Clifton Johnston

Better Engineers by Design

Today's engineers don't face merely challenging problems: they are tasked with solving 'wicked' problems. Though engineering may be popularly associated with math and physics, the actual practice of engineering today is much broader and more nuanced than ever before. Accordingly, today's engineer requires an increasingly diverse skill set to be successful. Dr. Clifton Johnston, NSERC Chair in Design Engineering, is focused on merging both technical and practical design skills to help develop the best possible engineers.

Traditional engineering education is very science- and textbook-oriented, but though students master many technical skills there is often little opportunity to link courses together and apply their learning to real world problems. Dr. Johnston is transforming aspects of Dalhousie's engineering curriculum to ensure creative problem solving and design are part of every term for every student.

"Our graduating engineers will be more comfortable engaging in problems with both high complexity and low certainty," says Dr. Johnston, "which better prepares them for success in industry where innovative, creative thinking is expected and the answer is never at the back of the book."

Through the Chair, Dr. Johnston is also undertaking research aimed at further developing elements of design, including design methodology, design tools, how design is taught, and new approaches to problem solving. Dr. Johnston's work so far has resulted in an increase in design-based projects in several courses, the implementation of a new second-year design course, and the ongoing development of new upper-year courses. He has also expanded the Engineers in Residence program to bring in more senior engineers to work with and mentor students in a variety of areas.

If we can educate our engineers to be leading-edge designers and problem solvers, we set the stage for better engineering and innovation. Our graduates will change the expectation of what a new engineer is capable of.