If BSSC Year 12 student, Kelvin Ahern, could go back and have a conversation with his Year 7 self, he would say: “When you get a job, start saving immediately so you can afford to live in Melbourne in the future—because in a few short years you’ll have your sights set on Civil Engineering at RMIT.”

Kelvin’s interest in engineering was established when he was quite young.

“Dad is a handyman and I’ve watched him build so much stuff—from floors to ceilings and everything in between,” Kelvin explains. “When I was little I was in awe of him and now I’m doing the same sorts of things myself.”

Kelvin, like his dad, seems to have been born with a fascination for all things mechanical and technical. At the same time he was in awe of his father, he also recalls being fascinated by the physics of how his bike worked.

Kelvin’s Year 7-10 college was Eaglehawk Secondary which has a great Tech area. This was a bonus and he chose engineering-type subjects from Year 8 onwards. In his final year at the college, Kelvin won the Year 10 Best Engineering Award.

Arriving at BSSC—which students sometimes find a little daunting—was just great as far as Kelvin was concerned. With the happy knack of seeing challenges as invitations to overcome an obstacle, he was pleased about the opportunities a new environment offered.

“The only daunting thing was the incredible breadth of subjects and being worried I wouldn’t choose wisely,” he remembers. “Or that I couldn’t do everything I would like to.”

However, Kelvin has loved every subject and thrown himself at every challenge.

If he could offer some advice to incoming students, Kelvin would debunk the myth that Year 12 is the ‘big one’ and Year 11 is easy one.

“It’s simply not right,” he says. “What you do in Year 11 forms the basis for everything in Year 12. It matters.”

This year Kelvin has been studying VET Engineering, Chemistry, Maths Methods, English and Biology.

One of the things he has really appreciated about BSSC is how happy all his teachers have been for him to come to them outside class. Especially Stuart Hamilton.

“We have really bonded,” Kelvin says, “and I feel like he treats me as an equal.

“In fact, as much as I’m looking forward to next year, saying goodbye to my teachers is the saddest thing about heading into uni. I think I’ll always remember my connections with them.

“Oh, and the café!” he adds with a laugh. “I’ve spent quite a lot of money there.”

As Year 12 drew to a close, Stuart supported Kelvin in an application to have one of his projects entered into the highly-esteemed ‘Top Designs’ VCE VET Engineering competition. This statewide competition seeks to find the best VCE engineering design project. Judges are looking for quality work that demonstrates the student’s understanding of the process, materials and potential of their project and also flair for both creativity and individuality of design.

Only students who have consistently maintained an A-grade are eligible to enter.

Kelvin’s project—the construction of a bench-mounted vice—was a subject requirement. He took the extra time to make sure every aspect was as good as it could be and enhanced the original design replacing the metal jaws with 3-D printed plastic ones.

“I wanted to push myself,” he says. “This meant the project was also about becoming competent with programming the 3-D printer.

“It was great to learn that once you’ve completed a project on the 3-D printer, an industrial printer could spit out identical copies at a great rate.”

It took Kelvin three attempts to get it right. Now he has a product that is cost saving—because the honeycomb design of the jaws incorporates a great deal of open space without compromising strength—and there are no offcuts, so no unnecessary waste. The jaws also reduce the weight of the vice.

A further benefit of the design is that conventional metal jaws (considered hard jaws) can occasionally damage the material they are gripping which is something the plastic jaws (soft jaws) are very unlikely to do.

“And I particularly like the industrial look now I’ve painted it,” Kelvin says.

With projects at home and his commitment to high standards in his VCE subjects, it’s impressive to hear that Kelvin is also working about 20 hours each week at K-Mart as a supervisor—a job he really enjoys.

Now, with his heart set on Civil Engineering at RMIT, the cost of living in Melbourne is the most difficult aspect of Kelvin’s plans. He hopes one of the benefits of his job is that he may be able to transfer to a Melbourne K-Mart.

However, despite a schedule that is clearly challenging, Kelvin still manages to get to the gym every now and then. He’s also conscious of the wider challenges his generation is facing.

“I’m really concerned about coal production and its link to climate change when hydrogen power is just one of a number of options that are so much better,” he says. “In the case of hydrogen, its only byproduct is water.”

But not all is doom and gloom. Kelvin believes advancements in engineering—such as steel 3-D printers—are helping make the world a better place.

And of course, he is hoping to do his bit to make sure future projects—such as public buildings, bridges and dams—are structurally sound, safely managed during construction, and meet the highest standards. Now there’s a challenge!