Friday, September 04, 2015

What Waterloo Engineering Dean Pearl Sullivan Really, Really Wants!

          By Chuck Black

Dean Sullivan. Photo c/o U of Waterloo.
The Dean of the Canada's largest engineering faculty is leading the charge to raise $70Mln CDN to "educate the engineer of the future" as part of the University of Waterloo Engineer of the Future campaign.

"We don't want to just expand our numbers," University of Waterloo Dean of Engineering Pearl Sullivan said during a recent interview. "If you really want a good engineer, one who possesses cross-functional skills and capabilities, you need someone who understands the physical world and how scientific theories and the mathematical calculations one learns as an engineering student relates directly to this world."

To this end, Dean Sullivan, the first woman to hold the post and only the fourth across Canada ever to head a Canadian engineering faculty, is in the midst of a three year campaign to raise money for a new campus engineering building, establish new research groups focused on "emerging and disruptive technologies," increase graduate scholarships and enable students to pursue their aspirations outside the classroom.

As outlined on the University of Waterloo Educating the Engineer of the Future campaign website, the three year campaign, kicked-off in April 2015, will not just focus on funding physical assets.

According to the website, the campaign will instead focus on providing a unique education to engineering students, highlighting research programs which leapfrog the competition and strengthen Canada's economy, to encourage entrepreneurship and provide icons to spark the imaginations of future engineers.

Dean Sullivan also has some strong opinions relating to academic integrity and the necessity of engineering graduates being able to communicate effectively with those outside of the engineering profession.

Sullivan, whose five-year term as dean began on July 1 2012, has already had a distinguished academic career.

Arriving in Canada in 1980, she earned a bachelor of engineering with distinction and a master of applied science in metallurgical engineering from the Technical University of Nova Scotia, which was later merged into Dalhousie University. In 1990, she received her PhD from the metals and materials engineering department at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

In 2006, she became chair of the Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering Department at Waterloo and in 2013 she became Dean. "I started off in 2004 as a professor of mechanical engineering at Waterloo. I was looking forward to living happily ever after as a regular faculty member, but my colleagues had different plans for me," she said.

Her appointment coincided with some interesting comments from Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, who was at the time becoming well known to the space industry, and not just for the comments in his choice of Canadian university for undergraduate work.

As outlined in the October 3rd, 2013 MacLean's article, "Dear Elon: you missed a few Waterloo women," Musk was concerned over the ability of the University of Waterloo to provide him with a suitable social life:
It was a close call for me between Waterloo and Queen’s (Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario). I was going to do physics and engineering at Waterloo, but then I visited the campus… and, you may not want to print this… but there didn’t seem to be any girls there! So, I visited Queen’s, and there were girls there. I didn’t want to spend my undergraduate time with a bunch of dudes (so he went to Queens).
The situation has does seem to have changed and the focus of the current dean of the faculty is on the growing demand for engineers capable of effectively contributing to a wide variety of growing societal problems.

And there has been a certain amount of success in this area. ""We currently have the second largest number of co-op students, or locally known as interns, hired in Silicon Valley of any university after the University of California at Berkeley," according to Dean Sullivan.

Of particular interest to Dean Sullivan is the Engineering Ideas Clinic,  a teaching innovation led by a team of professors from across the Faculty, focused around delivering "early real-world engineering experiences." As outlined on the faculty website:
Imagine small teams of students unravelling the mysteries of…a coffeemaker? Or watch students break out in a sweat as they struggle to construct their very first brushless DC motors and in the process finally “get” the power of copper wire and magnets. 
How could these seemingly simple engineering tasks lead to advancing the frontiers of human knowledge? 
Because it is these types of hands-on, open-ended activities that spark intellectual curiosity and ingrain engineering concepts that no ordinary lecture could hope to achieve. It’s self-learning and exploration in an environment where students acquire good engineering practices and gain an appreciation between the courses in their curriculum. They enthusiastically exercise their creativity, use their judgment and flex their problem-solving skills while building the essential communication and team skills that turn a good engineer into a great engineer.
Of course, the process, and the fund raising requirements associated with the success of the process, are ongoing. In essence, Dean Sullivan wants Waterloo’s engineering education model to "bring Canada to the world stage."

There are no better ways to do this than by offering an environment to “experience early, incubate (ideas) early and innovate early” as envisioned by Dean Sullivan. Here's wishing her luck.

Chuck Black
To contribute to the University of Waterloo Engineer of the Future campaign, please check out the website at

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff Chuck - Dean Sullivan continues to impress.


Support our Patreon Page