Nicole Kascak is like no other teenager in Australia. Right now she is in Year 11 at Brighton Secondary School in Adelaide but a year ago she was in Austin, Texas, representing her country at a global STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) competition where she became the first and only student in the world to go from entry-level to World Final.
Wind the clock back a few years to Year 8 when Nicole was participating in a specialist extension learning class, Think Right. One of the subjects she was involved in was the F1inSchools STEM Challenge.
F1inSchools is a hands-on applied learning program introduced by the not for profit social enterprise, Re-Engineering Australia Foundation, in 2003. It was designed to attract the attention of young students to the many career opportunities available in the engineering and manufacturing sectors. The national sponsor is the Department of Defence which is keen to fill a myriad of technical positions.
At its core is a miniature gas powered F1 car which reaches speeds of 80 km/h. This must be designed, tested, built and raced by the students who also have to produce a detailed engineering portfolio, multi-media pit display and verbal presentation.
Due to the impetus that REA and its member schools have contributed over the years (with Australia becoming the most successful STEM nation of all!), F1inSchools is now the biggest schools STEM competition on the planet. More than nine million students compete annually in over 40 countries.
As a “cadet” in her first year of competition, Nicole was not yet aware of the significance of the competition, but it wouldn’t be long before it had changed her life.
“We were put in teams for the class competition. I was not good at making the cars so I went and did portfolios and team management which was completely different to what the other kids were doing. And, I found that I really enjoyed it.”
Nicole’s first team won the South Australian cadet class at their state finals. A year later her second team called Luminoscity also took top honours at the local final. Nicole was invited to become part of a senior team, Negative Filter, and with her as Team Manager this team competed at the national level.
Victory at the National Finals led to Nicole becoming part of a collaboration team with three students from Victoria to compete at the prestigious World Finals in Texas. She had to manage all aspects of their entry – the car, portfolio, pit display, presentation, sponsorships, marketing, industry collaboration and fund raising – and overcome the tyranny of distance.
It is history now that Infinitude travelled to the United States where they broke the world speed record and came a very close second outright.
“Looking back…I was cleaning my room out not long ago and I found my first cadet class portfolio. It was so basic. I couldn’t believe how far I have come in such a short time. There we were barely getting $50 from the local Rotary Club to get to the state finals…through to competing in Austin for my country.”
Due to the increased workload in Year 11, Nicole decided not to compete for a fourth year but she is very active mentoring other teams. She was at the most recent National Finals to see her protégés, Spectrum, totally dominate the event. They claimed seven category awards and were crowned National Champions of the “rookie class” earning them the right to go to the next World Finals.
“People I have never heard of are emailing the team asking us for advice, even people globally. We just had a team from Brazil ask questions about graphic design and team management.”