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Andrew Cowan - UK Young Engineer of the Year 2011

About the Case Study

“Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” is one of those interview questions to which Andrew Cowan must have known the answer.

When named UK Young Engineer of the Year back in 2011, he told his student newspaper, “A career in engineering usually involves design, innovation, and working at the cutting edge of research and development. It’s an exciting job of constantly solving problems and working on exciting projects”.

Today he’s doing just that, or as he says with the cool precision of a young James Bond: “Working with the latest technologies, and solving problems in the most elegant and efficient manner.”

His skills are being tested by harsh environmental conditions and the need for ultra-reliability, because Andrew is designing radio and communications equipment for military and commercial aircraft. “Designing products for aviation adds another level of challenges over consumer equipment,” he says.

It’s a natural extension of the interests which resulted in the Search and Rescue robot that won him the title Young Engineer of the Year.

The robot was designed to work in disaster zones, with a range of functions including gas sampling, ultrasonic mapping, a water cannon and radio links relaying sensor data back to the operator. High torque motors and rugged tracks gave it enough power to pull a car.

The Big Bang Competition gave Andrew the chance to bring both his project and enthusiasm into an arena with like-minded students at a national level. ”The most inspirational people I met during the competition process were the other competitors! It’s a brilliant showcase of student work, and being a part of that is really motivating for future work.”

After making the finals among a shortlist of five other candidates, his work was tried and tested before a celebrity judging panel (including Kate Bellingham and Brian Cox).

“The whole experience was a lot less stressful than I had thought it would be!” says Andrew now. “While the judging process seems a bit intimidating at the start, the judges are all really friendly and interested in your project and what you have to say. Having in-depth discussions with real-world professional experts about the ins and outs of your project is a great experience in itself.”

Andrew knows that his chosen field is a fast-moving area. “It’s hard for schools’ careers advice to keep up, so the Big Bang Fair is a great opportunity for students unsure of their best career path. They can talk to real engineers about what they do day-to-day, and see what potential opportunities exist.” 

It’s a process that not only helps to focus skills on a career but shows how to reach it, unlocking doors on the way. “It was really helpful when it came to my university and job applications,” adds Andrew. “I was able to talk about my success in the Competition and experience of doing technical presentations to the judges.”

Since the Competition he has a First Class degree in Electronic Engineering to his name and the career he was looking for. It’s all a long way from Andrew’s first major project – a Supermarket Change Machine for GCSE Electronic Products, designed to give shoppers £1 coins in return for loose change.

Nevertheless, a great indication of future rewards.