A Global Minded Engineer

Sarah Legg

During a conversation with a friend a few years ago, Sarah Legg had a revelation. The tag on her clothes read “Made in Cambodia.” She ate food grown in the U.S. And the building materials she used in class? She questioned where they actually came from.

“Every action has an impact somewhere else. As engineers, we are working in fields that are connected through policy and materials,” the fourth- year civil engineering student understands now.

The discussion became the inspiration for an essay on global engineering, winning Legg the 2010 Leaders for the Future award offered by the Ontario Professional Engineers Foundation for Education. Soon after, Legg put her ideas into practice and boarded a plane to Ghana to volunteer with Engineers Without Borders working with local government to help educate farmers.

Legg already has a job lined up with a Vancouver-based environmental engineering consulting company when she graduates, with some of her work taking place in remote, northern B.C. communities. “The position provides me with a great opportunity to apply my engineering problem-solving skills to problems that really matter.”

Highlights

  • The first class of Waterloo nanotechnology engineering undergraduate students graduated in the spring.
  • Waterloo Engineering students took one of the top three positions in all events in the Ontario Engineering Competition held on campus at the end of January 2010.
  • Waterloo’s Autonomous Racing Team took top spots in the design event and the circuit race challenge that were part of the 2010 International Autonomous Robot Racing Competition held in Windsor. The team placed second overall in the competition.

WATPD-Engineering launches

For Tiffany Chan one of the best parts of WatPD-Engineering’s first course is the “ring-wearer” videos in which professional engineers discuss how they made real engineering decisions.

The first-year geological engineering student says the presentations in the developing reasoned conclusions course demonstrate why critical thinking is so vital to the profession. “I now understand how making just one mistake can make a crucial difference to a project,” she says.

One of the videos Chan singles out features Gordon Stubley, the academic director for the new online program that helps engineering students develop professional skills for entering the workplace. Earlier in the year, the PDEng Renewal Task Force recommended major changes, including the phasing out of the existing program and replacing it with WatPD-Engineering completed while students are on their work terms.

A committee, made up of engineering faculty and students as well as the university’s professional development staff, helped create the curriculum which emphasizes balanced workload, student choice and practical application.

So far reaction has been encouraging. Stubley, a mechanical and mechatronics professor, says about 90 per cent of students are submitting weekly work and scoring well on quizzes. “We want everyone to eventually say WatPD-Engineering is part of who I am as a Waterloo Engineering student.”

Nanotech symposium big on creativity

Imagine eyeglasses that can darken or lighten at the flip of a switch, an artificial nose that gives electronic devices a sense of smell and stealth coatings invisible to night-vision goggles.

The design symposium held in March 2010 showcased the work of Waterloo’s first graduating class in nanotechnology engineering, the only such undergraduate program in Canada. “The students put a lot of energy into it and it showed,” says Hany Aziz, the fourth-year design project coordinator. “I was impressed.” Symposium attendees were equally impressed. The steady stream of people who flowed through Waterloo’s Davis Centre to view demonstrations included employers, project sponsors and industry scouts from across Waterloo Region and far beyond.

UK-based Dolomite Microfluidics sent a representative to get a first-hand look at the micropump project it funded, as did Ontario’s Intlvac. The low-cost pump uses tiny electrodes to move water droplets, explains design team member Ryan Denomme. The team developed the device for lab-on-a-chip applications, such as hand-held biosensors that can be used to detect the proteins created by a heart attack.

After almost a year of work, the positive reception felt satisfying, says Denomme. “Everyone was really interested in our projects and their real-world applications.”