RAY COLLINS: National Science and Engineering Challenge Champions 2016

In 2004, the University of Newcastle introduced a competition entitled the Science and Engineering Challenge which was largely contested by schools in the Hunter region.

I am not sure what their expectations for the Challenge were but 12 years later it is now the very prestigious National Science and Engineering Challenge contested by schools across Australia and strongly supported by Rotary International and the Australian Government.

I certainly recall that first competition as our youngest daughter, Rebecca, a Year 10 student at St Mary’s High School, Gateshead, was chosen as a member of St Mary’s team to compete in the challenge. She was very surprised to be selected in the team and queried the teachers organising the school’s team as to why she had been selected as science and mathematics weren’t her strongest subjects.

She was told that being part of a challenge such as this certainly requires expertise in these areas, or what we now refer to as the STEM subjects, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, but other skills were equally as important, skills such as team work, problem solving, critical thinking and leadership. It was much more than a science based challenge.

St Mary’s won that inaugural Challenge and has gone on to be the most successful school in the Challenge’s history.

On Friday St Mary’s won the National Final of the Challenge in Hobart competing against the champion teams from all six states and the Northern Territory. It was the 5th time St Mary’s has won the national title in the premier (Gold) division and has also won the title in the Silver and Bronze categories on one occasion each. In all other years it has been either a finalist at the national or state level.

This is an extraordinary achievement for St Mary’s in that, on every occasion, it has competed against schools encompassing enrolments from years 7-12, schools with a far larger student populations and schools who are academically selective in their student intake.

The St Mary’s team certainly demonstrated once again the combination of skills that has enabled its teams to succeed at such high levels over the years

Throughout Australia, over 256 days of competition in 2016 included 620 High Schools and involved 16,523 students in the Challenge, so just to make the National Final is a tremendous effort.

St Mary’s won the right to represent NSW in this year’s final after being the champion school in the state with the other placegetters in NSW being St Peter’s Campus of All Saints College, Maitland and St Pius X High School, Adamstown. For our diocese to dominate this competition in the way it does says a great deal about the passion staff and students have for the Challenge itself and the challenges involved.

At lunchtime on Friday St Mary’s was in 4th position yet romped home in the afternoon challenges to run out winners by 280 points. Out of a maximum possible score of 1600 points, St Mary’s scored 1280.

Our congratulations go to the dedicated staff members who motivate the students in their planning for the challenge, Mr Shane Abell, Learning Technology Coordinator at St Mary’s, Ms Prue Tinsey, Mathematics Teacher and Mr Bill Gudgeon, the school’s groundsman.  Bill, in particular, has been involved in every challenge since 2004 and his practical skills along with the STEM experience that Shane and Prue bring from their academic backgrounds makes for an impressive management team.

In the end though, it comes down to the students who are not allowed any assistance from the staff during the many challenges over the two days. Coupled with their engineering, critical, thinking and leadership skills, their team work and support of each other,  they have, again, demonstrated the great pride they have in their school’s tradition in this competition and, I am told, these students have proven to be outstanding representatives  of St Mary’s and the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

Our congratulations are extended to the students, to Shane, Prue and Bill, to Principal Larry Keating and the whole St Mary’s community for this outstanding achievement. A special mention must go to the other St Mary’s staff who have supported the challenge over the years and particularly to Tom Millen, Technological and Applied Studies teacher, who has given significant support to the students over the last two years in particular.

Our congratulations and thanks also go to the University of Newcastle and Rotary International, along with other Universities, who have run this competition over the last thirteen years and have seen it grow to the size it is, giving tangible expression to the skills required for young people to contribute to our society in their future years.


Ray Collins Image
Ray Collins

Ray Collins is the Director of Schools within the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. He is an authority on education issues.

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