Building a future in engineering

Two high school seniors dabble in modern masonry and discover what it takes to be an engineer.

Kyla Stocks - 05 September 2018

(Edmonton) Elizabeth Evans and Laura Morin didn't expect to spend their summer working in modern masonry.

For six weeks, the two high-school seniors were placed with Carlos Cruz Noguez, a seismic/earthquake engineer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, participating in the Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST) summer research program.

They ended up working with one of the grad students on their project developing a new type of wall that, if successful, can be built taller, thinner and stronger than current models.

"We worked on determining what kind of resistance the ground provides for masonry walls which are under lateral loads, caused by stuff like earthquake," said Elizabeth. "With that information, you could have the potential to make the walls still safe, but have them thinner-it would make it more economical."

The two students were placed with Cruz Noguez based on the interests they indicated in their applications. They didn't get to choose the discipline of science or the project they worked on.

"I told them just focus just on what we do, the science and the way we think, and how careful a scientist needs to be, how they think about and fix problems," said Cruz Noguez. "Apply that to your project, which you may not find the topic interesting but focus on the scientific way of thinking."

Engineering runs in Elizabeth's family-her father and brother are both civil engineers. However, not all young women have the opportunity to learn from a family member.

"I think that women going into STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields is something that needs to be pushed more," said Laura. "I come from a huge family with very little variety in careers. A lot of my younger cousins' career aspirations aren't STEM-related at all, despite their interests in math and science."

Before joining the WISEST program, Laura had a basic idea of what engineering was but didn't really grasp the diversity of areas engineers work in.

"I'm learning about all the different disciplines-this is probably the most important part for me," she said. "Because before coming here, I knew the concept of engineering, and I knew what some of the careers may involve, but I didn't know that it could involve so much."

"My students are the ones leading the lives of scientists," said Cruz Noguez. "In our field, if we are manufacturing blocks in the lab, they are getting dirty making concrete blocks. But they also get to work with computer models and state-of-the-art imaging software. Even though its construction, there is also quite a bit of science to it."

In the end, Elizabeth and Laura did end up liking their projects-and their time with the Faculty of Engineering-very much.

Cruz Noguez said: "I wanted them to have the full experience being part of a research project and present and become budding researchers and scientists."