What Happens to Grades

It’s the start of a new academic year and lots of new students are beginning their transition from secondary school to university.  That transition can be challenging for a variety of reasons, including being away from home, new community, different teaching styles, etc.  For some students, a big source of stress comes about half-way into the term when they start to see their grades and realize that they are quite different from what they were used to in high school.  I think that our instructors are generally quite up-front about what to expect, i.e. that grades will typically drop about 15 to 20 percentage points from high school, but I suspect that a lot of students assume that will happen to someone else and not them.  So let’s look at some data from a past year that compares high school grades (admission averages) with averages at the end of first year engineering, for the same group of students.   Continue reading

Summer Preparations

For the new students joining us in September, it may be tempting to think ahead to a relaxing summer vacation before starting university.  Perhaps, but there are some things that you could or should consider doing.  They will make your life much easier in those first few months of university as you adjust to the new pace and demands of a co-op program.  So, here’s my list of recommended summer activities that will have you ahead of the crowd when starting university: Continue reading

Capstone Design Projects 2016

It’s that time of year when senior, final-year students complete and present their “capstone design projects”.  These are group design projects, usually based on industry problems or student innovation ideas.  The projects are meant to be completely open-ended (i.e. there is no obvious, single, correct solution) and require students to pull together concepts from a variety of topics they have learned over the years.  The projects are not assigned, it is up to the student groups to come up with ideas, either on their own or through faculty or industry connections.  This is where co-op education really helps, because most of our students already have pretty good ideas based on what they have seen in their 2 years of work experience during university.

The design project results are presented in “Design Symposia” for each program, and there is a website which lists the dates in mid to late March.  These are open to the public, so anyone can drop by and see what’s up.  By clicking on each program, you can also find a brief description about each project.  For example, here is a list of projects in my department, Chemical Engineering.  I highly recommend that high school applicants and future prospects take a look at all these program listings.  These are the best source of information on all the different types of things that students can do, and the wide range may surprise you.  For example, many people think that Chemical Engineering is just about oil & gas, but when you look at the list you’ll see electric vehicle batteries, rooftop greenhouse design, biodegradable orthopedic implants, and controlled release antibiotics, among many other things.  Anything that involves materials and energy transformations is a possible chemical engineering project.

I like looking at the Management Engineering projects too.  These projects nicely emphasize that Management Engineering is not a business program (a frequent misconception with some applicants), but it is an engineering program full of math, statistical and data analysis, and optimization.  The project on “Reducing Distribution Costs for Canadian Blood Services” looks quite interesting to me (stochastic modelling is always interesting!).

I haven’t had a chance to look through all the different programs and their projects yet, but I’m sure a few will soon end up as start-up companies, if they haven’t already.  These capstone design projects have probably been the biggest single source of Waterloo start-ups in the last decade, I suspect.  There are now quite a few sources of financial support and design awards for the most innovative of these projects, as listed on the webpage, together with the support offered through the Velocity entrepreneurship and Conrad BET Centre programs, and others.

Engineering breaking ground today for new building

Exciting news about the start of construction for our new building, as well as support for automotive research and education, design, and entrepreneurship.

The University of Waterloo breaks ground today on Engineering 7, an $88-million building that will feature some of the best engineering research and teaching facilities in the world.The ground-breaking event will take place on Thursday November 12, at 1:30 pm at Engineering 5 on the University’s east campus.The new Engineering 7 (E7) facility will feature an additive manufacturing—or 3D printing—laboratory and an indoor flight arena for testing autonomous and robotic vehicles.It will also accommodate growth from Waterloo’s new biomedical engineering program and the expansion of the Faculty of Engineering’s highly popular mechatronics engineering program. It will house the Faculty’s new teaching innovation, the multidisciplinary Engineering Ideas Clinic™, where undergraduate students will integrate classroom theory with hands-on learning as they design, build, test and refine ideas.Part of the funding for E7 will come from the Educating the Engineer of the Future campaign, a $70-million fundraising effort that will help the Faculty of Engineering achieve its goal to become a world-class engineering school.Earlier this week, GM Canada announced $1 million in funding to support the Educating the Engineer of the Future campaign. This support will fund a Research Chair in advanced materials while also sponsoring Waterloo Engineering’s Capstone Design projects involving software development, which is key to GM Canada’s work on “the connected car.”E7 will also become the new home for the Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Centre. It will have dedicated study and social spaces for students, lecture halls and entrepreneurial support areas, along with areas for student teams to prototype their Capstone Design projects.

Source: Thursday, November 12, 2015 | Daily Bulletin

Where Do Waterloo Co-op Students Work?

It’s a common question from prospective students and parents, “where are the co-op jobs located?  Are they mainly around the Waterloo area?”  The answer is definitely “no”, they are not just around Waterloo.  But with over 4,000 employers that hire at Waterloo it’s actually a bit hard to start listing off some companies and places.  Many of them are smaller or specialized companies that the general public rarely hears about.  However, there is one interesting resource that starts to give some insight. Continue reading

What’s New in Nanotechnology?

There is some impression out there that “nanotechnology” (and our Nanotechnology Engineering program) is all very research-oriented, with no practical applications or career prospects yet.  Graduates can only look forward to doing lab research or a PhD degree.  Those are certainly potential paths, but not the only ones by any means.

Nanotechnology has been around for about 30 years (see it’s history).  In many ways, it’s just a specialized way of approaching Materials Science/Engineering, and there are already over 1,500 products on the market that incorporate nanotechnology.  Making products requires more than just lab research, and one of the reasons we launched our Nanotechnology Engineering program was in response to industry needs for people with this expertise.

It also seems that the nanotechnology area is one where there is a lot of room for innovation and entrepreneurship by our undergraduate students.  Here are a few recent examples (mainly based on senior design projects) that have led to start-up companies:

It’s interesting to see what creative new ways that nanotechnology can be used to make new products or improve existing ones.  In my own research lab we are working with companies to develop novel test methods, based on nanotechnology, for detection of water contamination, and this is on the verge of commercialization.  Some day soon I’ll finish a post on that topic.

So for a high school student thinking about different career paths, don’t exclude Nanotechnology Engineering if you’re interested in materials and commercial product development.  It’s not all theory, lab work, and graduate research.

Capstone Design Projects

March is the season for “Capstone Design Project” presentations at Waterloo Engineering.  These are events where groups of graduating students present and explain the design projects they have been working on for the past 8 to 12 months.  Working on a significant, open-ended design project is a feature in all engineering programs in Waterloo and across Canada, to my knowledge.  These “Design Symposia” are open to the public.

Where do the topics for these design projects come from?  There are 3 typical sources:  1) some professors provide an idea, likely related to their ongoing research projects; 2) companies approach us with ideas that they would like someone to work on; 3) the student groups come up with their own ideas.

For companies, this is an opportunity to have some ideas explored in more detail and for free (other than some time spent).  Many companies have some new ideas or side-projects that would be nice to do, but they don’t have the time or resources to follow-up on them right away.  Having a student group work on it can help them scope-out the idea and see if it is worthwhile to pursue more aggressively in the future.  For the students, they get more experience working on a real-world problem, possibly in an industry sector they want to learn more about.  This can be a nice addition to the experience they already gained during their co-op work terms.

Student groups that come up with their own idea are often the source of new innovations and start-up companies that they build after graduation.  At Waterloo, any novel idea that a student creates is owned by them.  The university supports innovation and entrepreneurship, but doesn’t attempt to take it over in any way.

For high school students who are thinking about pursuing engineering, these projects are a good way to get a feeling for what you can do in the different disciplines.  So check out these links for project titles or descriptions:

Management Engineering
Nanotechnology Engineering
Software Engineering
Civil, Environmental, Geological Engineering
Electrical & Computer Engineering
Mechatronics Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
Chemical Engineering
Systems Design Engineering

A couple of programs are missing their project lists, but will probably be updated in the coming days.  See this link.