3 October 2019 • Arie Verhoef
‘The Formula Cruisers creates a powerful learning environment’
Students are extremely motivated. They want to win great prizes with their electric race car. Just like the Delft University of Technology did with its solar car. But for retiring lecturer, project leader and spiritual father Peter Menger, this living lab involves much more than mechanical engineering and electrical/electronic engineering. “We invest a lot of energy in the personal and professional development of our students.”
Our conversation in the Lighthouse Café is cheerfully interrupted by a colleague of Peter’s. He greets him with a friendly slap on the shoulder and says: “I thought yesterday was your last day here. But you don’t seem to be able to leave…!”
Peter Menger is very popular among colleagues and students of the Betafactory, the development centre of the Technology, Innovation & Society (TIS) faculty at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in Delft. Until his recent retirement he spent years as project leader of the Living Lab Urban Innovations, previously known as Sustainable Mobility. In that capacity he was responsible for The Formula Cruisers project.
This project provides students of several faculties, nationalities and disciplines with the opportunity to gain work experience by creating an electrical race car. The project is challenging and very meaningful to everyone involved.
All their spare time
At the start of the summer break, students entered their HU-2 car in the Formula Student event at the Silverstone race track in the UK. This is the most prestigious educational motor sports competition in Europe. Peter Menger: “The car performed well and passed all the technical Scrutineering tests. Unfortunately it didn’t complete the race due to a technical failure.”
Developing an electric race car is what draws most students to this project. “They are so motivated to develop an innovative electrical race car that they invest all their spare time.”
The importance of many disciplines
The image of The Formula Cruisers is mainly technical. Peter would really like to expand that scope. “The minor needs more students from other programmes besides Mechanical Engineering, Mechatronics or Electrical Engineering. Students from other engineering and non-engineering degree programmes are also very welcome. The final result may be a race car, but this project needs input from many different disciplines.”
The biggest added value of The Formula Cruisers lies somewhere else entirely. “We give students the (final) responsibility for the outcome. In return they have the freedom to plan all their own processes. By doing this we create a powerful learning environment in which the technical content, collaboration and reflection truly enhance each other.”
“Nothing is artificial here. We want to provide an in-depth authentic experience. You can only achieve that in an actual work environment. You cannot create something innovative and reflect on that in a fictional environment. I want the students to challenge themselves in a project.”
“I have seen students stumble and fall. But I have also seen how they pick themselves up again. We shouldn’t make a big deal of it. What makes me happy in my role as lecturer, project leader and coach is that students have grown enormously through that process.
An incubator for talent development
Peter Menger also values dialogue. “That means articulating what you are doing and why. Express what those activities mean to you and how it is useful to someone else. We are open; we are not afraid to be vulnerable. In this dialogue we talk about what is important to us. To me it’s not really about that race car. The minor is an incubator for talent development and personal growth.”
This makes The Formula Cruisers not only an attractive project for star students, but also for those who are still looking for their purpose. “We offer a customised, personalised experience. We transfer knowledge. That’s where the lecturer comes in. But we don’t forget to describe someone’s pitfalls and allergies. And you play the role of coach with your students.”
Final words of advice
The recently retired Peter Menger has a very busy schedule. But no longer as a project leader and coach. Before I leave I ask him to share his most important piece of advice for new students and his former colleagues. “Think about where there could be a conflict between learning, reflecting and achieving results. And then ask yourself “what is most important?”