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Catharine Marsden is taking experiential learning to new heights

Concordia’s NCADE Chair develops training partnerships with industry leaders to meet the needs of next-gen aerospace
September 24, 2018
By Jasmine Stuart

NCADE chair Catharine Marsden introduces cross-disciplinary approaches and European-style apprenticeships to the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science

When Catharine Marsden came to Concordia as its NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) Chair in Aerospace Design Engineering (NCADE), she aimed to set up an industry apprenticeship program for students.

Her vision quickly became a reality as NCADE’s industry partners — Bombardier, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Bell Helicopter Textron, Siemens, Marinvent and Altair — readily signed on to participate. Together, Marsden and these organizations developed programs that allow engineering students to apprentice with one company over four summers starting in their first year of studies..

“The purpose behind having students work with the same organization is to have them develop a thorough understanding of a company's entire operation,” explains Marsden.

“By moving across departments within the same company, our students will see the contributions each team makes to the bottom line, as well as understand how a company’s business changes over the course of four years.”

Before heading into the field, students prepare for their first summer experience with an intensive crash course on the fundamentals of aircraft systems at the École nationale d’aérotechnique

Andrea Cartile, a master’s student in quality systems engineering, completed the “aerospace boot camp” in the summer of 2016.

“This hands-on training provided both an exceptional overview of aviation and an indispensable foundation for understanding aircraft systems,” she says. “It also provided me with the opportunity to become a teaching assistant.”

Experiential learning opportunities for graduate students

In 2015, NSERC awarded $1 million in funding over five years under its Chair in Design Engineering (CDE) program for the NCADE. The primary objective of the CDE program is to help universities meet the growing demand for design engineering talent and to help them create and develop new and innovative designs, concepts and tools.

To expand her approach to engineering education and the cross-disciplinary nature of aerospace design engineering, Marsden designed the aerospace capstone project to bring together students from across the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science’s six undergraduate engineering programs. For the first time, students from these programs can register in a capstone course outside their degree, work as an interdisciplinary team and build an entire aircraft.

Marsden and the NCADE program have also created experiential learning opportunities for graduate students. In contrast to the undergraduate program, master’s students are encouraged to work with different companies.

“At the graduate level, the research you do is specialized or focused on a specific process or technical systems,” Marsden says. “It’s most beneficial for students to be looking at things from multiple perspectives.”

Under Marsden’s supervision, master’s students in applied science start their program with an industry apprenticeship to develop a big-picture understanding of the aerospace industry and explore potential thesis topics. After completing their initial work placement and a term of coursework, graduate students go back into the field to conduct research for their thesis under the co-supervision of an industry partner.

“The Canadian aerospace industry is a fast-paced, highly technical and globally competitive sector,” says Marsden. “We need to ensure Concordia students are able to contribute to the field, having mastered the right mix of academic, personal and professional skills that combine critical thinking, high creativity and flexible teamwork.”

Marsden plans to expand Concordia’s NCADE program to include master’s and PhD students from other disciplines, and to develop an added focus on engineering education in addition to the technical.

Catharine Marsden is a mechanical engineer with more than 20 years of experience in the Canadian aerospace industry. Before joining Concordia, she spent six years at the Royal Military College of Canada, supervising aircraft projects and teaching structural design and analysis courses. Marsden leads the development of undergraduate aerospace design engineering curriculum, including teaching and learning strategies, as well as targeted post-graduate training and research.

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