Whanganui District Council senior stormwater engineer Kritzo Venter is passionate about his profession: he wants to steer young people toward the wonders of engineering.
He's right behind the Wonder Project, an Engineering NZ initiative to get kids excited about science, technology, engineering and maths – STEM.
Kritzo is on the committee of the local branch of Engineering NZ, and he and other engineers spent last term at Rutherford Junior High School, teaching young people practical ways to understand STEM and to encourage access to the core subjects of engineering.
He says there's a possible future shortage of engineers and it has to be addressed nationally.
"We decided we want to work with schools, and specifically, intermediate age students, to at least get them to think about STEM as a career option.
"It's a national programme, and we want schools to put their hand up and register their interest for next year through the Engineering NZ website: it's a simple process. And we also want more engineers to become ambassadors and work with the schools."
With the Wonder Project, they have taught kids at Rutherford Junior High to build water rockets, showing how various subjects like physics come into play with a spectacular conclusion … with luck.
"Rutherford was on the front foot with this: they enrolled seven classes."
On Thursday, it was the final day of the Rocket Challenge in the grounds of Rutherford Junior High School.
Rutherford teacher "Buck" Buchanan was the organiser behind the challenge. He says the idea was to have five rockets per class.
The rockets are made out of plastic drink bottles and are fashioned to be able to take enough air pressure to provide a decent launch. Water is added for resistance and to assist pressurisation and fins and weight are used in construction to give stability. An understanding of the centre of mass is required.
Launching facilities, air pumps and other equipment was provided by Engineering NZ, including access to online resources.
Buck says he's been impressed with the four engineers giving up their Thursday afternoons for the term to come and talk about technical concepts.
"Anyone can stick a bit of cardboard on a bottle, fill it with water and away it goes, but there are a whole lot of engineering principles behind it – Newton's First, Second and Third Laws of Motion … centre of mass and gravity, down to the concept of failing and understanding why it didn't work that time and try again."
Classes lined up with their rockets, facing them out over the playing field where orange cones were placed at measured distances. A short countdown preceded each launch.
Some soared, some flopped, but each was a lesson learned.
Once the students had had their turn, teachers and engineers had a go.
It was obvious that, with the practical application of making plastic rockets fly, some students were introduced to a future they probably had not imagined. Kritzo might have found a new batch of engineers in the making.
Tori and Tyla took out first place with their rocket 24K. Second were Shawn and Brian with their rocket, The Three Amigos. The third member of their team, Tyler, was not at school. In third place with a pink rocket called Icecream were Isabella, Ashley and Trishalee.