Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence, or AI, seems to be the popular topic in media these days, and I have had a number of questions about it from prospective students and families over the past year.  The short answer is yes, we do have AI in our Engineering programs.  In fact, we have an “Option in Artificial Intelligence”  available for students in any engineering program.  This is essentially like a “Minor” in the topic, a package of courses related to the field (at Waterloo our terminology is a bit different, so we don’t call it a “minor”).  If you complete the package of courses, you’ll have the designation on your transcript and diploma when you graduate.

Although AI seems new and exciting, the roots and development are actually fairly old, having a basis in  ancient philosophy and mathematics.  Even the more modern versions and applications of AI go back over 50 years to the initial developments in  computational machines.  One misunderstanding is that AI is all about programming, but it is actually highly mathematical at its core.  Programming is just a tool for implementing the math and various algorithms.

Some people may be surprised to know that the mathematical tools and foundations for AI are not even limited to computer science or computer engineering.  My colleagues in Chemical Engineering have been using them for decades for various purposes, and here are a few quick examples with links for further information.

Optimization methods are often a part of chemical plant design, scheduling, cost minimization, and various other things like this example on planning electricity generation.  The control of complex chemical plant processes has been researched using artificial neural networks, like this simpler example of crude oil desaltingBayesian inference methods are employed for dealing with the significant uncertainties in chemical processes, even by me many years agoKalman filter techniques are used to help us handle the noisy data coming from chemical processes, including this example from biotechnology.  And there are lots of other examples, just in Chemical Engineering alone, not even looking at Civil, Mechanical and others (where I know they also use these advanced mathematical techniques).

Just another example of how broad and diverse the engineering fields are, and how concepts and tools are spread and shared across all these disciplines.

Applying Strategically

Our applications continue to flow in at this time of year.  I haven’t seen any detailed information yet, but there are indications that our applicant numbers from outside Ontario are up significantly.  We’ll probably know more in a few weeks, but it seems likely that this year certainly won’t be any less competitive than last.  With competition for limited spaces, it pays to be strategic about your applications. Continue reading

Architectural Engineering is Here!!

The University of Waterloo recently approved the launch of a new program in Architectural Engineering for September 2018 (subject to approval by the Ontario Quality Council).  We will be looking to take in about 85 students in the fall, and we’re rapidly gearing up space and teaching resources.  The official announcement is here, and applications are now open!  Here are a few key points about the program and admissions for this coming Fall. Continue reading

All Offers are Final

One of our messages this year is to encourage engineering applicants to do their “homework” before applying, because we have no general first year.  This means carefully reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses, interests, aptitudes, career goals, etc.   Then carefully examining our different programs, courses, typical career paths, co-op job examples, etc., and selecting the program which seems to be the right fit.  Quite possibly, engineering is not the right fit and you should consider something else.  In general, people who put some effort into this process will end up in the right program and do well.  Why is this so important? Continue reading

Common American Questions

After attending some U.S. STEM college fairs and talking to lots of students and families, I’ve noticed that there are some common themes and questions that come up.  For all those who we weren’t able to meet, maybe it’s worthwhile summarising them here with our responses (as usual, these are specific to engineering, and it’s not just Americans that ask these questions). Continue reading

Chances for 2018

To start the new academic year and next admission cycle, the 2018 Admissions brochures for Engineering and other programs have recently been uploaded on the Waterloo website.  We continue to include a table showing admission probabilities (“chances”) for different programs and grade ranges (at the end of the brochure, and another online version is available here).  Many people find it useful for assessing  their chances at admission, and  then they can plan accordingly and have realistic expectations.   This is based on the 2017 results and as usual we caution that 2018 may be different, since it all depends on the number of applicants (which is unknown in advance and can fluctuate).

For convenience and readability in a table, we lump the grades into ranges.  Some people find the big jumps in probability between the different grade ranges to be difficult to understand or interpret, so I have been generating graphs that provide interpolations between the various grades in finer detail (see the end of the post for methodology, if interested).  As usual, the grades shown below are the raw, unadjusted averages of the Grade 12 required courses (or equivalents), not including any other factors such as scores for extracurriculars, work experience, or awards. Continue reading

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!).

 

Chances for 2017

The 2017 Admissions brochures for Engineering and other programs have recently been uploaded.  We have continued to include a table showing admission probabilities (“chances”) for different programs and grade ranges.  Many people find it useful for getting a realistic impression of their chances at admission, and  then they can plan accordingly.   The online version of this table can be found here.  This is based on the 2016 results and as usual we caution that 2017 may be different, since it all depends on the competition level (which is unknown in advance).

One difference this year:  I’m going to break the chances data up into two categories, “Visa” (or study permit) applicants, and “Canadians and Permanent Residents” applicants.  The tables mentioned above lump everyone together, but looking back at  the last year or two it seems like it may be too pessimistic for Canadians and overly-optimistic for Visa applicants, as we’ll see below. Continue reading

Summer Preparations

For the new students joining us in September, it may be tempting to think ahead to a relaxing summer vacation before starting university.  Perhaps, but there are some things that you could or should consider doing.  They will make your life much easier in those first few months of university as you adjust to the new pace and demands of a co-op program.  So, here’s my list of recommended summer activities that will have you ahead of the crowd when starting university: Continue reading