Engineering today looks drastically different from engineering 100 years ago. In the past, designs were focused on safety, economic development, and durability. While these issues still remain important, advancements in technology and research have opened our eyes to issues that extend well beyond the strength of the physical structure.
It is this shift in thinking that U1 student Mark Chelala, McGill Engineers Without Borders executive member and U2 student Paul Takayesu, McGill Global Engineering Venture lead hope to address in Global Engineering (GE) Week—an event coordinated as part of National Engineering Month, which focuses on educating and exposing engineers to issues outside of the classroom.
“As we learn more about our world, the problems go far beyond what they used to, and our thinking when we design in engineering has to do the same,” said Takayesu.
“Global engineering tries to expose and educate engineers about problems and issues they will have to face that are not necessarily technical and related to things like cost efficiency, but more about society and ethics and sustainability and social responsibility—all of these main issues we do not hear a lot about,” added Chelala.
The event ranges from speaker luncheons to workshops on systems thinking and sustainability, topped off with a debate competition focusing on communications in engineering.
“I am really excited about the student engagement events we will be having,” said Chelala. “We are pushing hard to have students participate actively in those.”
According to Takayesu, while these topics are brought up in class, current engineering curricula at McGill does not have the space within which to encourage conversation and discussion surrounding issues like gender equality, ethics, and sustainability.
“I don’t think we are filling a hole in the curriculum,” Takeyesu said. “I think we are supplementing and allowing students who are interested in these topics to expand on what they learn in class and really to build on that.”
One of the more salient features of GE Week is the diversity of speakers that will be attending.
“The speakers that come to the McGill Engineering Student Centres usually talk about companies but these people are coming about different issues,” said Julia Wai, VP Communications at McGill Engineers Without Borders. “It’s not something that these students hear on a regular basis, or [often] experience.”
Although the events are geared towards engineering topics, Chelala stresses that the talks are not highly technical and definitely accessible to students in other programs. He acknowledges that these issues are critical in all fields of discipline, and hopes other students will consider listening and participating in discussion on these topics.
“I think I would want to come to [GE Week] to meet people who are on the same wavelength as me,” Wai explained. “Everyone coordinating the event shares this passion of non-technical issues that are associated with engineering, and there are definitely other people out there who are maybe thinking the same thing.”
As a part of National Engineering Month, GE Week is contributing to an effort to push engineers’ perceptions as to the breadth of possibilities that their degree entails.
“I think engineers have a tremendous potential to really shape the future and what our world looks like in 100 years,” said Takayesu. “I don’t think everyone realizes how much you can do with a degree in engineering—the skills you can get out of it, for instance [….] Engineering is something bigger [than what we learn in class] and I am not getting enough out of it. I think this is something that people can benefit from in the future.”
GE Week runs from March 17 to 20. For more information on the events and to register, check out the full calendar: tinyurl.com/ge-week-mcgill