About the Case Study
At a height of two-and-a-half double decker buses when standing up, the UK’s largest-ever mechanical puppet could be seen touring Cornwall last summer. The Man Engine celebrated the engineering feats of the region’s mining heritage, and is just one of the projects Shawn Brown has been involved with since he became UK Young Engineer of the Year in 2010.
Back then it was Shawn’s design and technology teacher who saw that his student’s A Level project was worth celebrating. “I was inspired to enter the Competition at the last minute and I won the Wales regional final,” explains Shawn. “This led me to the national event in Manchester and ultimately to make it through to the final five young engineers who were competing for the title.”
The prize took him to the warm air of the Canary Islands, to visit the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, and to the chillier Arctic to take part in a climate change study.
“Before entering I was fairly sure I wanted to explore engineering and technology as a career, however I didn’t think I would have the academic performance to back up my passion.”
Shawn is dyslexic and always struggled with exams and remembering lots of information, which meant he didn’t get the A Level grades needed to study engineering at his preferred universities.
“Winning the Competition allowed me to go to my first choice of uni despite my grades, as it showcased my engineering skills in a way exams never could.”
Shawn went on to gather two Master’s degrees, one in Energy Engineering and one in Sustainable Design. “I doubt I would have been able to pursue them if it wasn’t for the Competition,” he says. “I don’t think winning made me more ambitious, but it was a great confidence boost, and allowed me to have more faith in my abilities.”
It’s a quality he recognises and is committed to share with others. He runs workshops to improve people’s awareness of dyslexia and returns to the Big Bang Fair every year as a Finalist Care Volunteer, supporting the next generations of competitors and helping to ensure its success.
Then there’s his latest project with a fellow winner from 2006, Ruth Amos ─ a YouTube channel called Kids Invent Stuff.
“The format is pretty simple,” says Shawn. “We take kids’ inventions (from ages 5 to 11) and build and test them on camera.”
The initial pilot episodes were self-funded, on the theme of ‘Superhero gadgets’: “Inventions that can turn normal people into superheroes!” explains Shawn. He’s now in talks with a number of commercial and STEM-focussed sponsors to fund the first year of weekly episodes and Kids Invent Stuff will launch shortly.
Juggling what he calls “weird and wonderful” design engineering projects and his commitment to sharing opportunities might sound demanding, but as Shawn notes, “We’ve built up a really close-knit group of past winners who come back to support the event, and as well as being great friends this group contains some of the most clever and inspiring people I’ve ever met.”