2022 William Muir Edwards Citizenship Award: Eric Kwas, Mechanical / Biomedical Engineering

“Helping others is what gives life meaning, and achieving that through my profession will be my life’s great work.” — Eric Kwas

Donna McKinnon - 21 November 2022

Eric Kwas is passionate about making medicine more accessible and socially conscious, and he believes that the Biomedical (Mechanical) Engineering specialization program, where he is currently a fourth year student, is an ideal path to this goal. It’s a passion informed by his personal experiences as the younger brother of an individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

“I have been heavily involved in the ASD community my whole life, and I would love to research movement disorders related to autism,” says Eric. “For the issues that already have scientific solutions, I want to develop affordable technologies based on that research and affect real progress.”

Eric takes a somewhat unorthodox approach to his studies which is intentionally interdisciplinary, with courses in sociology, psychology and French augmenting his biomechanics program.

This thirst for knowledge extends beyond the classroom to an impressive array of community-based volunteer activities. Special Olympics Edmonton is a particular focus and over the last four years, he has served as a coach for Track and Field and the Walking Club. He also sits on the Provincial Board of Directors as Youth Representative.  

“I could never understand how he divided his time between so many clubs and activities [including the University of Alberta Mixed Chorus, where he also serves as vice-president, and the Biomedical Engineering Club],” says Cole Hoff, a friend and classmate. “But Eric has always told me he would never give up his individuality for a GPA. By surviving engineering with such a workload while also making it into biomedical engineering, he has shown his passion and dedication for the subject matter.”

As for coaching athletes with the Special Olympics, Eric says it’s not just about running fast. 

“Coaching has opened my eyes to the whole autism community, helping me realize they are not just “people like my brother” but individuals with rich, vibrant personalities,” he explains. “The general society does not see this, and I want to change that. Since many of my athletes have ASD, and are therefore especially prone to depression, isolation, sedentarism and unhealthy eating habits, my primary goal for them is healthy living. I try to facilitate discussion, friendliness and team spirit as opposed to pure competition.”

Lenny Andrichuk, who has also volunteered with the Special Olympics in a variety of roles, sees similarities between William Muir Edwards and Eric, particularly in terms of their shared dedication to the community. 

“The maturity he displays with his older brother is beyond anything I’ve witnessed over the last 22 years volunteering with people who have intellectual disabilities,” says Andrichuk. “It’s interesting how, when he first started, I considered myself a mentor to Eric. Well, this mentor has learned as much as he’s taught over the last five years.”

Named in honour of the Faculty of Engineering’s founding professor, the William Muir Edwards Citizenship Award recognizes Engineering at Alberta undergraduate students who have made exceptional contributions to society. It’s a celebration of citizenship and of engineering students who go to extraordinary lengths to make our world a better place. Special thanks to the David Morris Family Foundation for supporting our students and making the William Muir Edwards Citizenship Awards possible. 

Do you know an undergraduate student whose volunteerism, contributions, and efforts, both on-campus and off-campus, work to make the world a better place? Learn more about the nomination process here