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.

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.


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

Which Program is the Best?

I sometimes get asked which engineering program to pick for the best future career prospects.  I generally won’t answer that because its not the greatest way of selecting a program, and ignores individual aptitude and interest.  Being stuck in a career you don’t like is a likely outcome of that approach.

However there are some technical and societal trends that might be worthwhile thinking about for long-term opportunities and challenges.  And there are some programs that lend themselves to those trends, as I’ll point out.  If these areas are of interest, maybe one or more of the programs I mention are worth a look if you hadn’t thought of them before.  Many of these trends are related to climate change, which is a research and teaching interest of mine.  So here they are, in no particular order.

Continue reading

Waterloo researchers help launch autonomous car

(interesting story about a hot topic)  Source: Friday, January 6, 2017 | Daily Bulletin

A research team at the University of Waterloo played a key role in the development of a highly autonomous vehicle that Renesas Electronics America unveiled this week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Using sensors and powerful computers, the car is capable of detecting and responding to other vehicles, stop signs and traffic lights to provide a safer driving experience. For example, vehicle-to-infrastructure communications allow the vehicle to detect in advance when a traffic light will change. Continue reading

Alternate Program Selections

Our Engineering programs are “direct entry” (no general first year), so you apply through OUAC to the one of most interest.  Our internal online Admission Information Form (AIF) provides a space to select an alternative choice in engineering, without having to spend more money through OUAC.  Starting with the 2017 cycle there have been a few changes, so it’s probably a good idea to review some ideas and considerations. Continue reading

Submitting Your Admission Information Form 2017

Updated version of a past post for the 2017 admission cycle, as there have been a few small changes.

The Admission Information Form, or AIF, is the primary vehicle for applicants to tell us about themselves.  Our admission decisions are mainly based on grades, but the AIF information can help us distinguish between people who have similar grades, and we award up to 5  points onto the admission average for outstanding applicants.  Let’s go through the various parts of the AIF and see what is involved. Continue reading