November 2007 Issue

student column

Tough, Interesting Workload Greets Students

Every summer, high school girls — and a boy or two — join actual research teams at the University of Alberta. The group that places them there is working on a number of fronts to even the distribution of the sexes
in science, engineering, scholarship and technology

University of Calgary
Student Columnist

Editor’s Note: This is our first submission from Melissa Tierney, a first-year engineering student at the Schulich School of Engineering and a new student columnist for The PEGG. She hopes to do her master’s in biomedical engineering and eventually pursue a career in brain research.

Going back to school is always tough, but it seems even tougher for first-year engineering students. Not only are most of them taking 11 classes instead of the standard 10, but almost all engineering classes involve lectures, labs and tutorials, giving first-years almost 30 hours a week of classes alone.

And this doesn’t count the hours of study needed after class to achieve good grades.


Frosh Week activities, such as the keg olympics above, demonstsrate that engineering students have all the fun. But the other side to that equation is the hard work an engineering course load requires, first-years are finding out at the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary.

Yet engineering students have a reputation for being the craziest, most fun-loving bunch on campus, and the Schulich School of Engineering’s first-years seem to be fitting right in. How? By taking useful, innovative classes and, of course, by attending all of the exceptional events hosted by the engineering students themselves.

Engineering students at the University of Calgary don’t declare their major until their second year of study, so all the first-years take the same general courses to prepare for any of the five traditional disciplines, as well as for three specialization programs.

First semester for most students is fairly generic: classes in chemistry, vector physics, calculus and linear algebra, plus an option from another faculty. For the general student population, these classes may not be overly enthralling. A break from the technical math and physics comes in the form of the Schulich school’s newest and most innovative class, design and communication.

Design and communication provides an entirely different take on the world of teaching. During the first lecture, students were introduced to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognition, which identifies the six main levels of thinking and the ways in which they are applied to education.

Level Headedness
The lower three levels, students were told, represent thought patterns ingrained in their minds since preschool: remembering, understanding and applying key concepts. These levels involve memorization and interpretation, which are the types of skills needed to do well in most traditional educational settings.

However, engineers are not paid to simply memorize facts and interpret formulas. Engineers create. This idea is the basis behind design and communication, which intends to bring first-year students to the higher levels of cognition: analyzing, evaluating and creating. This goal will be achieved through a variety of means, creating a dynamic, interesting and useful course.

The first project familiarizes the students with a variety of materials. The task is to take apart and study a household object, such as a broken Walkman or remote control. Through both testing and external research, students learned all about the materials, including properties, manufacturing and associated costs.

As students begin to reach the higher levels of thinking, more complicated projects are introduced. The second project is helping redesign a solar-powered home, which will compete in the 2009 Solar Decathlon competition. Understandably, this is something first-years find very exciting.

“It’s cool to see that our work is actually useful, even in first year. I expected that no one would value our opinions, but our designs are going to be used in the competition,” says Neven Dimic. His sentiments seem to be on the lips of all the first-years, making design and communication a very worthwhile class amidst a technically dominant schedule.

The final project involves working with NASA to create a space elevator. Watch for more details in the coming months on this one, which promises to be fascinating.

Play Time
Of course, hard work warrants even harder play, which is why the engineering faculty is known as the most spirited on campus. As one health science major aptly claimed, “They just go nuts!”

The second week of classes this year was Frosh Week, a chance for older students to show the younger ones what it’s like to be a part of the engineering faculty. After opening ceremonies, Adopt-A-Frosh allowed older students to mentor their temporary charges, giving them tips about classes and professors, and even handing over old lab books and exams.

Following events ranged from chariot races and debating to the keg olympics. While not all first-years attended, one who did claimed that it was “the best time of my life,” and the events seemed to raise the spirits and ambitions of everyone in attendance.

Upcoming events within the engineering faculty are numerous. One long-time favourite is the Pi-Throw. Pies are purchased for $5, and unless recipients pay $5 to redirect their pie or $10 to eat it, they take it in the face. In the past, Pi-Throw has raised over $5,000 for various charities.

The date for this year’s Pi-Throw was not available at press time.  In the coming months, watch for details and updates on it and many other exciting engineering events.