Two Dal Engineering students earn first‑place prize in national competition

- March 19, 2021

Electrical engineering student Annika Benson, left, and mechanical engineering student Kayleigh Landers took top prize in this year's Canadian Engineering Competition. (Provided photos)
Electrical engineering student Annika Benson, left, and mechanical engineering student Kayleigh Landers took top prize in this year's Canadian Engineering Competition. (Provided photos)

Two Dal students won big at the Canadian Engineering Competition this year, taking home the first-place prize in the reengineering category for their design of an accessible campus and the repurposing of salmon cages.

Mechanical engineering student Kayleigh Landers and electrical engineering student Annika Benson competed against seven other teams in this year’s virtual competition hosted by the University of New Brunswick.

After winning at the regional level, Kayleigh and Annika advanced to the national competition where they were given their first engineering problem: design an accessible university campus. In preparation, Benson and Kayleigh did their homework ¬— not only did the pair draw on their personal experience as students, but they also reached out to various stakeholders to get a better grasp on what it means to have a truly accessible campus for all.

“We actually wanted to go out and talk to people with different needs that would be using such a space,” Annika said.

After gauging the needs of people often overlooked in the design process, the pair began to work on redesigning various parts of a university campus. Take a standard hallway, for example: is it wheelchair accessible? Can someone with a visual impairment use the space easily?

“As someone with a disability, getting that opportunity to apply engineering knowledge to something that I really care about and I think is really important to be considering more in the world of engineering was a really nice experience,” Annika said.

Understanding the life cycle of products

The annual Canadian Engineering Competition draws upon the winners of four regional competitions in several different categories like programming, engineering communications, and consulting. Kayleigh and Annika competed in the reengineering category, where competitors are given two different problems. The first one is handed out a week in advance. On the day of the competition, they are given a second problem with only eight hours to work on it.

This year they were tasked with repurposing out of use salmon cages in the Bay of Fundy for multitrophic aquaculture. Multitrophic aquaculture consists of farming different shellfish and aquatic crops in the same space. In their design, they reused all the parts of the cages to avoid waste and create an effective growing environment for the crops. Kayleigh says the problems often ask students to find new ways to utilize existing spaces or technology.

“It’s very valuable as an engineering student to have that perspective on life cycle of products,” Kayleigh said.

The competitors are scored based on their solution’s feasibility, sustainability and cost.

A bonding exercise

After participating in engineering competitions throughout their degree, Kayleigh and Annika say the experience has made them a lot closer.

“There’s a special type of bonding that comes from cramming in a design for eight hours straight,” Annika said. “I think that’s what would break most friendships.”

Not only will they take away their personal relationship from the competitions but winning at such a high-level competition also helps prove to themselves they chose the right field.

“You gain a lot of skills in these competitions and you gain a better perspective on design,” Kayleigh said. “It’s definitely very validating to come in first in an engineering competition nationally.”

“As a woman, or any kind of minority, in engineering you experience more imposter syndrome. You don’t get those same kinds of sign that you necessarily belong in the same way as people who look like all of the framed graduate portraits on the wall,” Annika said.

Diversity in design a lasting lesson

Annika is currently evaluating her job options, but hopes that whatever field she lands in, she’ll be able to incorporate the kind of accessible design she worked on in this competition.

“At the table with my parents I was like, ‘that’s it, that is what I want do with my life.’ I think it’s such a fulfilling sort of way to apply engineering skills. If I could apply my own engineering skills to broaden accessibility for other people, I think that would be such an exciting thing,” Annika said.

Kayleigh has already secured a position at a local company working on marine engineering.

“I’ll be in their innovation department, which is exciting because it’s a little bit like the thinking that is required for these competitions,” Kayleigh said.

As they complete their final year in Dal’s engineering program and enter the career field, both Annika and Kayleigh’s experiences in the competition will certainly influence their future work.

“Diversity in design is very valuable. Considering the needs of everyone is very important in design,” Kayleigh said.


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