Creating a community of civil engineering students


Civil Engineering tutor Aidan Bigham introduced a New Zealand Diploma in Engineering project aimed at creating a community of civil engineering students. It not only achieved all his objectives but also resulted in an unexpected outcome – students said they now had a “proper understanding” of concepts learnt the previous year.

A real-life scenario

Aidan wanted students to experience how different aspects of civil engineering are applied in a real-life scenario, and also create a feeling of community. The 2015 project required them to work in combined Year 1/2 groups to plan and design a multi-level carpark building for Wintec’s Rotokauri campus.

The project included a geotechnical investigation of the subsoil within the region, redesigning the road for the entrance to the carpark building, providing details of the materials used and the structural stability of the building. The students had to submit planning and final reports to their client.

A community of students

The main focus was collaboration. Year 1 students carried out some work, such as collecting data, while the Year 2s mentored them and brought everything together for their Level 6 Civil Engineering project.

Mentoring played a large role in creating a community of civil engineering students. In addition to getting help from tutors, first-years could ask the second-years for help. With Year 2s required to provide evidence of mentoring – from helping an individual student to giving a site induction to a group – there was plenty of motivation for them to visit classes and/or join student Facebook groups. “The more peer help there was, the more the Year 1s could reach out because they could see the students around campus”, says Aidan.


The four tutors involved in the project found students gained a greater appreciation of the inter-relationship of the various civil engineering courses, and a clear understanding of why they had to do particular tasks or assessments. They could see the point of producing a professional report for their client, says Aidan, rather than doing it for assessment purposes. Working collaboratively developed students’ teamwork, communication and time management skills.

At the end of the project some Year 2 students commented on how their mentoring role had helped them properly understand the concepts they had learnt the previous year. “This is the only time I understood the concept properly.” “I passed Structures without really understanding it; mentoring has helped me.”

“The project really gives the Year 2s those lifelong learning skills, such as how to work with everyone around them,” Aidan says, “and provides the first years with an insight into what they will be doing in the future.” He adds that two of the second-years are working as tutor assistants in the department this year. “They developed those skills through the mentoring. I can see how well they are doing and how the Year 1s respect them.”

Embedded into Year 1 and 2 courses

The compulsory project was embedded into three Year 1 and three Year 2 courses in the second semester:

Level 4

  • Materials

Level 5

  • Geotechnical Engineering
  • Structures

Level 6

  • Engineering Surveying
  • Wastewater Systems
  • Structures

Students were allocated one full day each week to work on a course-related task.  Each team had to produce a portfolio with evidence of what they had achieved and which students had worked on specific tasks.

Our thanks to Aiden for his time and advice. If you have any queries please get in touch:

Images courtesy of Futureintech

March 2016