1st November 2022
Five Years after winning Fujitsu Operation Innovation, students return to college to inspire the next generation
In 2017, South Devon College saw a group of students take part in Fujitsu’s Operation Innovation competition. Students from across the country took part and brought some fantastic product ideas to the table. But out of everyone competing, it was the students of South Devon College that shone through and won the competition.
They then went on to receive further recognition for the project at the South West Digital Awards in 2018.
Two of those students have now made a comeback and are now working at South Devon College. So, we caught up with Nikita Coombes and Thomas Rainey to see what they’re up to now and how their experience in the competition has helped them in their careers.
What did they do in Fujitsu Operation Innovation?
The team designed a wearable device in the form of a bracelet aimed at students with autism and other additional needs that communicates a range of health information about the wearer. It reads the pulse rate, blood pressure, temperature and more and sends this information in real time to a device monitored by the teacher and the bracelet itself also has lights to indicate changes in the readings.
The reason for this would be to give clear indication when a student is becoming overwhelmed that can’t communicate when that’s happening, or at least provide a bit of clarity over changes in behaviour.
Thomas said: “It was the route we wanted to go down as it would actually be helping people. It’s not for fashion, it’s not for show. It’s something that will in the long run not only help students but teachers too.”
Speaking to Nikita and Thomas, they said there’s no reason why this couldn’t be expanded beyond the classroom into retirement homes to make monitoring residents easier and remotely trackable, and make its way into workplaces as we become increasingly aware of neurodiverse conditions and how long these have been missed for.
The concept took the team to the finals and ultimately won them the competition, which saw them then travel to Munich for the Fujitsu Form Event to again present their concept. We learned that Thomas was unfortunately in an accident part way through the project which prevented him from being at the final pitch and in Munich for the Fujitsu Forum Event but he did later receive a certificate recognising his efforts.
Where are they now?
Both Thomas and Nikita now work at South Devon College. Thomas is now an Esports Lecturer and Nikita is a SEND Officer.
They both use their experience in this competition in their roles today but in different ways. Thomas said the design process ultimately taught him a lot about what’s required when designing anything really, and that translates into his teaching of game development at South Devon High School and also Level 3 Esports and game design.
Thomas studied here at the College, completing his Level 3 Diploma and progressing onto University Centre South Devon to complete his foundation degree in Games and Interactive Design.
Design has been a big passion in Thomas’ life and he has always used it as a way of creating solutions to the struggles people around him in his family have in daily life but joked “when it comes to actually making things though, I’ll try to build a wardrobe and it will look like an ironing board.”
Nikita was an Art and Design student at the time of this project and focused towards fashion which lent itself well to the design of a wearable and material research for neurodiverse users.
But Nikita said: “We had to do a lot of research into autism and how many students between the age of 16 and 25 had autism for example, and look at younger years too. We really had to go in depth into trying to understand those difficulties and incorporate it into our design so that it was suitable for those users.
“So, I do believe that this project was the start of my interest in supporting those with special educational needs and fast-forwarding 5 years later, here I am supporting students as a SEND Officer and I absolutely love seeing students’ progression and who they become from having our support.”
Ash Merchant, Healthcare & Education Director at Fujitsu UK&I, who was part of the panel that Nikita and the rest of the group had pitched to recently visited the College and was delighted to see both Thomas and Nikita both working here at the College, using their experience to support and empower the next generation.
Steve Caunter, Assistant Principal at South Devon College said: “We were very proud of the students achieving international recognition as a result of opportunity presented by Fujitsu. Winning the innovation competition and watching them pitch their ideas to Fujitsu, Intel and many other high profile businesses was inspirational. Equally, we are very pleased that Nikita and Tom have returned to South Devon College using their talent to inspire the next generation of tech experts.”
A great story of how what you’re learning right now actually opens many doors to a range of careers that are right for you.