Leading the way to a radical new kind of engineering education

A partnership based on shared values will help develop a new brand of community-minded engineers.

Richard Cairney - 29 October 2019

(Edmonton) The next generation of innovators, inventors and creators studying Engineering at the University of Alberta will approach society's challenges as socially engaged and emotionally intelligent engineers supported with their rigourous technical education.

To have the greatest impact, engineers need to design and build solutions with a moral sense of service helping to improve the well-being of communities. A new community engineering program being developed by Engineering at Alberta is moving this idea forward.

This transformative program will immerse engineering students into local, Indigenous or northern Albertan communities where they can join community members, industry and stakeholders to identify opportunities and co-create and innovate with the community.

Syncrude shares this vision and is providing advisory expertise and financial support.

"We went to Syncrude with a dream of creating real opportunities for our students to solve some of the serious issues affecting Albertans. These could be a lack of clean water, food scarcity or the need for more affordable housing or community spaces," said Dean of Engineering Fraser Forbes.

"Syncrude enthusiastically supports our dream and shares our belief that to really understand what a community needs, we need to meaningfully connect to and collaborate with the people in these communities. The work our students do will make a real difference," Forbes added.

Associate Dean (Outreach) Ania Ulrich, who will oversee the project says it is "the future of engineering education."

"This is about connecting with people," Ulrich said. "It will get our students out of the classroom to co-create with community members. They'll see if their ideas work in the social context of the environment they're in. They'll learn to truly connect with and see others, and discover who they are and what they're capable of achieving together.

The university and Engineering in particular "know all about nurturing potential," said Syncrude Managing Director Doreen Cole.

"We know the technical and professional abilities of (engineering) grads are top notch, but what else can we do to ensure they are as well-rounded as they can be? What can we do to enhance their education so they understand the importance of not just the degree itself but the good their jobs and skills can create for people and places in society?"

The key, she said, lies in "meaningful social engagement between students and the communities they will eventually serve through their professional work."

Syncrude is supporting the program with a financial contribution of $300,000.

The outcome of the program will be new generations of engineers whose education includes engagement and meaningful community relationships, and whose interests match those of the community they serve.

"Our students will have the opportunity to learn from community members and use their new knowledge to develop into Whole Engineers," said Forbes. "They'll be better able to pursue answers and solve problems, while also bringing real, positive benefits to communities in need of solutions."