Department history

In 1964, stemming from an initiative of Professor George Soulis, a professor in the Department of Design, the University of Waterloo became one of the first North American universities to teach engineering design to undergraduate students. At that time engineering design instruction was primarily a graduate level area of study and, indeed, the Department of Design offered only graduate degrees, the MASc (from 1965) and the PhD (from 1967). The undergraduate engineering design course, GE 11, was taught for the first time in 1964 to all first-year engineering students at the University of Waterloo. The Department of Design initially focused of two major areas of study: architecture and industrial design, both from an engineering perspective.

While the Department of Design originally offered only graduate degrees it added an undergraduate program in Architecture in 1967. A year later the Architecture program was moved to the, then, newly created Faculty of Environmental Studies. A result of this move was the creation of (by Engineering Faculty Council on November 27, 1968) the Department of Systems Design Engineering. The three founding faculty members were Professors George Soulis, Peter Roe, and H.K. Kesavan. Interestingly, the financial foundation for the creation of the new department came from money earned by a team of University of Waterloo engineering faculty members for design work done for the organizational committee for the famous Expo ’67. The remarkable team of designers included Professors Soulis, and Roe, as well as Professors Kish Hahn, and Barry Wills; all of whom became long-time faculty members of the Department of Systems Design Engineering. The newly created department admitted its first undergraduate students in September of 1969. The Department of Design ceased to exist but the Department of Systems Design Engineering is still going strong, more than 39 years after its creation.

Over the years, the undergraduate core curriculum for Systems Design Engineering has been reduced from 8 courses to 5 courses per term. This was done, in part, to allow students the time to engage in extra-curricular activities that would expand their scope of experience to facilitate their intellectual and personal growth. Many Systems Design Engineering students graduate with dual degrees; one in engineering and the other, most often, in arts.

The common characteristics of the first graduating Systems Design Engineering class which remain true today are that the students are open-minded and creative risk-takers. It is these characteristics that inspire the graduates to indulge in their passions – whether it is developing new gaming software, managing an automotive engineering project, designing their own consulting companies, or studying marine biological engineering!