with them on the shore team in Bermuda - Elise Beavis (the youngest performance engineer in any team at age 23) and Steve Collie.






Image from

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962

I suspect this quote resonates with many students and staff in the Department of Engineering who enjoy tackling complex problems.  Space exploration is one of the most complex problems there is.  In this post I'd like to profile some connections our Department and its students have to aeronautics and astronautics.

Firstly I'd like to extend my congratulations to Professor Karen Willcox who is a Professor in of Aeronautics/Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Karen holds a BE in Engineering Science (and graduated from the degree the same year I did).  In this year's Queen's Birthday Honours I was thrilled to see Karen awarded an MBE recognizing not only her contributions within Engineeering, but also in Education.  She was part of the "Task Force on the Future of MIT Education" which produced a report which tackled issues including the need for graduates to have strong communication and collaboration skills, development of a flexible curriculum, online learning, and future financial models for the University,

The Faculty also recently hosted Dr Pete Worden, retired Director of NASA's Ames Research Center.  He gave a public lecture during his visit and visited the Auckland Space Systems program.  Students in the space systems program (incuding students from Engineering Science) have been competing in a contest to "identify a societal need, and design a solution using a CubeSat, a 10cm x 10cm x 10cm, 1kg cube".  Not an easy mission!

My own research work focuses on computational earth science.  So  I was excited to hear the winning Space Systems team were addressing a geologically driven problem.  They aimed to detect disturbances in the ionosphere that may be related to earthquake processes.  In 2010 the Demeter satellite found disruptions in the ionosphere during the Mount Merapi eruption.  I firmly believe that exploring space can help life here on earth.  I'll also be excited to see New Zealand's role in space grow as Rocket Labs moves closer to a successful launch from Mahia.

So while Engineering Science may not be rocket science, it's definitely a discipline which is equipping people to with skills and knowledge to explore space!