March 13, 2019

Engineer of the future

Digital literacy, communications and collaboration key to solving world problems
Engineer of the future
Digital literacy, communications and collaboration key to solving world problems

We have entered the digital decade. Everything we do in terms of how we work, how we play and how we learn is going to be completely different because of technologies evolving more rapidly than ever before. It’s our responsibility to ensure those we are training are ready to not just exist in the digital future ­– but to lead it.

Some view the pace of digital change as ocean waves relentlessly crashing upon them. What we need to do is focus on how we can ride that digital wave and harness it for its full potential.

At the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering, we know that all of our students – whether they are in civil engineering, chemical and petroleum engineering, electrical and computer engineering or mechanical engineering – must develop a digital literacy.

Every engineer needs to understand machine learning, artificial learning and how to analyze large sets of data to solve problems differently. We’re adapting our curriculum and embracing new learning approaches to help our students embrace the digital future.

We’re also planning a new digital innovation hub complete with robotics, virtual reality, augmented reality and more. It’s a place with the tools of tomorrow for our students to design and create in the digital world to enhance their understanding through hands-on activity. 


Beyond technology


The days of universities being the sole custodians of higher knowledge are long gone. We now have Professor Youtube and Doctor Wikipedia. Knowledge is accessible to anyone with an internet connection. How far is too far?

Universities around the globe are expanding their offering of online courses. What about online kindergarten or online elementary school? 

You likely join me in saying a swift no to those suggestions. We all know there’s more to quality education than just knowledge. Our engineering graduates aren’t going to solve the world’s problems by working alone in a corner. They’re going to solve problems by working in a team. Effective social and communication skills and the ability to collaborate effectively will be key.

With so much information at our fingertips, it’s not enough to memorize formulas. We also need our students to have the ability to understand, analyze and evaluate information and apply it to the task at hand. Ultimately, we need them to be able to create new products, services or solutions based on the strong academic foundation they’ve achieved in university.

Over the past year, we’ve developed a Maker Multiplex  – a series of maker spaces to give our students the chance to have hands-on learning experiences. Over the past five years, we’ve significantly increased the number of student clubs and teams, developed engineering leadership programs and more. 

This past semester, a cohort of our second-year electrical and computer engineering students were given the opportunity to take part in a term-long project-based curriculum. Classrooms were moved into design labs, and the balance of assessment was shifted from being weighted towards final exams to being weighted towards team and project assessments. The results are students working in a meaningful way that reflects their work life after graduation.

I don’t know the future. I do know there is going to be tremendous change ahead – positive change for those ready to embrace it. We all have to take the approach of teaching our future engineers how to ride the digital wave instead of worrying about when the wave will hit us.

Dr. Bill Rosehart, PhD, P.Eng, is the dean of the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering. Under his leadership, the school has launched several new programs, welcomed a record number of engineering students, dramatically increased student retention rates and seen more federal funding for high impact research than ever before. Rosehart’s strategic vision – Energizing Engineering Leadership – is to support student success, foster diversity in engineering and to promote research that makes a difference in the lives around us.