The Burden of the Iron Ring

A typical Iron Ring.

As some people know, Canadian engineers usually choose to wear an Iron Ring, as illustrated in the picture, on the small finger of their “working” hand.  Actually, it’s now usually stainless steel, and so about 72% iron, 18% chromium, 8% nickel and some other elements.  It is originally a Canadian invention, so engineers in the U.S. and elsewhere are often unaware of it.  What is its significance?  Let’s start with what it is Not supposed to be about:

  • It is not a reward from the university for finishing an engineering program.
  • It is not a status symbol.
  • It is not a sign of belonging to some prestigious or secret society.
  • It is not an indicator of any competence or qualification.

So what is it all about?  First, consider its history… Continue reading

Ideas Clinic-Scanning Tunneling Microscope

I was visiting my colleagues in the Engineering Ideas Clinic the other day, to discuss a design-fabricate-test project for a heat exchanger that we’re working on for Chemical Engineering students.  The basic concept for the Ideas Clinic is that students can do hands-on activities requiring engineering design, some fabrication and assembly, and some performance testing, part of our experiential learning philosophy.  A bunch of activities have been developed over the past few years, and many more are in development to take advantage of new space available in our Engineering 7 building,  opening soon.

One activity they previewed for me was the building of a desktop Scanning Tunneling Microscope for imaging surfaces at the atomic scale.  The video below shows the basic principle of an STM.  Once it’s finalized, this will be an activity for our Nanotechnology Engineering students, and it’s amazing that something like this can be built by students for a couple of hundred dollars.  I look forward to seeing it in action.

 

Recent US College Fair and Outreach Activities

For 11 days in October we traveled across the U.S. to attend the NACAC College STEM Fairs in Santa Clara CA and New York city.   These were very good events, and we had the opportunity to meet a lot of high school students and families.  Some had heard of Waterloo, but many others had never considered the idea and potential benefits of studying in Canada.  So we had some good conversations, especially around the concept of Waterloo engineering’s co-operative education system, alternating study with up to 6 paid work opportunities.   It looked like very few (if any) schools sent faculty to these fairs, but I thought it was worthwhile for me to be there because I could discuss the program content in depth, as well as more general thoughts on engineering education and career paths.

In addition to attending the college fairs, we also did some outreach workshop activities.  Waterloo has a long history of outreach educational activities, especially through our Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing  (CEMC) who do mathematics classes and workshops in a wide variety of schools and locations.    Borrowing from their ideas, I created several engineering design workshops based on case studies from our Waterloo Cases in Design Engineering group, headed by Prof. Lambert.  With some adaptation for high school level and time limitations, we cover some math, physics and/or chemistry, and spend some time having the students come up with preliminary design ideas for a rocket, or rainwater harvester system, or some industrial equipment.  These are all based on things our own students have done during workterm employment, and it is meant to be an introduction to engineering design concepts and different approaches to problem-solving.

During our trip we engaged with about 7 classes in several schools, including Design Tech High School in San Mateo, Harker School in San Jose, Léman Manhattan Preparatory School in New York, and the United Nations International School in New York.  Although there was interest from other schools, we couldn’t squeeze in any other schools in our limited timelines this year.

We also had a very nice evening event held at Bellarmine College Preparatory school in San Jose.  A number of prospective students and families were able to meet some of our engineering and mathematics alumni and a few of the hundreds of co-op students currently working in the Silicon Valley area.  (Many thanks to our alumni and students for volunteering their time to attend!)

Finally, we had a couple of good meetings with quite a few independent college counselors to explain about Waterloo and co-operative education.  In Canada, such people are rare but in the U.S. they are more commonly employed by families to help them sort through the myriad of possible options for college.  It was an opportunity for us to explain what type of student and background might be the best fit, and to explain more about the Canadian admissions process and timelines.  For example, in the U.S. the application deadline is often November 1, but our engineering applications are open until February 1, so there is still lots of time for applicants in the U.S. to look into Waterloo or other Canadian schools.

We will be returning to the Houston area in early November for the last NACAC Stem Fair, after which we’ll return to Waterloo to start ramping up the admissions process for 2018.