Letter to the editor

Engineering Professor David Strong responds to call for increased design focus in Applied Science curriculum

Queen's Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science has undergone significant changes since the mid-1990s to increase focus on design and integrated learning, David Strong says.
Queen's Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science has undergone significant changes since the mid-1990s to increase focus on design and integrated learning, David Strong says.
Photo: 

Re: “Re-engineering Queen’s” (Oct. 28, 2011).

Dear Editors,

The “Re-engineering Queen’s” article published in the Journal on Friday, Oct. 28 offers the author’s opinion, but presents no evidence to support his claims. In fact, had Mr. Wesley-James done his research, he would know that Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science (FEAS) is leading the way amongst Canadian engineering institutions in terms of evolving engineering education, including design and other skills for professional practice.

The photograph of the Integrated Learning Centre (ILC), Beamish-Munro Hall, embedded in the article, presents an ironic twist to the author’s theme. The ILC, a world-renowned facility built to support the philosophy of Integrated Learning, was in fact a direct result of the efforts of a dedicated team of engineering faculty, administration, and external volunteers and advisors, that began in the mid 1990s.

Supporting design and interactive teaching were key objectives of this facility: there are no traditional lecture theatres but rather flexible and novel learning spaces to encourage active learning and design practice; there is a Design Studio which was laid out to simulate professional design space, including powerful workstations loaded with a wide range of engineering software; across the hall is a Prototyping Centre with conventional machining equipment and state of the art rapid prototyping machines, in addition to extensive table space and tools specifically intended for “hands-on” student use to build their designs; throughout the ILC are forty-two group rooms dedicated to, and bookable only by, undergraduate Engineering students from all years of Engineering to encourage team-based working sessions; and of course, as the author noted, extensive extra-curricular team design spaces with adjoining offices, also in support of student design activities.

The first year of the Queen’s Engineering program has, since the mid 1990s, included the unique, award-winning course APSC 100 “Practical Engineering Modules,” with a full term team-based design project. Design has been embedded in many courses through the middle years of the various engineering programs, but for those students who seek a more intensive design program, the elective “Multidisciplinary Design Stream,” consisting of APSC 381 “Fundamentals of Design Engineering” and APSC 480 “Multidisciplinary Design Project,” has been offered since 2005. Since its inception, many Engineering departments have allowed students to substitute APSC 480 in place of their departmental “final year project” in order to allow students to experience a full-year multidisciplinary industry-based design project.

In the spirit of continuous improvement, at a FEAS faculty-wide retreat on the topic of curriculum development in the summer of 2009, the first of six “guiding principles” established was to provide at least one course in Design and Professional Practice in every year of every engineering program.

A faculty-wide curriculum steering committee, as well as multiple topic-based sub-committees, were struck immediately following that retreat, and they are delivering on schedule. In 2010-11, the first year APSC 100 course was re-structured to include more design and profession practice skills, and in turn aptly re-named “Engineering Design and Professional Practice 1.”

In September of this year, with tremendous team effort, the second faculty-wide course in that series, APSC 200/293 “Engineering Design and Professional Practice 2” was rolled out. Created from the ground up and based on definitive learning objectives and Canadian Engineering Accredidation Board (CEAB) graduate attributes, this second year offering incorporates a unique faculty-departmental hybrid course delivery with a total of three design projects and extensive active learning workshops in design process, communication and professional skills.

The committees are continuing to work toward the third and fourth years of this “spine” of courses.

There is further evidence that Queen’s is serious about excellence in engineering education. Since 2003, the FEAS has invested significant funding and resources to support the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Chair in Design Engineering and the DuPont Chair in Engineering Education. With funding provided through these Chairs, Queen’s was the first in Canada to support graduate research in engineering education within the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, graduating the first Master’s student in 2007, and another five students to date.

Queen’s is also taking the lead in responding to the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board’s new “graduate attributes” accreditation criteria, and is one of the only engineering schools in the country to have a full time Director of Program Development. To facilitate the future of engineering education, the FEAS has been working tirelessly towards the construction of a new engineering building that will be known as the Centre for Innovation and Global Engineering, designed to support collaborative and innovative research, design, and teaching practice.

There are many all-encompassing statements made by Mr. Wesley-James, most without evidence or personal professional engineering experience to support the claims, and while the “Dialogue” section of the Journal may be an opportunity for an author to present personal views, it is truly unfortunate that a full page entry was not fact-checked for accuracy. A quick look at the “FEAS Strategic Framework 2012” on the Queen’s website would have been enough to point out many of the inaccuracies.

Regardless of this period of very tight budgets, the reality is that Queen’s FEAS has been and continues to be one of the leaders in the evolution of engineering education in Canada. For well over a decade there has been steady progression towards an optimized educational opportunity for all of our Engineering students that balances the mathematics and engineering science fundamentals for which Queen’s is widely recognized, with creative design skills for innovation, and the professional practice elements of communication, regulatory compliance, and societal responsibility.

There is no need to begin “re-engineering” at Queen’s. It has been ongoing for many years.

David S. Strong,
P. Eng Professor and NSERC Chair in Design
Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.