RDA Hunter ME Program (funding by Department of Defence)
Case Study by Kate O’Mara
Space is where I see my career headed. My dream job is at the cutting edge – at SpaceX or Formula 1 – and I’m working hard now to make it my reality.
Sound strategy from ME Program graduate, Thomas Vidler, who is driven to help solve the problems of today’s high-tech machines by finding solutions for tomorrow’s.
He’s waiting to hear whether he’s been accepted in to the Australian Department of Defence’s 2021 STEM Cadetship program and later this year he’ll embark on the first step towards his career dream, having earned an undergraduate internship role with Hunter-based specialist defence and aviation consulting group, Murray Consulting Solutions.
“I’m eager about my first real job in the defence and aviation sector. We’re very lucky to have the opportunity to work directly with Defence here in the Hunter and I can’t wait to get my career started. MCS’s focus is on creating solutions through innovation and adaptation and I’m really looking forward to being in that environment.”
Tom’s success to date is fuelled by his curiosity and a desire to find optimal solutions to problems – problems he himself often identifies during his work. “The best solution can only come with high standards. That’s what drives me to think outside the square, innovate and achieve at a high level,” he said.
Achieving at a high level started early for Tom. At St Philip’s Christian College’s Port Stephens and Newcastle campuses, he elected to study iSTEM – a years 9 and 10 subject developed by RDA Hunter’s ME Program in partnership with Australia’s Department of Defence through a Schools Pathway Program Grant. iSTEM incorporates mechatronics, aerodynamics, engineering, 3D CAD/CAM, aerospace and motion modules. Encouraged by his teacher, David Bonzo, he achieved accolades when, with team-mate Brandon Love, he developed functioning mind-controlled prosthetic hands for his major work.
The success of this project led him to participate in other RDA Hunter activities like STEM Defence + Innovation which, in turn, opened opportunities including the Enabled by Design Hackathon which he won, Space Camp America and the Honeywell Engineering Summer School.
These early experiences were influential in building Tom’s vision for his future, “My iSTEM and Engineering Studies teacher, Mr Bonzo, was essential in showing us the different streams of the engineering discipline and allowing us to find our way amongst them by doing various projects. My physics teacher, Mr Dunn, further fostered my interest by helping me understand how the world’s machines work.”
“From a young age I was always interested in being a pilot or astronaut, and although now I can see they were childish dreams, in high school they evolved into a desire to understand how aircraft and spacecraft work. Each iSTEM and Engineering Studies school activity or competition I completed helped me connect with the reality of engineering and gave me more clarity about which of the engineering streams suited me best.”
Another influencing factor was the opportunity for Tom and his classmates to participate in RDA Hunter’s tailored defence industry work experience program. Labelled STEM Ex, the program builds on RDA Hunter’s long partnership with the region’s defence prime contractors and SMEs to give students a genuine taste of engineering careers in the Hunter’s economically significant defence and defence industry sector.
“Each of the people I met in the different areas of engineering from technicians working at Boeing and on the Westpac Rescue Helicopter to members of the RAAF and Defence industry confirmed that an understanding of how mechanisms work and a desire to improve their design is where I wanted my career to be – capitalising on my personal interests as I aim for a role in Australia’s emerging space industry.”
Part of Tom’s arsenal, honed through iSTEM group work, is his capacity to lead. During his first-year studies in Aerospace Systems Engineering at the University of Newcastle, he helped create the NU (Newcastle University) Rocketry team which he says is the culmination of his personal interests aligning and becoming the same as his professional aspirations.
“The Team is the result of a personal interest of mine and a group of like-minded people at uni. With space as my aspiration, the opportunity to lead the operations of a scaled down company in the aerospace industry is one that I couldn’t ignore as I push towards my career goals.
“I think it’s essential that the University of Newcastle has an extra-curricular team in the aerospace sector to capitalise on its new Aerospace Systems degree. I aim to develop NU Rocketry into a final year project platform for the thesis project of Honours Engineering students. And, I’m really proud that the team will compete at the Australian Universities Rocketry Competition in 2021.”
According to RDA Hunter’s Director of Regional Development, Trevor John, the organisation is pleased to have played a role in consolidating and facilitating Tom’s career dreams, “RDA Hunter is immensely proud that our programs have had a positive and long-term impact on students like Tom – that’s their aim. The Hunter region’s sustainability is dependent on a strong and skilled workforce. Knowing we’ve helped people like Tom to be equipped to lead the way to our future is satisfying and reassuring. We wish him every success.”
To say Tom is driven is superfluous. He’s been working towards and achieving a staged, long-term vision for himself since he was 16. Space may be his mission, but he’s also got a big-picture vision: he wants to make a positive impact in people’s lives whether it be directly through a solution he and his team develop or indirectly through a product of his successful solution.
“I plan to build my career from the Hunter outward to the space industry. In 20 years; in 2040 the ‘world’ will be expanding to Mars. I aim to provide Australian support for this through international collaboration, then I hope to return to the local industry to build opportunities for others.”
Good luck, Tom – the Hunter’s backing you!