by Isabella Notarpietro, 3rd Year Chemical Engineering Student
Did you know that UNSW is the only university in Australia to offer VIPs? No… I’m not talking about Very Important People (although we sure have a fair few of those!). I’m referring to the Vertically Integrated Projects program – a game-changing UNSW intiative which I was lucky enough to be involved in this year. VIP is one pillar of the ChallEng Program, an amazing UNSW initiative which connects students with academics and companies in exciting, project-based learning initiatives so they can take their knowledge from the classroom to the real world. Read on to find out what the VIP Program is all about, and dive deeper into some of the awesome projects on offer for UNSW students.
What is a VIP?
Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) are unique project-based learning courses where UNSW students can apply what they have learnt in their degrees to a real-world research project. The projects are often joint ventures between UNSW researchers, industry partners and students (who can be involved for multiple years). Best of all, students receive course credits for the program and there are no final exams!
While UNSW is the only Australian university to offer VIPs, this engaging project-based learning scheme includes 37 universities across the globe through the Vertically Integrated Projects Consortium! At the end of each year, teams create a video about their project, sharing their vision and progress with the rest of the world.
Who can do the VIP Program?
The VIP Program is open to all UNSW Engineering students from 2nd year onwards. This means that VIP teams are cross-disciplinary, with students from different Engineering schools (e.g. Mechanical, Chemical) and education levels (e.g. undergraduate, postgraduate). The program has recently been rolled out to other UNSW faculties too, so teams can now include students studying a range of degrees, from medicine to business and the humanities! This is a highlight of the program, as it’s rare that Engineering students have the opportunity to work with students from other faculties. It’s also great preparation for the workforce where your colleagues will be from an array of academic backgrounds.
What VIPs are available?
In 2021, there will be 25+ VIP projects. These range from ‘What’s Brewing’ – a project working to develop new yeasts, beer flavours and kombucha recipes – to ‘InsightMed’, a project using big data to improve medical imaging. Explore all the current projects here…I guarantee you’ll find one which matches your interests.
A deeper look…
Here’s some more detailed information on the amazing work and opportunities some VIP teams have had in this year’s pilot program…
NextGen is a VIP focussed on designing, prototyping and implementing the energy storage solutions (AKA batteries) of the future. This year, the team (which just so happens to be my team!) has worked on optimising the efficiency and sustainability of battery components. For example, I’ve been developing a new battery electrode made from old coffee grinds and milk bottles, so one day your morning coffee might help to power the world! My team has also been investigating new applications for our battery technologies. Our weekly tasks have involved a combination of research, lab work and technical work in the UNSW Makerspaces. At the start of the year, we even got to e-meet a Nobel Laureate at a scientific conference we were invited to…Read more about it here.
Minex is a VIP based on creating innovative mining technologies. After being presented with a few different options, the team decided to investigate and develop tools for off-Earth mining – that’s recovering vital minerals and resources from locations in space like the moon and asteroids. This technology will be crucial if we hope to advance space exploration and potential off-earth colonisation. The team is currently working alongside some of the biggest names in the game like NASA … Read more about one team member’s experience here!
Sunswift – the UNSW solar car team – is one of UNSW’s most well-known student projects. After becoming a VIP team this year, the 40+ student team has gained access to even more academic, faculty and industry support.
They’re currently working towards their goal of building a new solar car that pushes the boundaries of solar electric vehicles (and then racing it in the World Solar Challenge). The team has students from a huge range of disciplines, many of whom have never worked with cars before, but share a vision of a greener (and faster!) future.
What are you waiting for?
For many students, VIPs are a highlight of their university experience and allow them to put the theory and skills they learn in the classroom/at home into practice. With such a diverse range of projects on offer, the real question for Engineering students is not ‘Should I do a VIP?’ but ‘Which VIP should I do’?