7 February 2023

Griffith teacher wins university medal with near-perfect grade point average

| Oliver Jacques
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Man with hydraulic testing device

Keith Wells using his hydraulic testing apparatus. Photo: Supplied.

A high school teacher from Griffith has won the 2022 University of Southern Queensland (USQ) University Medal, the tertiary institution’s most prestigious award.

Keith Wells received the medal after completing a Bachelor of Engineering honours degree with a grade point average (GPA) of 6.952, achieving a high distinction in every subject he completed bar one – in which he earned a distinction. It is understood to be one of the highest GPAs in USQ’s 56-year history.

Remarkably, he completed his entire degree remotely from his Griffith home, balancing his studies with a teaching job at Murrumbidgee Regional High School (MRHS).

“Twenty years ago, the opportunity to study an engineering degree wasn’t available for someone living in Griffith … but I found it was all very well organised,” Mr Wells said.

“I did most of my degree at home, including a lot of Zoom tutorials. I got to study with people from all over the world. Every semester we would travel to the university to do intensive sessions on materials testing and experimentation in the hydraulic labs.”

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Mr Wells’s degree research focused on improving the energy efficiency and applications of the Venturi flow meter – a device capable of measuring the flow rate of fluids such as gases, liquids and slurry mixtures.

“The Venturi flow meter was developed in the 1800s before computer-based simulation was available, and as such, there has been limited research aimed at improving its energy efficiency,” he said.

“To fill this research gap, I conducted simulations each night on my home computer for around six months and, using the international standard as a benchmark, I was able to make some significant findings that allowed me to design a number of Venturi flow meters that reduced energy consumption by approximately 75 per cent without comprising flow measurement accuracy.”

For the past few years, a typical weekday for Mr Wells was to spend seven hours teaching high school students, then dedicating four to five hours at night to his own study.

“Studying became a habit for me – you develop quite efficient ways of doing things.”

Man at computer

Mr Wells would work four to five hours after a full day of school teaching. Photo: Supplied.

Mr Wells grew up on a small farm in Darlington Point, where he had positive influences early in his life, including from his uncle, Stan Grant Snr, well known for his tireless efforts to save the Riverina’s Wiradjuri language.

“He [Stan Snr] was a strong role model for me growing up and I was lucky to have him in my family,” he said. [Mr Grant’s son, Stan Grant Jnr, is one of Australia’s leading journalists].

Mr Wells also notes the role his teachers at Griffith High (now MRHS) had in shaping him, including Richard Wiseman and the late Robyn Davis.

“Robyn was a maths teacher who made a big difference to me. She would explain things very explicitly, she knew I lived on a farm with animals and she would use them as analogies.”

After completing high school and TAFE, Mr Wells spent 13 years as a heavy-vehicle mechanic for poultry producer Bartter Enterprises, where he eventually discovered his true passion.

“The part of the job I loved the most was teaching the apprentices. I thought, ‘How cool would it be to do this full time’.”

He therefore decided to do a teaching degree remotely while working at Bartter, before graduating and changing careers, landing a role at MRHS.

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His intense study and work routine will continue throughout 2023.

“I am now completing a Master of Data Science, which will eventually lead to an engineering PhD … I am also working on completing three journal papers that will be published in international journals.”

Anyone interested in studying for a degree online can look for options on the USQ website. Support is available for Griffith and Leeton residents studying remotely through the Country University Centre.

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