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Engineer who inspires next generation of innovators receives OAM medal

Sydney engineer and businessman, Michael Myers, has received the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in recognition for his work over the past 13 years to raise up a new generation of innovators and technicians with a “No-one said we couldn’t” attitude.

Myers is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the not-for-profit organisation, Re-Engineering Australia Foundation, which was launched in 1998 to inspire, equip and mentor young people to pursue an engineering, technical or manufacturing-related career path.

At the time he ran a successful engineering services and software business and was looking for an opportunity to “put something back” and to ensure that the next generation contributes to Australia remaining a sought after innovator in the Global Village.

“I visited my daughters’ high school wanting to offer help of some kind and met a team of young students who had built a monocoque mileage marathon car which held the national record.

"I was amazed. I asked them how were they able to come up with such a brilliant piece of engineering and they replied no-one said we couldn’t. It was then that I decided that I needed to create an entity that would foster that belief and confidence across the whole nation.”

Myers self-funded the REA Foundation and began to create a series of unique programs that would stimulate high school students to self-learn and to make them more employable.

The big favourite was one called the F1 in Schools Technology Challenge which tasked students with designing, making and racing 80 km/h scale race cars.

“I knew instinctively that applied learning would be far more successful than just textbooks in the classroom. I wanted to give young people the same tools that are used in industry, not cut-down versions. I believed that it was important for the students to have a real-world experience.”

Myers sourced the same 3D engineering software that engineers at Airbus, Toyota and NASA use – along with simulated wind tunnel analysis software, desktop smoke and wind tunnels and in-class CNC manufacturing centres.

The F1 program is holistic – it teaches students how to work in teams, to take responsibility, to project manage, speak in public and to go beyond the classroom to meet people in industry.

When they compete they are judged across 11 criteria of which car speed is just one. He says the competitive nature of the program appealed to both boys and girls. The take-up by girls across Australia exceeds 33% and in many cases it is the female students who are the team managers and designers.

“I dared to adopt a peer-mentoring and teaching method which is very different from conventional classroom learning. As a result it became common place to see students working on their cars and technical portfolios before and after school and during their holidays.

"As they met each new challenge they were directed back to their textbooks to seek the solutions. All of a sudden, subjects such as maths and science became ‘cool’.”

Myers says the REA program gave him the chance to conduct extensive nationwide surveys into the psychological drivers of young people towards their career path choices. His findings have been tabled as a thesis on the subject which fly in the face of conventional teaching methods.

“Students as young as 11 are engaged in this program and they have an amazing ability to understand complex engineering principles.

"When our teams present to university engineering students they often have to explain what they have learned because the topics aren’t covered until the third year at university.

"And when we have taken student teams to international grand prix they are able to discuss things like aerodynamics and lightweight materials with Formula1 race engineers”, adds Myers.

This year more than 35,000 students are involved in F1 in Schools – a number that continues to grow each month – and over 150,000 have passed through the competition since it was introduced.

The program has been taken around the world to 31 other nations. REA was responsible for introducing it to Canada, France, China and New Zealand.

The Malaysian Government sent their Education Minister to see the work of REA and then funded a roll-out of the same program to 1,000 high schools. Each year a World Final is held and Australia has become the most successful nation winning twice (Australia is the current world champion) and finishing runner-up three years in a row.

“The F1 program is the biggest STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths – competition in the world involving more than nine million students…and we are the nation they all look to as the innovators.

"Apart from the Bernie Ecclestone Trophy awarded to the world champion team the most coveted award is the one for Best Engineered Design. Australia has won it every year except for one since 2004.”

Myers cites many examples of young people who have achieved incredible heights as a result of the program. One Sydney student was head hunted by the Red Bull Formula One race team for their engineering department.

The current world champion team from Brooks High School in Tasmania came up with a world-first low-friction material which real Formula One teams have expressed interest in for their million dollar cars.

Myers’ work attracted the attention of an iconic Australian innovator, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board of ResMed, Dr Peter Farrell who became the patron of REA.

Dr Farrell said, “Australia needs more highly skilled technical people who are willing to think and be creative. But, how do you make these subjects challenging and desirable to our young people?

"You have to make them relevant and exciting and that is exactly what Re-Engineering Australia Foundation is doing. Their programs combine world-best technology with applied learning and collaboration.”

“We are developing careers that build a nation”, says Myers, “Accountants, lawyers and economists live in the past. Doctors and nurses live in the present. Engineers, architects and scientists all live in the future. They take an idea and turn it into reality – for the betterment of society.”

Apart from current national sponsor, the Defence Materiel Organisation, the REA Foundation has been predominantly financed by Myers’ own business interests.

He says the defence industry will involve many of the biggest engineering projects in the nation and the DMO provides exciting opportunities for engineers, technicians, scientists and manufacturers.

“My biggest disappointment has been the lack of interest in our work by the Federal Education Minister. I have requested meetings with him over the years but it seems he doesn’t have the time to see me.”

“I would like to see one million students being inspired to learn science and maths and take on the world, and there are other programs that we would like to release which would see young people from kindergarten age all the way through to university being nurtured and mentored to innovate.”

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