'We are continuously exploring new interdisciplinary initiatives'
Over the last year, the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science asked professors, researchers, students, staff and alumni to join in a discussion about the future of ENCS and related professional fields.
Through polls, surveys, consultations with higher education experts and all of the faculty’s committees, the Faculty received an overwhelming amount of feedback.
It represents how the faculty contributes to the university’s plan and sets out objectives that will keep it at the forefront of research while meeting the needs of a 21st-century society.
Amir Asif, the faculty’s dean, opens up about some of the plan’s specifics.
What’s a next-generation Faculty?
Amir Asif: Engineering and computer science education will change in three significant ways over the coming years.
First, it will seek to cultivate interdisciplinary skills such as entrepreneurialism, leadership, social consciousness and global business acumen to complement students’ strong technical knowledge, design skills and problem-solving abilities.
Second, engineering and computer science education will anticipate high-tech advances and offer programs in next-generation technologies.
Third, the standard lecture-based classroom pedagogy will be replaced with more active, student-centric approaches, emphasizing hands-on learning and experiential education, while providing opportunities for the lifelong pursuit of knowledge for motivated students.
A successful next-generation ENCS Faculty will collaborate with other disciplines to introduce a curriculum that incorporates these changes. It will explore collaborations with business, health, law, communication, arts, design and environmental science to address the economic, political, social and environmental context of the engineering and computer science professions.
Among other fields, biology and health will be recognized as fundamental engineering sciences, perhaps as important as physics and chemistry, with the potential to open new frontiers for innovation.
At the same time, the Faculty will utilize technological and pedagogical advances to create a student learning environment within and outside of classrooms through a combination of traditional and co-curricular educational activities.
Can you describe some of the activities already underway related to the Faculty’s Strategic Plan?
AA: ENCS is continuously exploring new interdisciplinary initiatives to train the next generation of engineering and computer science leaders to solve complex real-world problems in a socially responsible manner.
The new Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering and the proposed graduate MASc/MSc in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology are examples of such collaborations. ENCS is joining forces with the Faculty of Arts and Science to professionally train highly qualified personnel capable of interacting in an interdisciplinary environment in industry or academia.
Within the Faculty, we have recently undergone a major curriculum revision to introduce and better assess students’ training in complimentary skills. Besides having a firm grasp of science, mathematics and engineering fundamentals, the focus is now on training graduates in co-curricular skills such as leadership, communication and multidisciplinary teamwork that extends beyond one engineering discipline.
We hope to provide lifelong learning skills and an awareness of social and ethical considerations associated with the professional sphere. Within the curriculum, each student is being assessed for these skills or attributes. Our faculty members are leading this drive in training more balanced engineers and computer scientists.
Can you share some key initiatives that are planned for 2016-17?
AA: Firstly, we’d like to enhance our student experience, especially for incoming students, and foster a coordinated approach to student advising with the university.
For this purpose, ENCS will be organizing a visioning committee with the mandate to enhance student advising and ensure that the common ENCS curriculum better reflects the needs for upper years’ education.
Next, we want to develop innovative, interdisciplinary graduate and undergraduate programs in next-generation technologies.
While preserving the strength of our existing offerings and consulting with industry, we are developing a number of new academic programs. At the undergraduate level the focus is on aerospace, pervasive computing, biomedical engineering, chemical and materials engineering, and computational biology.
At the graduate level, programs in nanoscience and nanotechnology, environmental engineering, construction and management, software engineering and public policy are in the works.
Finally, we are working to develop organized research units and centres of excellence in areas of strategic importance, while expanding our areas of expertise.
In the last year alone, ENCS has established 10 faculty research centres that pursue exploration on everything from waste-to-energy conversion, structural safety, resilience to cybersecurity and wireless health monitoring. We are hiring strategically to develop these targeted research areas.
Strengthening organized research units will enable ENCS to foster an environment that promises excellence in research and seek support through large, team-based grants.
At the heart of all these initiatives is ENCS commitment to be a distinguished engineering and computer science school recognized for academic innovation, research excellence, and its positive contribution to Society.