xChange 2017: Evolving the Engineering Profession for the 21st Century



This is only one of the analogies people are using to explain how engineering is changing. Other analogies use the Matrix as a comparison.

It’s no surprise delegates are finding new ways to describe their chosen profession.

For the past 17 years, Engineers Without Borders has been pushing the envelope of what it means to be an engineer. From engaging with political figures, university students, and African entrepreneurs to advocating for changes in policy to eradicate poverty, EWBers are expanding the engineer’s skill set. Lately, the conversation has spread into industry and academia alike.

For Dr. André McDonald, Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta, a lot has changed since he began his career as a mechanical engineer in 1997. There has been huge strides in technology and the Internet has undoubtedly changed the field as much as it has affected the rest of the world. It has opened the doors for collaboration between engineers, sociologists, business experts, and more. “It’s about getting the human element into engineering,” he says. “It also ties into people’s desire to start looking at issues like climate change, but also around diversity and inclusion.” For his part, Dr. McDonald is making a mark on students emerging from traditional engineering programs by creating and offering a minor in business, a patent law certificate program, and — hopefully in the future — a renewable energy training program that focuses on the cutting-edge of environmental technology.

“Most importantly, to help my students learn, I have to keep learning,” he says. “That’s why I’m here today.”

Dr. Franz Newland, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering at York University, agrees that the ability to learn is at the heart of evolving engineering. “My role isn’t to pass on information. If I only teach what I know, we’d be stagnant,” he says. “My job is to teach how to learn.”

Dr. Newland has also been instrumental in the Engineering Change Lab, established in January 2015. The Engineering Change Lab is identifying the current issues the engineering professions faces and addressing those challenges, including diversity, inclusion, and education. “We need to ask ourselves, ‘What need does engineering fulfill?’” says Dr. Newland. “What direction do we want to go in and what can we personally do to get there. The individual has immense power to drive change.”

“What I’d like to see in the future is to re-engage. I think it’s really important for engineers to be at the table and become problem-finders not just problem-solvers.”

Fourth-year engineering student at Ryerson University, Himel Khandker, sees the Engineering Change Lab as critical to his future career. He describes all the different aspects and priorities of the evolving profession as metal shavings, and the Change Lab is the magnet that will help all the shavings align. “Engineers have a role to play in the relationship between technology in society, and the Change Lab is about finding that common ground.” As he prepares to enter the workforce, Himel hopes that the Engineering Change Lab will succeed in its mandate. He’d like to see the innovative spirit that drives technological advancements reflected in his fellow engineers and in how they approach their careers.

Molly McGrail, first-year engineering student at the University of Toronto is also just getting started but she has high hopes. “I think we need to be trained to think more critically about the impact of our designs,” she says. “But overall, I think it’s a wonderful profession capable of constant change and growth. I’m very excited about being a part of it.

These conversations are picking up momentum, and if the energy at xChange 2017 is any indication, the future of engineering is in good hands.

Keep checking ewb.ca for more stories from xChange 2017!  

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