The mystery of the missing class of 1976

Thursday, October 12, 2023
Black and white pictures of the class of 1976

Where can one measure the positive effect that a university has on its students? The answer lies in the successful careers of our alumni. The University of Waterloo and the Faculty of Engineering recognize the importance of honouring the connection between the past and the present through continued engagement with alumni. This helps maintain a strong sense of uninterrupted community and fosters enduring relationships. In that spirit, Robert Hawkins (Class of 1976) was invited to share his experience with the 4B cohort of Chemical Engineering students.

Robert had come to E6 in 2022 for a nostalgic visit and was looking at the class pictures displayed throughout the building. When he got to the place where his graduating class picture should have been the pictures skipped a year. His class was missing!

When Hawkins visited, he explained that his class had decided that they did not want to pay a professional photographer to take their class picture. One of his classmates had a brand new 35mm camera, so they set up a backdrop in the senior room and had everyone come in to have their picture taken. It was a small class, so it didn't take long. They hand-crafted the master layout and had it reproduced at a local printer so each student could have a copy. Nobody told the Chemical Engineering Department about their exclusive photoshoot and as a result, a copy of their graduating class was never hung in the building.

“I don't know how many copies of this picture still exist. Mine has hung on a wall in my office for all these years,” says Hawkins. “It's a bit faded and tattered, but at least it still shows all the faces clearly. I hope it can find its way into the gap on the wall of pictures so we can rejoin the history of this amazing place.”

Due to Hawkins' visit the picture of the missing graduating class has been returned to the department and will soon take its rightful place in the hallways of E6.

Robert Hawkins

Robert Hawkins

Hawkins began his degree in 1971. At the time all the other engineering students took general engineering in their first year. The Department of Chemical Engineering was the only one to have a first-year program.

According to Hawkins, his training as a chemical engineer gave him a different lens through which to view the world.

“What you learn in the program changes the way you see the world, that’s your superpower, the knowledge you gain puts you on a different level to perceive the world,” says Hawkins.

 After graduation, Hawkins was hired by DuPont as a process engineer. Then joined Suncor in the refinery planning and economics group and eventually became a control and optimization engineer.

Later, Hawkins relocated to Texas where he became a consultant for a small firm called DMC Corporation.  DMC Corporation was acquired by Aspen Technology, and Hawkins eventually found himself managing a product development group. In the latter part of his career, he transitioned to senior advisory roles at Lyondell and finally Chevron's head office.

“The interesting thing about my experience of being an engineer is that most of the core technologies I used in my career didn't exist while I was in university,” says Hawkins. “And yet, I would have been completely unable to function in the roles I held without the knowledge I acquired at Waterloo in the Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Program.”

Hawkins was able to have a long and successful career in a variety of interesting industries which all sprang up as a result of his degree in Chemical Engineering.