Engineering 101 Welcome

Engineering 101 is a type of orientation event held in July for new admitted students.  It’s an opportunity to come to campus and look around, meet some fellow students, get some tips for success, and get some errands done before the rush starts in September.  There is an online guide summarizing everything, which is good for those who can’t make the trip or who want to review some of the advice.

I was asked to make some opening remarks, so following is a version of what I said.

Let me be the first faculty member to welcome all the newly admitted students and your guests to Waterloo and the Faculty of Engineering!  We’re glad that you could be here today, and start this journey together with all of us.

Behind the scenes, a large group of recruiting and admissions staff and faculty have been busy these past 10 months, answering questions, poring over transcripts, looking at Admission Information Forms, reviewing video interviews, and meeting you at events.

We’ve worked hard to try to pick people who we think will do very well here at Waterloo. I know you’ve worked hard too, comparing different offers, programs and places.  We had a lot of applicants to pick from, over 13,000.  I’m sure you had a lot of offers to pick from too. But somehow it has all worked out.  We’re very glad you chose to start the next phase of your life with us, and so now here we are at this orientation event.  Everyone is getting ready to move forward starting in September. 

One of the goals for today’s event is to start that transition from high school to university life, so let me make a few comments to get us started.

Engineering is hard.  And I don’t just mean here at university.  It extends beyond that into the “real world” and your careers.  Engineers are expected to help solve some of society’s most difficult problems and challenging opportunities.  These include climate change, energy efficiency, water supply, cybersecurity, advanced healthcare, autonomous vehicles, infrastructure replacement, just to name a few.

To solve these problems you need lots of background knowledge (math, science, design, ethics, economics), and other skills like teamwork and communication. And that’s what our engineering programs here are designed to help you absorb and achieve. 

The volume of information to learn is large, and the time is short. Some of the concepts are quite challenging.  You will encounter setbacks, like failed tests, assignments you can’t do, sometimes failed courses.  I can guarantee that half of you will be in the bottom half of your class, and that’s OK.  These are learning opportunities to be absorbed and embraced, even if not enjoyed. One of my fond memories of university was getting less than 20% on a calculus midterm exam.  Not necessarily a pleasant experience, but I learned a lot from it and carried on!

Ultimately, society doesn’t much care what mark you got in calculus, or what your class ranking is. Society wants you to help them with their problems, and you will be equipped to start doing that when you graduate, and even beforehand while you work in co-op jobs.

The important point is that this is not high school, where you come here, passively sit in a class, absorb a set lesson with predictable outcomes, then regurgitate it on a test and get 90+%. Engineering is not straightforward and predictable, and you education won’t be either.  This is more like a partnership model, with 5 equally important partners.

  1. Faculty and staff provide the structure, guidance, and context for learning the concepts and applications.
  2. You, the students, actively engage in the material, ask questions, seek help and support from the many support systems we have available for you.
  3. Families provide the moral support and encouragement when things inevitably don’t go as well as wished or imagined.
  4. Co-op employers provide the real-world learning opportunities and problems to work on.
  5. And finally, other students are equally important in guiding and supporting you. Peer learning is very important, whether informally in classes and other activities, or through things like the student design teams and the Engineering Society activities.

So let me close by introducing you to two of our current students, the EngSoc Presidents Katie and Mariko, who will tell you a bit more about this very important aspect of Waterloo Engineering.


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