Mission Discovery was out of this world

The space dust has now settled on Ayrshire’s first ever Mission Discovery programme and what an event it was.

200 Ayrshire secondary school pupils and college students came together for the week-long space school, where they worked in teams to create space experiments.

Under the guidance of the International Space School Educational Trust (ISSET) team that included former NASA astronaut Michael Foale CBE, they challenged themselves to think creatively and work as part of a cohesive team.

Using our social media content from across the week, here’s a round-up of exactly what happened at Mission Discovery Ayrshire 2016.


With our teams in place and mentors briefed, ISSET Director Chris Barber got the show on the road at our Ayr campus!

The Mission Discovery Ayrshire participants were split into 24 teams and their first mission was to come up with team names.

We then had the first sighting of our astronaut! Michael Foale CBE, a recently retired veteran of six Space Shuttle missions and extended missions on both Mir and the International Space Station, spoke to the teams about his journeys into space and the importance of communicating with every member of the team.

Monday 3

Suitably inspired, the teams then got to work on designing a ‘Mission Patch’ to go with their team name. A Mission Patch is a symbol that represents a space team and is an integral part of any space mission.

The Ayrshire College Foundation had tasked primary schools across Ayrshire to design the Mission Patch for Mission Discovery Ayrshire 2016, with Mauchline Primary School’s Kaitlyn Lodge designing the pick of the bunch.

Sarah Murray, NASA’s Assistant Chief of EVA, Robotics & Crew Systems, then gave her first presentation to the group on the importance of teamwork and making sure everyone in the team has their voice heard.

In the afternoon the teams were told they would take part in an experiment called ‘The Mars Lander’. This involved using different objects to safely transport an egg from the top of the Riverside Building of the Ayr campus to the ground. Safely of course meaning that the egg was not to smash.

The groups were given an egg, a balloon, one sheet of A4 paper, a pair of scissor and a ruler to make their Mars lander. They could buy further materials but the winners would be the team who spent the least amount of dollars to land their egg, so they couldn’t be reckless.

After creating their Mars landers, there was only one thing left to do. Throw them off the top of a building.

To finish off the day, the teams were shown actual footage of Michael’s time in space as he talked about what makes a great space experiment.


Day two began with a glimpse into how Michael became an astronaut, featuring tales of living in Russia, meeting President Bill Clinton and how to have fun in space.

After hearing about Michael’s time on board the Russian Mir Space Station when an unmanned supply vessel crashed into it – described this week as the ‘worst collision in the history of space flight’ by the BBC – the groups were tasked with writing a short story about the experience.

Tuesday 3

After a few selfies with their new hero Michael Foale, the teams then heard from Dr Julie Keeble, ISSET’s Chief Scientist, who explained the criteria for experiments at the Space Station.

The teams got to work on formulating their experiment ideas – with the assistance of Michael, Julie and Sarah – before hearing Professor Steve Harridge’s presentation on an astronaut’s muscles in space, via Skype.


Halfway through the week now and the teams were hearing all about the International Space Station, where the winning experiment from this week would be carried out by real astronauts. Michael provided the guided tour as he explained where everything was stored, where the astronauts worked out and even how they slept in space. This was followed by a Q&A, surprisingly featuring plenty of questions about going to the toilet in space…

Wednesday 1

At this stage, most of the teams had proposed two or three ideas each, and this was the day that the teams decided on which of their ideas they would be pitching at the end of the week.

After working on their experiments for a while, the teams took part in the Skittles Challenge.

Wednesday 2

This experiment proved the importance that the sense of smell has on taste. Most people were unable to guess which colour of skittle they had in their mouth when they had their eyes shut and their nose pinched. Within a split second of breathing in through their nose though, everyone knew which flavour they had.

A couple of team members who guessed correctly when at their tables were invited to do it again in front of everyone – unfortunately both participants were incorrect when the pressure was on!

Wednesday 3

To conclude the day, the teams broke up into classrooms for the first time to really get to work on their experiments, before joining back together for a showing of One Direction’s Drag Me Down video. Why? Because it was filmed at the Johnson Space Center!


The final day before the presentations. But before they all went off to their classrooms, Ayrshire College’s Developing the Young Workforce Project Lead, Kirsty Taylor, spoke to the groups about Foundation Apprenticeships.

A Foundation Apprenticeship is for S5 pupils and gives them the opportunity to learn both at college and in the workplace to achieve an industry recognised vocational qualification alongside their other school subjects.

Thursday 1

Michael then delivered his final presentation – Earth from Space!

Thursday 2

The main part of the day was taken up by working on their experiments. They weren’t completely left to their own devices though – they could ask Michael, Julie or Sarah a question if they were stuck.


Finally, we were at presentation day.

Teams were divided into rooms where two judges would hear their initial presentations. Once each team had delivered their idea within the 8 minute time limit, the judges deliberating over which six would make it to the final stage.

Team 2 (with their experiment ‘Nanoparticles’), Team 3 (‘Enzyme reaction experiment’), Team 10 (‘Foam to treat internal bleeding’), Team 14 (‘The speed of slime mould on different materials), Team 19 (‘Flatworm freefall’), and Team 23 (‘Investigating Krill in space’) were announced as the finalists.

The final stage involved delivering their presentations in front of the judges again, but also the 23 other teams at Mission Discovery Ayrshire.

Team 10 got us underway, while Team 14 finished.

And it turned out to be a case of saving the best until last as Team 14, made up of James Abbott, Pip Abramson, Laura Borthwick, Dylan Goldie, Robyn McMahon, Jas McNee, Lynne Mitchell, Ania Myskowska, triumphed!

Friday 3

Their idea will go to the International Space Station within the next year.

In a final treat before the Mission Discovery Ayrshire participants finished for the week, another Skype call was made – this time to Jay Honeycutt, the former Director of the Kennedy Space Centre! Jay had been involved in the Moon landing, so obviously the students were keen to ask him questions about that.

Friday 4

After final presentations were made to the mentors who had helped out across the week and to the primary school pupils who had won the design competitions – that was that! Mission Discovery Ayrshire 2016 was over, with ISSET’s Chris Barber declaring it one of the best programmes they have ever been involved in!

Friday 5


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Vocational skills give young people the edge

Guest blog from Jan Hodges OBE, Chief Executive of the Edge Foundation

IMG_0744.JPGIn January 2015, Ayrshire College was awarded £100,000 from the Edge Foundation’s Innovation Fund to support the creation of a Skills Centre of Excellence, located within Irvine Royal Academy, a secondary school in North Ayrshire. This ground-breaking facility is responding to the Scottish Government’s Developing the Young Workforce strategy and is a shining example of how schools, colleges and businesses can work together.

The ethos behind this unique partnership is a determination to prepare young people for work by providing more vocational options in the senior phase of secondary school (fourth year and above).  Courses will be influenced by the needs of the local economy, and better links with the business community will ensure that young people make informed decisions about future study and careers.

Jan Hodges OBE is the chief executive of the Edge Foundation. In this guest blog post, she describes how vocational education can give young people the edge.

The need to support skills

Supporting innovation in education is a huge part of our mission here at the Edge Foundation. Over the years we have worked, often in partnership with those who share our vision, to create projects that offer a practical demonstration of the many benefits of high quality technical, practical and vocational learning.

Picture1Many of these have resulted in the creation of new types of institution and new approaches to blending academic and vocational learning in the curriculum and the Skills Centre of Excellence at Irvine Royal Academy is a great example of this.

We are passionate about the fact that all young people should be able to experience this mix of academic and vocational learning and that, from a young age, they are aware that there are many paths to success. The Centre sets the bar high when it comes to colleges and schools working together to ensure that this happens.

Offering school pupils direct access to a range of vocational courses previously only available at FE colleges is a huge step forward in building the bridge between school and employment. By opening their eyes to the courses, further education options and careers available to them, the Centre will equip these young people with the knowledge and opportunity for them to make informed decisions about their futures; decisions that are based on their individual ambitions and talents.

Not only do we support and encourage the practical demonstration of the benefits of technical, practical and vocational learning but we also celebrate those who choose these pathways. In 2008 we set up VQ Day. This national celebration of vocational excellence has gone from strength to strength and now, in its eighth year, we’re looking for it to be even bigger. We want schools, colleges, learning providers and employers up and down the UK to get involved and celebrate the achievements of their vocational learners.

At the heart of the VQ Day celebrations are the VQ Awards. Nominations are now open and in Scotland we have two awards: VQ Learner of the Year and VQ Employer of the Year. These awards recognise the success of students who take vocational qualifications and the employers who support and promote them in the workplace.

The deadline for entries to both awards is 1 May. You can download everything you need to celebrate VQ Day from the website.

The traditional route through education is losing some of its shine as an increasing number of graduates are struggling to find roles that require their degrees. Now more than ever it is important that the awareness is raised of the many other alternative routes available.

Contrary to many outdated opinions, studying vocationally can open doors to opportunities that would otherwise be unknown. Many vocational courses and foundation apprenticeships with work based elements, such as those on offer at the Skills Centre, encourage the development of the skills and attitude that make the leap from education to employment more of a smooth step.

Working closely with employers can also nurture in students an entrepreneurial streak and a passion for developing their own ideas for businesses. This is a route we are also keen to support at Edge, which is why we launched the Edge Challenge.

Now in its third year, the Edge Challenge is an exciting competition to find the next generation of young entrepreneurs. It is run by the Edge Foundation in partnership with the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy and the Gazelle Colleges Group.

The competition is open to 16-25 year old students (past and current) of any FE or Sixth Form college, who have taken (or are undertaking) a course of technical, practical or vocational education and have a bright and original business idea. For more information, and to be in with a chance of winning up to £4000, head to the website.

Whichever path is taken, we want to ensure that all young people leave the system with the confidence, ambition and the skills to succeed, whatever their different abilities and interests. The Skills Centre of Excellence will go a long way to doing this and will be a beacon for technical, practical and vocational learning in Scotland.

We are delighted to be able to support Ayrshire College as they embark on this venture.


Young people building an enterprising Ayrshire

At a recent meeting of the Ayrshire branch of the Federation of Small Businesses Jackie Galbraith, Vice Principal for Strategy, Performance and Planning at Ayrshire College met some of Stewarton Academy’s Young Enterprise team. Here’s what they had to say.

Stewarton Academy’s young entrepreneurs

Why did you set up the company?

We set up the company as part of Young Enterprise to gain valuable experience in the world of business, and to learn a bit about what it takes to run a small enterprise. The experience has allowed us to get an insight into all aspects of business such as sales, creativity, finance and management in real life situations. It has been really enjoyable so far.

What are you aiming to do with it?

First and foremost, like all businesses, we are looking to make a profit. We aim to produce and sell quality products in the local area and beyond. We are aiming to complete the young enterprise project as the most successful team in Ayrshire. Hopefully we will convey to an audience our great triumphs and successes, as well as our solutions to the many problems that have occurred over the past year.

Who is involved in the team and in what roles?

We currently have 10 team members – two specialising in Finance, two Managing Directors, two Sales people, one HR, one Operations Director, one Corporate Secretary and one Computing Expert. Between us, we have all the essential aspects of business covered.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

We have had to overcome numerous challenges. Firstly, our first batch of portable chargers didn’t arrive until long after we needed them, and we had to order an emergency stop gap from a UK supplier. We now always use UK suppliers to avoid long delivery times and high costs. We also lost our design and marketing director at a crucial time, but thankfully our corporate secretary created an excellent design which we now use on our bags for life.

Tell me a little bit about yourselves – what you’re studying and what you plan to do on leaving school?

Jonathan (Chief Executive Officer) – The world of business and finance fascinates me, so I applied for university courses in that field. I have received an unconditional for my first choice course (Business Enterprise and Finance at Strathclyde) which I look forward to studying. Ideally I want to be a trader (stocks and shares) for a big bank, but I can definitely see myself running a business at some point in the future.

Niall (Chief Operating Officer) – I hope to study international business. From a young age I have had a keen interest in business and this project has concreted my desire to become a successful business person. It has also helped to prove that not everyone will agree with your approach to business and that you have to adapt in order to suit the best interests of the company.

Arran (Chief Finance Officer) – I plan on studying mechanical engineering at university after sixth year. I aim one day to work for a successful engineering company in Scotland, with the possibility of running or helping manage a company.

What advice you would give to others interested in setting up a company?

Running a business as part of young enterprise will be extremely beneficial to you, as it provides real world experience and looks great when applying for jobs. In hindsight, I would have loved to have been told that compromise is an essential role in setting up a company. It’s not too complex, mostly common sense, but it would surprise you how many mistakes we made when setting up. I am quite certain other start-ups have faced similar problems. Plan your business carefully and start as soon as you can as timing is crucial.

One of the products designed by the Stewarton team

Business Enterprise in East Ayrshire

East Ayrshire Council’s Business Enterprise Fund sparked the launch of Business Enterprise and Skills Centres in all of the area’s nine secondary schools. Each school has selected initiatives and programmes to suit the requirements and talents of students to help make them ready for a bright future in the world of work.

Programmes are backed by accredited qualifications at a range of levels up to Higher. These make young people more desirable to employers and develop their personal awareness and skills like communication, teamworking and leadership. Local business leaders play a great part by acting as role models, offering their experience and support in mentoring students and backing this ambitious education initiative.

Find out more about East Ayrshire Business Enterprise


Ayrshire apprentices win Young Innovators Challenge

Four second year Modern Apprentices with Prestwick Aircraft Maintenance Ltd were amongst the winners of the Young Innovators Challenge announced on 12 May 2014. The only apprentices amongst the winners, the skills they have developed on the job and at college were instrumental in creating their innovation. Here’s what they have to say.

Martin Gemmell, 19, SVQ Level 3 Aeronautical Engineering

I’ve always wanted to travel and this is a career which offers you lots of opportunities to work abroad. My dad, brother and cousins work in the same industry, so I guess I’ve always been destined to follow in their footsteps and work with aircraft.

Since leaving school and coming to college I have really matured. My social skills are much better and I’ve learned how to handle myself better in conversations, develop practical skills and work more efficiently.

Coming to college has given me a professional mind-set and a greater understanding of what to expect in the workplace. I feel confident working alongside my workmates and in my ability to achieve the tasks my employer gives me. What I’ve learnt at college has been really valuable – even some of my workmates have been impressed when I speak about my work in the flight simulator. Physically making a model or part from scratch is the most satisfying part of the course. I love the sense of achievement and pride you get from seeing something you have built and getting to hold it in your hands.

The support from lecturers was a great help in this year’s Young Innovators Challenge. They taught us how to be methodical in our work, and to develop a critical overview of our work so that we are constantly improving and developing our ideas. Looking for, and identifying faults in this industry is a great skill to have.

I would advise anyone thinking of undertaking an apprenticeship to keep your head down and get stuck in. Being an apprentice gives you a great advantage as you are learning on the job, whilst attending the college to learn and develop new ways of working. It’s definitely the best of both worlds. When I complete my course, I would like to work abroad and have ambitions of working within the managerial side of the aircraft maintenance industry.

Christopher Leitch, 20, SVQ Level 3 Aeronautical Engineering

Before I came to Ayrshire College I worked as a waiter. I had always been interested in aircraft and I knew that I wanted to work in a hands-on technical role.

I joined the college on the full-time NC Aircraft Engineering course. It was a great introduction to the subject, and gave me the skills and experience I needed to secure my apprenticeship with Prestwick Aircraft Maintenance Ltd.

The facilities at Ayrshire College are first class, my favourite parts of the course was the work in the flight simulator and the practical hand work. My skills in tasks like riveting have improved so much and this is making the difference in the workplace.

The course ties in perfectly with working on an aircraft and it gives me a lot of confidence when I can carry out a task my employer asks me to do using the knowledge and skills I have learned from my college lecturers.

Taking part in this year’s Young Innovators Challenge has been a great learning curve and, thanks to the support of our lecturers, I’ve learned that dedication and hard work have been instrumental in our success.

If you’re thinking about a career in this industry, I would say go for it! It’s a great career and one I have learned so much from. It’s a really interesting job. Every day is a challenge, but one you are prepared for thanks to the support of the lecturers at college. Once I complete my apprenticeship I hope to go on and complete my B1 licence and in the future I would like to become a pilot.


Conor Mackellar, 20, SVQ Level 3 Aeronautical Engineering

After leaving school in 6th year, I joined Ayrshire College on the HNC Aircraft Engineering course before joining the apprenticeship programme. The HNC gave me a good insight into the requirements of the industry and provided me with the skills I needed to gain employment as an apprentice.

I love learning how things work and have a passion for stripping things down and rebuilding them. On this course, there is a big focus on maths and science and I can now apply these a lot better, whilst my hand-skills and general understanding of how different equipment works have really developed.

I am normally quite a quiet shy person but, since coming to college, I’ve definitely become more confident in talking to people and in working as part of a team. The skills I’ve learned at college are very applicable within the workplace. I am becoming more aware of the complex parts within an aircraft and what it is they actually do.

Working for Prestwick Aircraft Maintenance Ltd is a great career and one I am really enjoying. Learning about different aircraft systems, combined with my college skills, gave me the confidence to enter this year’s Young Innovators Challenge and the product my team and I have developed has only been possible thanks to the knowledge and experience we’ve gained from our apprenticeships.

If you think that going to university is not for you after finishing school, going to college is definitely a good start. Gaining an apprenticeship offers a great insight into the industry and is a move I’ll never regret.

Ross Wallace, 20, SVQ Level 3 Aeronautical Engineering

My father was in the RAF, so for as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in aircraft and the science of flight. I joined Ayrshire College two years ago and completed the HNC Aircraft Engineering course. The course was great and I learned so much from it. Having a year’s experience under my belt was a big advantage when it came to applying for the apprenticeship.

I love working with engines and learning about the theory behind how they operate and how to fix them. At college I’ve greatly improved my understanding of this, as well as the maths and science aspects of the course and how these relate to the mechanical workings of an aircraft.

Coming to college has allowed me to know straight away what my employer is asking me to do, as well as having the ability to pick up new skills quickly. Completing the HNC course first was a definite advantage in this area. I have found the apprenticeship to be a perfect fit between what I learn in college and what I do in the workplace.

I cannot praise the lecturing team at Ayrshire College enough, they have been a great support with my participation in this year’s Young Innovators Challenge. What most impressed me is the realisation of how much I have actually learned in my time at college and how I could apply these skills to the requirements of the Challenge. Enjoying success in this competition has certainly made all the effort I have put in worthwhile.

Apprenticeships are definitely the best way of learning and building experience in this industry, plus you get to earn a wage at the same time. Working in this industry is a dream come true for me and I hope to enjoy a long career in it. With the skills I am developing there are endless opportunities available to me in future.