‘Getting a foot in the door is hard,’ says engineering student Dhiresh, ‘so every time someone comes in to do a talk, or for a tour, I’ll make connections.
‘Self branding is one of the key values here. It’s about developing skills and being confident enough to believe in yourself – and then using those skills to communicate with other people. We’re encouraged to use LinkedIn and make sure we’re showing other people what we can do – I have more than 500 connections that I can talk to and get advice from.
‘My old school was very much about academic results, and getting the grades down on paper. It didn’t take into account the real world skills and industry links. Here I can talk in and talk to a teacher about electric scooters, for instance. It’s really cool to be talking about new tech and new stuff that most people wouldn’t know about…’
Dhiresh studied for an EPQ – and extended project qualifications – combining his diverse interests in machine learning, drones and less economically developed countries. ‘I designed a drone and built a machine learning algorithm to detect plant diseases,’ he says, ‘and then showcased it in big presentation in front of 40 or 50 people. You had an option to do in front of just your teacher, or your class, but I put posters up around the school and so everyone came to mine. I wanted to do it in front of an audience and for them to know what I was doing.
‘I’ve always been interested in electronics, building drones and 3D printing – new manufacturing stuff,’ he says.
‘My old school wasn’t doing very well so I was actively looking for a new school. I hadn’t heard about UTCs but I went along to an open evening when I was already in year 10, so I joined a bit later than everyone else. The facilities were so much better compared to any school I’d been to and the people were great.
All of our teachers were qualified in their own field – most had at least ten years’ in industry, and were there to give back to the community.
That specialist knowledge was pretty cool.’ The community of likeminded people is a key part of his education, admits Dhiresh. ‘Everyone at the school is growing together – we all have different connections so I’ll encourage people to connect with the people I’m talking to.’ Dhiresh organised a talk with planetary scientist – and BBC Two Astronauts, Do You Have What It Takes? winner – Suzie Imber. ‘Most schools wouldn’t have those sort of talks,’ he says. ‘But I heard her recommended by the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, and got in touch to arrange a talk.