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Engineers designing the future

The Dalhousie Difference

- April 10, 2012

Mechanical engineering student Alastair Wood. (Danny Abriel photo)
Mechanical engineering student Alastair Wood. (Danny Abriel photo)

If you think that engineering is just about math and science, think again.

“Innovation can’t exist without creativity,” says third-year mechanical engineering student Alastair Wood. “In engineering, there’s always more than one solution to a problem. It’s not always just about doing the calculations and coming up with one answer – there are infinite possibilities.”

Mr. Wood’s insight can be attributed to his work placement last summer with Clifton Johnston, the new NSERC Chair in Design Engineering at Dalhousie.

“We worked with different professors to get design projects integrated into their curriculum, especially in first- and second-year courses,” says Mr. Wood. “Now, rather than go from lecture to lecture to lecture and then have one class that is all about design, students have exposure to design much earlier in the curriculum. It’s so much more interesting.”

The increased emphasis on design helps students confirm their commitment to the engineering program and to see the role that creativity plays in the design process and the application of math and science. “In the past, the first two years of the program were so general that students didn’t always get a sense of what engineering is really about. Having these design projects at a much earlier level means they get the whole picture right off the bat. It adds a whole new creative flow to the program.”

For his own part, Mr. Wood says the first design project he worked on has helped shape his understanding of an engineering education.

“Having that hands-on experience made me realize that this is why I want to be here. Now, students are getting that experience much earlier. It makes a really big difference to student learning.”

Providing students like Alastair with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in design engineering is a funding priority under the Enhanced Design and Innovation theme of Dalhousie’s Bold Ambitions campaign. The campaign is currently fundraising to create a $3-million endowment that will allow the Chair in Design Engineering to continue once the NSERC funding expires. With curriculum enhancements, innovative projects and multi-disciplinary partnerships, this chair will maintain the focus on design as a critical component of our engineering program.

This article is part of the Dalhousie Difference series, exploring what the power of philantrophy means to the university and introducing and showcasing some of the 50 innovative projects in development. Learn more at boldambitions.dal.ca.




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