Spencer Olds is a member of a very select ‘club’ of students who have won the World Finals of the F1 in Schools Technology Challenge.
He is an advocate of the experiential learning method used in F1 in Schools.
“It’s important for education to have the right balance of theory and practice. There’s definitely a need for learning and understanding the concepts and theories but I think that to solidify the ideas and to understand why they’re useful you need to see them in use. Pure theory works well for some students, but for most people they need to see the ‘point’ of what they’re learning.”
“Hands-on work also has the advantage that you can take it as far as you want rather than having fixed curriculum and textbook start and end points. F1 in Schools in particular is fantastic because it takes the ‘boring’ subjects like maths and physics and applies them to something the students can actually see and build. They can just build a car and race it or it can take them all the way to the world stage.”
“I’m currently writing an ‘F1 Design Handbook’ to introduce some design theory to new F1 students and without the practical experience it would just be another textbook. Because of the hands-on experience I know that the students will care about the theory because it lets them solve the problems they want to solve.”
“I learned a massive amount through F1 in Schools, most of it unexpected. Through my design role in the team I gained a huge amount of technical knowledge from basic physics to university-level aerodynamics and materials science. I had to learn how to use CAD and computational fluid dynamics programs in a matter of weeks and it still amazes me how much I learned by simply having to use them. I also learned about how the manufacture process actually happened, not from studying it directly but from being exposed to it and being around people who knew about it. Manufacture was something I knew nothing about and thinking back it’s remarkable how much I absorbed just by being in that environment.”
“I learned about what it’s like to work in a committed team. Teamwork is about how a group of individual people can work together to actually achieve something important. You get ‘teamwork’ in school but with a group of people who are only there because they have to and don’t put in much effort. When you get a close-knit team that works well together and is excited about what they’re achieving you start to see real teamwork in action.”
“I also learned how to present to adults and the public, in particular, with regards to public speaking. I learned that if you’re willing to talk to people they can be really interested in what you’re doing and they’re not just interested in marking your work. When you’re talking about something you love with someone who also loves it you get a very strong connection. The things I’ve learned have absolutely helped me throughout university and I’m sure they’ll be critical with my career and into the future.”
Spencer said the World Finals was an unforgettable experience…
“The stand-out moment for me was winning the Best Engineered Design Award. I’d put so much effort into designing our car and it felt incredible to know that it turned out to be the best car across the entire competition. I remember telling myself that if we won that award I would be absolutely satisfied with our work and becoming world champions was icing on the cake.”
“I’m still involved with F1 in Schools. Since the world competition I’ve been mentoring students from younger teams. In particular, I’ve mentored Odyssey and Precision Racing who went to the 2013 and 2015 worlds respectively. I’m also currently helping Infinitude who are going to Texas later this year.”
“I’ve also been involved in several F1 competitions since the World Finals. I’ve worked as a volunteer at the 2012 and 2013 SA state finals and the 2015 nationals. I’ve also judged the CAD side of engineering at the 2015 state finals and 2016 national finals and will be doing so again at the 2016 states finals later this year. It’s exciting to see how F1 in Schools has evolved since I competed and I always look forward to seeing the new car designs. I’m still waiting for one better than ours though!”
“Before F1 in Schools in my mind ‘engineer’ was synonymous with ‘mechanic’. I didn’t know much about professional engineering and it wasn’t a career I seemed interested in. F1 in Schools taught me that engineering was an incredibly powerful and exciting combination of theory, creativity and hands-on work that fitted in perfectly with what I enjoyed and wanted to do. It’s all about solving problems and I get a huge amount of satisfaction when I reach that perfect solution.”
“I’m currently in my third year of a Bachelor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Adelaide Uni. It’s going extremely well and I’m enjoying it massively. It’s great to take all my ideas and designs and learn how to actually realise them. I’m tutoring first year mechanics students at the university and it’s really helping to solidify and bring back the material I learned when I was in their place.”
“I’m also a member of the university’s Solar Car team working on the aerodynamic design of the 2017 race car. It’s great to have a continuation of engineering team work, this time with a larger team of varied and diverse engineers. The team is also actually headed by a former F1 in Schools competitor.”
“I currently have no concrete plans for my long-term future but I’m sure I’ll be working as a professional engineer eventually. There’s not a huge demand for aerospace engineers in Australia so maybe that means I’ll have to move overseas to Europe or the US at some point.”