USask Engineering Program/Co-op Program
When the University of Saskatchewan (USask) College of Engineering began redesigning its first-year engineering program, everything was on the table. The goal? Create the most effective first-year program in Canada. Dubbed “RE-ENGINEERED,” the program will see its first students in fall 2021.
Why is USask changing how it teaches first-year engineering?
Today’s engineering grads need a more robust and diverse skillset than ever before. But for the most part, engineering education hasn’t fundamentally changed in 100 years or longer, says Associate Professor Sean Maw, P.Eng., one of the leaders of the team transforming USask Engineering’s first-year program.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What if we started from a blank piece of paper? How would we do it?’ ” says Maw, the Jerry G. Huff Chair in Innovative Teaching and a faculty member of the Graham School of Professional Development in the USask College of Engineering. Along with looking at curriculum, the team focused on better supporting students’ mental and physical health, while keeping them excited about engineering and giving them a solid foundation for their upper-years courses.
As they built the program, designers were informed by extensive consultation with faculty and students, as well as research on effective instruction, principles for teaching and learning in higher education and practices that support student success. The RE-ENGINEERED curriculum was made possible by Ron and Jane Graham, whose generous donation allowed the hiring of a new team of engineering education specialists to develop the curriculum. As the program is implemented, many alumni continue to support equipment and software costs through gifts to the Engineering Advancement Trust. How will first-year be structured in RE-ENGINEERED
? Instead of having five or six courses running the length of the semester, RE-ENGINEERED classes will vary in length and intensity, with material sequenced so students will learn knowledge in a course and immediately apply it in another. “Think of TV shows that have crossovers. It’s going to be like that with the courses,” says Maw.
“We will also be pacing things better,” he adds, noting that the team of first-year instructors will communicate regularly and coordinate assessments so students won’t be overloaded one week and have nothing due the next.
In another significant change, first-year students will have a consistent schedule with a common lunch hour so it’s easier for them to schedule community-building extra-curriculars and social events, or simply fit in a workout.
“This predictability is good for mature students, people who are working in the evening and for those who have a family,” explains Maw.
Are the courses changing in RE-ENGINEERED?
The first difference is the addition of online Summer Top Up courses, so students can identify and address gaps from their high school classes – including chemistry, math and physics – before starting first-year. In fact, the college rolled out Summer Top Ups this August, a year earlier than planned, because in-person learning ended so abruptly for Grade 12 students.
Thanks to inclusion of shorter courses in RE-ENGINEERED, a broader range of material will be covered – making students more employable after their first year. For example, content covered in students’ first semester will include:
- Introduction to the profession, including professionalism, ethics and some health and safety training.
- Calculus, linear algebra . . . applied to engineering problems.
- Short courses in chemistry, biology, physics and geology and how they relate to engineering.
- Communication (written, oral, interpersonal, multimedia).
- Indigenous cultural foundation.
- Design, drawing and sketching; CAD.
- Computer programming (Python and Matlab).
- Electrical circuits, mechanics.
- One-day labs introducing students to each of the engineering disciplines.
As first year concludes, students will choose their disciplines and will finish the spring term with bridge courses into their chosen major, providing an opportunity to get students excited about their discipline and top up their knowledge in specific areas – such as Survey Camp for students in civil engineering.
Will this first-year program be easier?
Students won’t find the work easier, says Maw, but the environment will be more supportive. Although there are no final exam periods, students will be tested on modules of content throughout their courses using competency-based assessment, something new for Canadian engineering education.
The final exam periods in December and April will be used for discipline-specific hands-on learning.
The idea is to ensure students have a stronger foundation in the basics they’ll need for the rest of their degree. For instance, they will need to achieve a mark of at least 70 per cent on material involving facts, concepts, basic computations and procedural steps, as well as basic integrative problems in the course. There will be no minimum standard for the very advanced material. “They have to do pretty well on the foundational material. If they don’t do well on an early test of a learning outcome, they will get a second or third chance to do better,” Maw says.
Overall, it will be a more constructive environment for learning.
“We want to minimize the academic attrition by supporting the students better and by coordinating what we’re doing across the courses better. It won’t be easier, but it will be more supportive and thorough,” says Maw.
And it will also ensure students have the information they need to determine if they’re making the right career choice.
“If they know what engineering is about and they know what the related sciences are about earlier, they can make a better decision earlier whether engineering is for them.”
The overall result will be a stronger crop of USask Engineering grads.
USask Engineering welcoming employers to its Co-op Internship Program
The University of Saskatchewan College of Engineering is ready to welcome employers to its recently launched Co-op Internship Program.
The Co-op Internship Program is similar to the college’s past Professional Internship Program – but now employers may offer four-month work terms (May start only), in addition to eight-, 12- and 16-month terms.
The college has students ready to begin work terms in January 2021; employers who are interested in hiring should contact the program – see details below.
Students may also begin work terms in May or September and, in a change from the old program, may do a work term after their second year and may do more than one term during their degree.
Before starting their work terms, students will take a prep course at the college that helps them learn how to effectively network with other professionals. It also enhances their skills in communication and professionalism. They also learn about the importance of reflecting on their work and how that can help them continue to grow and develop as young engineers.
During their co-op internships, students are supported by a workplace supervisor. They are also assigned a mentor through the College of Engineering who provides guidance through formal and informal conversations.