Learning at the School of Engineering involves much more than attending lectures. Here, three students recount their testing and fulfilling experiences in hands-on engineering design competitions

Michelle Long Yan Shum

BEng, Mechanical Engineering (2016)
AIAA Design/ Build/ Fly Competition 2016, Kansas, US

Michelle (second left) at the AIAA Design/ Build/ Fly Competition with her teammates.

I grew up in Hong Kong and studied at a girls’ school, and many people have asked me how I developed my interest in engineering. Here I must acknowledge – and thank – my school science teachers for the very large part they played in making science interesting and building my foundation for future learning. I was further inspired by the Discovery Channel television show, How It’s Made, which looks at how items in daily life are manufactured and shows why engineering is so fascinating and life-changing.

My major at HKUST was Mechanical Engineering, with a minor in Aeronautical Engineering. Joining the 2016 AIAA Design/Build/Fly Competition, held in the US, formed part of my final year project. This year’s contest required teams to design and build two radio-controlled aircraft – a manufacturing support aircraft and production aircraft – that could complete a number of tasks. In our team, I was mainly in charge of building the production aircraft.

In preparing for the competition, we had to build several generations of planes to test different possibilities and maximize performance. Some crashed during test flights. Some were unable to even take off. But through patience and resilience, we coped with such setbacks. After every test flight, we investigated the reasons for failure by revisiting the aircraft’s structure and design and reviewing the test flight video to make modifications to the next generation.

Even though the going was tough, we always had the enthusiastic support of supervisor Prof Larry Li, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and our hard work and perseverance paid off. When it came to the actual competition in Wichita, Kansas, we achieved our goal – a place in the top 25 out of 80 teams from all over the world. Such success was not only based on knowledge but our team’s persistence and never-say-never spirit.

My AIAA experience showed me the impact of determination and hard work on a project’s outcome as well as made me more competent and skillful as an engineer, attributes I am now applying as a field engineer trainee for Schindler Lifts (HK). Our team’s joint commitment also built a strong bond among members – the greatest prize of all in joining the competition.