Welcome!

I manage the University of Waterloo’s Engineering undergraduate admission process, which has become one of the most competitive in Canada.  So, I’ve created this blog to help applicants and their friends and families understand more about how the admissions process works from an insider’s perspective.  I’ll offer news and insights throughout the year as we work through the next admissions cycle.  I’ll also comment on interesting items related to engineering research, education, and teaching from time to time.  Click the “Follow” button to the right to keep up to date on admission developments and information.  Comments are welcomed, but I can’t give detailed opinions on your specific circumstances or chances; please contact the university for expert advice.
 

Engineering student design teams win $50,000 each to launch startups

(Follow the link below for a couple of interesting stories about fourth year design projects in mechanical and nanotechnology engineering.)

With a deadline approaching to commit to their fourth-year Capstone Design project, friends Phil Cooper and Michael Phillips were torn between two ideas: one of them relatively straightforward and the other extremely ambitious. They were still undecided when they went to listen to Chamath Palihapitiya, the celebrated Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Waterloo Engineering alumnus, as he urged students to set aside their fear of failure during an appearance on campus in September. That was it, the inspiration they needed to go for it instead of playing it safe.

Source: Engineering student design teams win $50,000 each to launch startups

Design Projects 2017

It’s that time of year when our graduating engineering students  present the results of their “capstone” design projects.  These are group projects, usually based on some ideas or interests of the students, and under the mentorship of faculty members.  Some are in collaboration with (or inspired by) companies, and others are ideas that may lead to start-up companies.  Quite a few of the 600+ start-ups coming from Waterloo Engineering have had a genesis in these projects.

For high school students thinking about an engineering program, it’s useful to look through these projects to see what catches their interest and to help narrow down the field.  But note how diverse the projects can be, even within one program.

A full list of projects and short descriptions is available here(note there are no biomedical engineering projects here, since no students have reached the last year yet).

Canadian Co-op Programs Blend Classroom, Work Experience | Best Global Universities | US News

A nice overview article about co-op education from U.S. News , featuring one of our Management Engineering students.  Follow the link for the full article.

Sarb Majumdar, of Singapore, is a fourth-year management engineering student at the University of Waterloo in Canada. But if you go to Waterloo and search for him right now, you won’t find him.

He’s in Toronto this term, working full time as a software developer.

Source: Canadian Co-op Programs Blend Classroom, Work Experience | Best Global Universities | US News

Chatting about Engineering

One of our most valuable resources for finding out about an engineering education and co-op work experiences is our students.  We have quite a few volunteer Engineering Ambassadors who attend open houses, do tours and the Shadow Program, and are generally enthusiastic about sharing their experiences at Waterloo, both good and bad.

Our annual March Break Open House (March 18, 2017) is one opportunity to meet them, but there are lots of applicants who can’t attend for scheduling reasons or due to long distances.  So new this year, the Ambassadors have launched EngChat, where you can sign up to meet online (Skype) and have a discussion about Waterloo with a current student.  I’m looking forward to hearing how this goes, but it seems like a good and valuable resource for applicants (and perhaps their parents too).

For those who can’t visit campus, another useful resource is the Engineering Virtual tour below.  It gives a nice overview of various places on campus (although I note  that it doesn’t show any scenes from winter, which is a pretty time of year in its own way!).

 

Amazon partners with Waterloo to support AI research | Waterloo Stories

A link below to an interesting development, where Amazon is providing Waterloo Engineering and 3 other U.S. universities with support and Alexa-enabled devices  for use in teaching, research and student design projects. 

Photo: cofoistome/iStock/Thinkstock

Recent advances in the fields of human-machine interaction and artificial intelligence (AI) have been so swift that even experts like Fakhri Karray shake their heads in amazement.

Source: Amazon partners with Waterloo to support AI research | Waterloo Stories

News About Admissions

A brief update on what’s happening in the 2017 engineering admissions cycle.

  • Recently we sent out some offers to Ontario high school (OUAC Form 101) applicants.  As usual, we only sent enough to fill about 25% of the available spaces in each program, so we leave lots for the major round in early May.  Generally these offers go to top-ranked applicants with strong grades across the board, a submitted AIF, and 3 Grade 12 required courses completed.
  • Plans are in motion for our annual March Break Open House on March 18.  A visit to Waterloo is highly recommended for those within travel distance, especially if you’ve never been here before.  It’s a great chance to meet and talk with current students about their class and co-op experiences.
  • We’re working away on the non-Ontario (OUAC Form 105) applicant files, which is a complicated and manual process.  Tentatively, we hope to send out some offers to this group in early April.
  • We continue to review Admission Information Forms (AIFs).  Applicants should make sure they pressed “Submit” and not just “Save”, otherwise we don’t consider it and an offer is very unlikely.
  • We’re also working away on reviewing the submitted optional interviews.  It’s too early to conclude anything, but they seem to be going well.
  • Our big push for offers comes in early May, and then all the admitted applicants have until early June to make their final decision.  We will start compiling a wait list for any spaces that might open up in June.

Research on Infection Control

A tragic statistic tells us that of all the people admitted to hospitals for various reasons, about 10% will get sick from an infection picked up in the hospital, something called a Healthcare Acquired Infection (HAI) or nosocomial infection.  Of these, about 5% will die from it, which corresponds to about 10,000 Canadian deaths per year.  The additional costs of treating these infections add up to between $4 and $5 billion in Canada.  The consequences are proportionately similar in other regions such as the U.S. and Europe.  The increases in antibiotic resistance in bacteria are adding to the problem.

Hospital infection control has traditionally focused on hand-washing, isolation, and cleaning and disinfection protocols to minimize the spread of “germs”.  However, there is a limit to how far these can go, since they rely on consistent human behaviour, which is naturally inconsistent.  Therefore in recent years there has been more focus on “engineered” approaches to infection control.  To this end, my research group and I have been working with the Coalition for Healthcare Acquired Infection Reduction (CHAIR) to help develop and test materials, processes and devices that may help in the fight against HAIs.

One project we finished tested the effects of an automated ultraviolet light (UV) disinfection device placed in patients’ bathrooms to control the background bacterial contamination between uses.  The paper can be read on this website.  The data indicated that it was possible to dramatically lower bacterial contamination levels with this device, which was nice to see.

In other work, we’ve been collaborating with Aereus Technologies to develop new antimicrobial materials and coatings for use on hospital “high-touch” surfaces and equipment.  This doesn’t eliminate the need for surface cleaning and disinfection, but it helps to kill the germs that land there between cleanings and thus reduce the chance for spread of infections.

In other more basic research, we’ve been collaborating with various other professors here at Waterloo to identify novel antimicrobial materials or detection methods for contaminants.  For example, with Prof. Michael Tam’s group we’ve published a couple of studies on antibacterial cellulose materials (abstracts are available here and here).  We recently published another paper on detection of bacterial contamination in water using an interesting combination of enzymology and nanotechnology.

If you’re wondering what this has to do with Chemical Engineering, well basically this is chemical engineering.  Working with production and characterization of materials, interactions of materials, life science and biochemistry…those are all part of chemical engineering education and possible career paths.

Hopefully over the next few years this HAI problem will begin to see some progress and we can continue to contribute to the solutions.

Microscholarships

In 2016 the Faculties of Engineering and Mathematics joined a “microscholarships” platform in the U.S., launched by Raise.me in San Francisco.  A microscholarship is a small award for some achievement, for example $10 for getting an “A” in a course.  If a student with a bunch of achievements applies, is accepted, and attends the college offering the microscholarships, then they receive that award (or more, depending on other scholarships, etc.).  The Raise.me online platform provides a way for high school students to document their activities and achievements, and to search for colleges that might be a good fit.  It’s a social innovation that is meant to encourage students to think about post-secondary education and to see what various colleges offer and value in their applicants.

At this time it’s only available to US high school students, and we have a sign up page available where those students can see more about Waterloo.  Eventually Raise.me hopes to roll it out to Canada and other countries.  For us, it’s an interesting outreach tool and we already have several thousand “followers” on the platform.  We will continue to experiment with it and see what role it can play in matching us with good students.

An Amazing Statscan Skills Study | HESA

Source: An Amazing Statscan Skills Study | HESA

An interesting post from our friends at Higher Education Strategy Associates, summarizing a Statistics Canada study on employment skills requirements.  A couple of graphs are reproduced below,  and follow the link above for more details, but here’s a quick take-away from my perspective.

  • Different job categories require different levels of reading comprehension and writing skills.
  • Architecture, engineering and related occupations require the highest levels of reading comprehension and writing skills (the red striped bars in the graphs below).
  • That’s why in engineering admissions and education we’re interested and concerned about reading, writing and communications skills.  There is still lots of room for improvement in our curricula, but it’s an ongoing effort.
  • Not surprisingly, architecture and engineering also require the highest levels of complex problem solving skills.

University of Waterloo | IDEAS Summer Experience

(The following is a brief description and link to a nice summer enrichment program, for students from outside Canada finishing Grade 10 and 11, or equivalent.  It combines the elements that we strive for in Engineering education, namely hands-on experience, interdisciplinary thinking, and creativity/innovation.  For more information or to consider participating see the link below.  Prof. Bill Anderson)

IDEAS: A summer enrichment program for international high school students Poverty. Global warming. The digital divide. It takes big ideas to solve problems like these. Join high school students from around the world at IDEAS Summer Experience, and use your big ideas to try to solve some of society’s most serious challenges.

IDEAS is a 2-week summer enrichment program at the University of Waterloo, ranked as Canada’s most innovative university for the past 25 years.

With help from our award-winning professors and IDEAS mentors, you’ll learn to look at global problems in new ways, use hands-on activities to develop your research and communication skills, apply problem-solving techniques from the fields of engineering, health sciences, the humanities, and more. You may not solve the world’s problems in 2 weeks. But you will learn valuable skills, experience what it’s like to study and live at one of Canada’s top universities, and make friends from other countries.

Source: University of Waterloo | IDEAS Summer Experience