Successful pilot project introduces youth to engineering careers
When asked what engineers ‘do’ at the beginning of the ArcticENGINEER enrichment program, many of the 24 student participants had the same answer –design and build things.
But after a week of visiting engineering labs and related facilities as part of an immersive program coordinated by the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, the students had a much better understanding of the variety of opportunities for a career in engineering.
“We tried to give them an overview of what an engineer does, specifically in relation to work in or for the Arctic,” said Stephanie Robinson, curriculum coordinator for the program. “We brought them to different facilities both on and off campus – the Marine Institute and its Holyrood marine base, the Centre for Cold Ocean Resources Engineering (C-CORE), the National Research Council Canada (NRC) and Provincial Aerospace – to show them different aspects of research and industry.”
“They went on an emergency rescue vehicle, flew an ROV, and even tried on immersion suits to see what they were like in the water,” she added. “We balanced those high impact experiences with some more formalized knowledge. The students collected data on their trips and were then shown how to analyze it. The purpose wasn’t really to learn how to collect data, but rather understand the data for practical applications and systems in engineering.”
Students came from all over the province to participate in the program, which was made up of youth who had just finished Grade 10 to those who had just graduated from high school.
“Prior to applying for ArcticENGINEER, some of these graduates had already enrolled in engineering at Memorial for this fall, and others were still undecided”, said Kathryn Hong, logistics coordinator for the program.
“The students benefited differently, depending on their age,” added Ms. Robinson. “The older participants were particularly interested in learning about the actual jobs they would to be able to obtain, and what would be expected of them in these roles. The younger students were also very engaged in the experiences, but their focus was more on school and their immediate academic experience.”
They said that the personal, one-on-one conversations with the ArcticENGINEER counselors, as well as engineering faculty and staff, had a great and important impact.
“Our amazing group of counselors had diverse academic backgrounds. Some had recently graduated with science and engineering degrees, while others were currently enrolled in engineering and underwater vehicle related programs. When we had time between activities, they would discuss and ask about courses or what work terms were like,” said Ms. Hong. “So they connected on a very personal level. I think those conversations and friendships will have a life-lasting impact.”
There were also good opportunities to create friendships with other like-minded students.
“These kids were all high performing high school students,” said Ms. Robinson. “They were very appreciative of the opportunity. Memorial University and the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science are welcoming to new students. We strive to attract and retain the best and brightest students.”
“They gained a lot of insight into learning how to work together to solve problems and accomplish goals. These are important skills for engineers – the program incorporates team projects into a variety of courses,” added Ms. Hong. “I think they learned a lot more about themselves than they ever thought they would”.
ArcticENGINEER was funded by the Research & Development Corporation through its ArcticTECH program in an effort to introduce top performing high school students to careers and research opportunities in Arctic engineering and related fields. The success of this first offering of the ArcticENGINEER program is now under review and it is hoped that it will become a regular summer opportunity for aspiring high school students.