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What happens when you get primary school kids together with undergraduates and PhD students to some of the key challenges we face in healthcare and climate change?

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Recently I had the opportunity to see what happens when you get primary school kids together with undergraduates and PhD students to some of the key challenges we face in healthcare and climate change.

Heriot-Watt University has designated 2019 as its ‘Year of Health’, with a full programme of family events, public talks and festivals to highlight its health-related research strengths. From this I’ve had the opportunity to find out more about research undertaken to improve health, but also attend a showcase of a project called ‘Engineering a Healthy Future’.

Children from three local schools (Nethercurrie, Carrick Knowe and Currie PS) set the challenges and provided the briefs for 280 undergraduates from different disciplines who had to work together. The children also had to judge the projects and would give our Council members a run for their money with the tough but insightful questions they were asking.

Although I was seeing the outcomes of this work, it was so impressive to see how aware the school children were around the issues we face in improving peoples’ health and wellbeing, not only in their own communities but across Scotland (tackling issues such as loneliness and isolation, healthier eating, getting more exercise) and how they came up with really imaginative and innovative briefs for the students to work on.

It was great to see how the students had responded. All of the project stalls I saw were excellent examples of cross-collaboration – bringing together teams of engineers, biologists, planners, surveyors and geographers to tackle some ‘big issue’ problems identified by the pupils.

Blog - Winning grapes and other health innovations

These included a housing development specifically designed around spaces for people to interact and for children to play safely, as well as a small accessible community allotment. We know that growing food is a good way of encouraging healthy diet and improving mental health. Virtual reality was also employed for a fitness project to make exercising more interesting and “Vend-It” – a healthy fruit vending machine that also had an element of competition.

As a person who is constantly thinking about funding (might have something to do with my job), it was fantastic to see the teams all able to answer questions about translating their ideas into products, and even which companies might be interested in taking these ideas forward.

Best of all was seeing the benefits of ‘Engineering a Healthy Future’ for all involved. From the school children who authored and assessed the challenges (and already displaying the skills that make a good Council member) to the undergraduates’ teamwork and confidence building in communication, and the PhD student mentors who developed their own teaching skills giving them some experience for their future academic careers.

All up it was a thoroughly interesting event, though it’s just the beginning of what Heriot-Watt has planned for the remainder of the year – see this year’s scheduled events (so far).

The reference to grapes? Although there are some great pictures from the event, I’m glad to say that there are none of me and a group of 11-year olds getting very excited that we had won a grape at the Vend-It machine.