Canadian Engineering Competition

I haven’t had much time to add to my blog over the past month.  As you can imagine, our Engineering Admissions team has been busy selecting students for the early round of admissions, participating in the March Break Open House, and answering student questions about offers of admission.  However, I wanted to make a quick post about the Canadian Engineering Competition that was held at the University of Waterloo on the first weekend in March.

The Canadian Engineering Competition brings together engineering students from across Canada to compete in eight competitions focusing on aspects of engineering.  There are four regional competitions (Atlantic Engineering Competition, Quebec Engineering Competition, Ontario Engineering Competition, Western Engineering Competition) that select the competitors for the Canadian Engineering Competition.  The students who participate in the Canadian Engineering Competition are among the best engineering students in Canada.

The eight competitions held at the Canadian Engineering Competition are the following:

  1. Consulting Engineering
  2. Engineering Communications
  3. Programming
  4. Innovative Design
  5. Junior Team Design
  6. Senior Team Design
  7. Extemporaneous Debate
  8. Re-Engineering

The official rules for the competitions are conveniently posted online for anyone interested.  The rules change from one year to the next.  The host university has the option of revising the rules (within reason).  Often, changes are necessary to deal with scheduling issues and funding constraints.

As a member of the Sandford Fleming Foundation, I was able to participate as a judge in the Extemporaneous Debate Competition.  I have judged debate competitions at both the university level and the provincial level but this was my first time serving as a debate judge at the national level.  Debates are an interesting challenge when competitors may use either English or French to make their arguments.  Since not all judges or competitors are bilingual, the organizers arranged for real-time translation using live translators and headsets.  Despite concerns that translation might place certain competitors at a disadvantage, in practice, the translations worked well and the judging was straightforward.  The only issue was a minor delay related to getting the headsets to work without interference.

A few Waterloo teams participated in the Canadian Engineering Competition, having placed in the top two positions at the Ontario Engineering Competition.  One of the Senior Design Competition teams consisted of students I taught in Fall 2018.  This team is pictured below with their medals and their award for finishing second in the competition.


It should be noted that two of the students had to be flown in from co-op jobs in California to compete at the Canadian Engineering Competition.  Our Dean is very supportive of our students.  The Dean’s Office helps fund the cost of the flights in such situations to ensure that our students can compete.  As you can probably tell, our students had a great time at the competition and they were very proud of their success.

On behalf of both the University of Waterloo and the Sandford Fleming Foundation, I would like to congratulate all of the organizers, volunteers, participants, judges, and sponsors on a tremendous competition.  The students who competed at the Canadian Engineering Competition did an exceptional job.  They truly represent some of the best future engineers in Canada.

Early Offers of Admission

Today, I spent most of my afternoon at the Capstone Symposium for Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering.  This annual event showcases design projects completed by student teams in their fourth year of their program.  Shown below is a photograph I took of some of the teams presenting their projects in the atrium of our Engineering 7 building.


As many Waterloo Engineering applicants have now discovered, early offers of admission have appeared on Quest.  If you are one of the lucky few with an early offer of admission, you should be very proud of what you have achieved.  Applicants with early offers of admission on Quest should receive an e-mail within the next week.  Please review this e-mail carefully as it provides some very important information for you.

Remember that all early offers of admission typically come with conditions to be satisfied.  Most applicants still have one or more required courses to complete.  Every year, there are a few applicants who unfortunately fail to successfully complete one or more conditions resulting in their offers being automatically revoked.  As you might suspect, doing poorly on a final exam in a required secondary school course can have some very undesirable consequences.  A handful of admission offers for Fall 2018 were revoked last July due to unsatisfied conditions.

If you were not fortunate enough to receive an early offer of admission, take comfort in the fact that approximately 70% of all admission offers are sent out in May.  Many great applicants were not accepted early simply due to our highly competitive admission process.  By waiting until May, we can use 2nd semester midterm grades to improve our average predictions.  This helps us ensure that applicants accepted to our programs are highly likely to be successful at university.

During the early admission round, we looked for students with the following characteristics:

  • Strong communication skills – An applicant with demonstrated strong communication skills was more likely to be selected.
  • Consistent grades – An applicant with consistently good grades in both Grade 11 and Grade 12 was more likely to be selected.
  • Variety of extra-curricular activities – An applicant with significant breadth and depth of extra-curricular activities was more likely to be selected.
  • Significant work or volunteer experience – An applicant with any significant work or volunteer experience was more likely to be selected.
  • Knowledge of engineering discipline – An applicant with a demonstrated knowledge of the chosen engineering discipline was more likely to be accepted.

It is quite possible that we missed out on accepting some truly exceptional applicants.  It is a difficult challenge to select applicants in a very short period of time based on preliminary grade data and AIF data.  We do our best given the resources available at the time.  With over 11,000 applicants, the task of selecting top students is a challenging one.

Some applicants might be very surprised to know how important AIF data can be during the assessment of an applicant.  We do not simply rank students by their predicted Grade 12 averages and select the top 30%.  We do individual selection.  We review the AIF data, we review all available grade data, and we attempt to select those students that we feel are most likely to succeed in our programs.

A common question that has already been asked by a few applicants is whether adjustment factors prevented applicants from certain schools from receiving an early offer of admission.  The simple answer is no.  Some applicants with excellent grades and great applications were given early offers of admission to some of our most competitive programs despite having studied at a high adjustment factor school.  Certainly, applicants from low adjustment factor schools had a slight advantage in the process but no schools were blacklisted as some individuals have suggested.

For those applicants who have not yet received an offer of admission, please note that we have a high quality applicant pool.  Our admissions team will be carefully reviewing each applicant over the next two months to select the best applicants in the pool.  As an applicant, the best thing you can do in preparation for university at this time is to focus on your secondary school courses.


Admission Deadline

I would like to take this opportunity to remind all applicants that Friday, March 1st is an important deadline for submitting documentation to complete your application to Waterloo Engineering programs.  If you want to be considered for admission to any of our Waterloo Engineering programs, you must complete your Admission Information Form (AIF) by this deadline.  For students studying outside the Province of Ontario, you should also provide any additional supporting information (e.g., transcripts, proof of English language proficiency, etc.) necessary to complete your application.  Finally, all applicants should attempt the optional online interview using the Kira Talent system to improve the likelihood of being offered admission.

Procrastination is unfortunately, very common.  As evidence of this statement, I would like to share some interesting statistics with you.  The following is a graph of participation in the Engineering Online Video Interview for 2019 as of 1:00 pm today:


As the graph clearly indicates, only 37.4% of all applicants have completed the online interview so far.  3.6% of all applicants haven’t even read the e-mail invite to the interview system sent by our admissions officers.  49.2% have read the e-mail and have ignored it so far.  6.3% have registered for the interview but have not started the process.  3.6% have completed the practice interview but have not yet done the actual interview.

On behalf of our admissions team, I would like to thank all of the applicants who have completed their applications fully.  Early completion allows for both early consideration as well as the ability to fix problems, should they arise.  A few applicants have already been selected for early offers of admission and more applicants will be selected over the next couple of weeks.  Our early offers should go out shortly after the March Break Open House sometime in mid-March.

Once again, we have a strong applicant pool.  The admission process will be a very competitive process with some excellent applicants not receiving admission.  However, we hope to offer admission to as many excellent applicants as we realistically can.  For those who may be procrastinating, time is running out.  If you want to be considered, complete your applications by the March 1st deadline!



School Closures in Southern Ontario

Freezing rain and icy conditions have caused many schools and businesses in Southern Ontario to close today.  The University of Waterloo has closed its campuses in Waterloo, Kitchener, Stratford, and Cambridge in the interests of safety for all those who attend and work at the university.  I fully support the decision to close the university as the conditions in the Kitchener-Waterloo region are hazardous.

The decision to close the university is always a difficult one.  While safety is very important, closures do have some negative consequences.  For example, a large job fair was to be held today at RIM Park that many students planned on attending.  This job fair has now been cancelled.  You can read more about the job fair and its cancellation on the P4E Job Fair event website.

Personally, I was scheduled to help deliver an important seminar tonight to help prepare our fourth year students for two upcoming entrepreneurship competitions, the Norman Esch Entrepreneurship Awards for Capstone Design and the Palihapitiya Venture Creation Fund.  This seminar will be rescheduled but given scheduling constraints, the competition deadlines will likely remain the same making the coming weeks even more challenging for our students.  Thankfully, our 4th year students are very good at dealing with challenging schedules.

The University of Waterloo has a set of weather closing guidelines that guide the decision to close the university campuses.  This policy was last revised in December 2016 following consultations with the campus community.  For students, staff, and faculty of the University of Waterloo, the most important takeaway is that a notice of a campus closing or remaining open in severe weather will be posted on the university’s homepage by 6:00 am.  An image of the closure notice on the university’s homepage is shown below.


Examinations are cancelled and subject to rescheduling.  Assignment submission deadlines postpone to the same hour on the next business day on which the university is not closed.  Co-op interviews and employer information sessions are cancelled and rescheduled, if possible.

Of course, there are some positive outcomes of a school closure.  For many students, it is a much needed break from a busy time of the term.  Many students are currently preparing for midterms and assignment deadlines.  This unexpected time, if used wisely by students, can really help make the term more manageable.  Using time wisely does not always mean working on studies.  Getting rest and relaxation can sometimes be as important as studying in a busy term.

For applicants, school closures might also present an excellent opportunity to finish completing your Admission Information Form and to conduct your online interview using Kira Talent.  Many applicants have not yet completed their online interview.  As of this morning, only 20.7% of all applicants to Waterloo Engineering have completed their interview.  4.8% of all applicants have not even opened the e-mail asking them to complete their interview.  If you have not yet received an e-mail, check your e-mail spam folder to see if it was mistakenly filtered out of your inbox.  Also, make sure your e-mail address is listed correctly on your application.  We will send out additional e-mail reminders as the deadline for completion approaches on March 1st.

Today is also a great day to find out more about the University of Waterloo and Waterloo Engineering.  It might be a great day to make plans to attend the March Break Open House on March 9th.  If you plan on attending, remember to register online.  I will be at the March Break Open House to answer your questions about admissions and our engineering programs.


Individuals often shy away from teamwork because they have a preconceived notion that teamwork is inefficient.  How many times have you heard someone say, “I can do it by myself faster” or “I can do it by myself better”?  As an instructor, I have often heard these comments.  Why do instructors force students to form teams and study groups when individuals prefer to work alone?

Earlier today, I took a moment to reflect upon the importance of teamwork.  As Director of Admissions for the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo, I rely upon a highly-skilled team to review and assess applications to undergraduate engineering programs at the University of Waterloo.  It is a task that no individual could reasonably perform.  Effective teamwork is the only solution to this challenging problem.  Thankfully, I have one of the best teams working with me on this daunting task.  Our team also has the support of other teams on campus that help us with planning for the future, marketing programs, analyzing trends, and communicating with applicants.


Shown below is an image depicting teamwork taken on campus a few weeks ago.  Clearing a university campus of snow requires teamwork and coordination.  More than one snow plow is required to clear the university parking lots efficiently.  Thankfully, most of our snow has melted as our local temperature has been above freezing for over 24 hours.


An effective team is clearly capable of superior work when compared to the output of an individual.  Just imagine how ridiculous it would be to play a team sport such as football with the support of a great team.  I am confident that Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots, would concede the game if facing an opposing team without an offensive line to support him.  Given a great team to support him, he was able to guide the New England Patriots to win Super Bowl LIII.

What do all the best engineering companies have in common?  They have highly productive teams.  We can’t possibly expect an engineer to build something amazing without the support of a team.  So why do individuals avoid teamwork if it has such great potential?

Here are some of my thoughts on why individuals avoid teamwork…


Teamwork requires effective communication.  This is a surprisingly difficult task.  You might know how to draw an object but instructing someone else to do so is not easy.  You might know how to write a function in a programming language but again, describing it takes almost as long as doing the coding yourself.  To communicate effectively, you need to learn to exchange information precisely using as little information as possible.  You need to understand your audience.  High school students are often trained to do the exact opposite.  In high school, essays have word counts.  Students learn to write sentences using as many unnecessary phrases as possible.  They do not tailor their writing to their audience.

Communication is also difficult because each individual interprets words and sentences differently.  Context is very important.  A sentence said by one individual may be interpreted in many different ways.  This is particularly true with the English language where idioms are common.  The English language rains cats and dogs with idioms!  Yes, that was a poor example of an idiom for those who might be translating this blog to another language.

However, effective communication is something that can be learned with time.  It takes practice.  Avoiding teamwork is a sure fire way to ensure that you do not practice your communication skills.  Waterloo Engineering students frequently work in teams to improve their communication skills and interpersonal skills.  Students also gain a valuable opportunity to expand their network when working in teams.  They learn to support each other.

Lacking a Common Goal

Some teams simply lack a common goal.  If all teammates are not working towards a common goal, you will never be completely successful as a team.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to satisfy several goals at once.  Even if you can satisfy multiple goals, the solution is unlikely to be simultaneously optimal for each goal.

This is why effective teams spend time establishing a common goal and a process for achieving the goal.  It may be difficult but this effort will always be rewarded.  Some teams spend more time planning a project than implementing it.  This is okay.  It is probably more effective than wasting time on interim solutions that can never satisfy the goal.  This is not to say that iterative design approaches are useless.  Design iterations clearly have value but only if you are working towards a common goal with a well engineered process.

Past Experiences

You can’t always choose your teammates.  Even if you can, you don’t always have a deep pool of candidates for your team.  If you are surrounded by people who are not working at the same level as you, teamwork can be incredibly frustrating.  In high school, this is often the case.  If you are the top student in your high school thinking about applying to Waterloo Engineering, you have probably been a part of several teams that have been dysfunctional where you have had to take on a leadership role.  Perhaps you even had to complete all of the work to achieve your team’s goals.  These bad experiences reinforce the belief that teamwork is doomed to failure.

However, even if you have had a few bad teamwork experiences in the past, this doesn’t mean that you should give up on teamwork entirely.  Many of life’s greatest engineering achievements required effective teamwork.  Thankfully, you will not always be surrounded by people who are not working at your level.  At the University of Waterloo, you are just as likely to work with someone working at an even higher level.  I can recall learning more from my teammates in my 4th year of studies than I did during some of my lectures.  By fourth year, I was working with teammates who knew immediately how to communicate ideas to me.

Incidentally, this is also why great engineering companies have productive teams.  Great companies hire great people.  When they put teams together, the members of the team communicate effectively and contribute positively to the team.  The end result is a highly effective team.

Final Thoughts

For those interested in another viewpoint on the value of teamwork, check out the following post by Alexander Hogeveen Rutter entitled, “The Value of Teamwork in 2018”.  In his post, he touches on some of the same ideas that I have mentioned but also provides some insight into how to be a good team player.  It is a great article worth reading.

So perhaps, if you are an individual that prefers working alone, you should give teamwork another chance.  It’s not always easy but if done correctly, teamwork is superior to working alone.

Ontario Engineering Competition

This past weekend, engineering students from universities across the Province of Ontario participated in the annual Ontario Engineering Competition.  This year’s event was organized by a dedicated team of student volunteers at McMaster University.  At the event, students participate in one of the following competitions:

  • Consulting Engineering
  • Engineering Communications
  • Extemporaneous Debate
  • Innovative Design
  • Junior Team Design
  • Senior Team Design
  • Re-Engineering
  • Programming

For those interested, you can review the Official Rulebook for the competitions.  Students often compete in small teams.  Some competitions require advance preparation while others involve a design challenge introduced at the competition.  All of the competitions require strong engineering skills and communication skills.

Thanks to sponsorship from Hatch, Aecon, OSPE, Crozier, Geotab, BBA, McMaster Engineering Society, Hydro One, MTE, Sandford Fleming Foundation, and numerous local sponsors, the annual event was a huge success.  Most participants stayed two nights at the Sheraton Hamilton not far from the university campus.  The event featured a welcome gala as well as a banquet at Liuna Station where the results of the competitions were announced.  All participants seemed to have a great time at the event.


As a representative of the Sandford Fleming Foundation, I served as a judge for this year’s Innovative Design Competition.  This was my 6th year serving as a judge at the Ontario Engineering Competition and my 2nd year serving as a judge for the Innovative Design Competition.  I was one of 6 judges for the Innovative Design Competition.  The University of Waterloo had two teams competing, one for each co-op stream.  Our Waterloo B team placed third with the design of a new stackable battery pack design for use in light duty industrial equipment.  The McMaster team placed second with the design of an adaptive car windshield with integrated glare protection.  Our Waterloo A team placed first with the design of a medical bed system for preventing pressure injuries.  The Waterloo A team was also selected to receive this year’s Social Awareness Award.  The Waterloo A team goes by the name of Atlas Medical not to be confused with Atlas Medical or Atlas Medical.  You can read more about the winning team on the Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering website.  The top two teams from Innovative Design Competition will compete at the Canadian Engineering Competition to be held at the University of Waterloo in March 2019.

On behalf of the Sandford Fleming Foundation, I would like to congratulate all of the volunteers, participants, and judges on a highly successful event.  Special congratulations go out to all of the winning teams who will represent the Province of Ontario at the Canadian Engineering Competition in March.  Next year’s Ontario Engineering Competition will be held at the University of Guelph.  Given the huge success of this year’s event, the organizing team at the University of Guelph will have big shoes to fill.



Completing Your Application

This is a gentle reminder that submitting an application to the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC) is just the first step in the full application process.  If you have submitted an application to a Waterloo Engineering program, you will eventually receive a request to complete the Admission Information Form (AIF) and a request to complete an (optional) online interview using the Kira Talent platform.  For non-Ontario Secondary School students, you will also have other tasks to complete such as uploading transcripts and test scores.

You will likely receive periodic reminders to complete these tasks over the coming weeks.  I use the word “likely” because some students fail to enter correct contact information during the application process.  If the e-mail address you provide is invalid, you will not receive any reminders.  Make sure your e-mail address is correct and make sure you are reading your e-mail so that you do not miss out on something important.  Waterloo Engineering students face a constant challenge of keeping track of important deadlines.  Shown below is one example of an information system designed to help students keep track of important events on campus.  This information system is located outside the Coffee and Donut (C&D) Shop in Carl Pollock Hall.

An image of an information system displaying current events of relevance to Waterloo Engineering students.

One way to avoid receiving periodic reminders is to complete your application as soon as you can.  Completing the application process early will ensure that your application receives full consideration for both early admission offers and scholarships.  We will not send out early offers of admission to students who have not completed the required portions of the application process.

The online interview is not a required portion of the application process but completion of the online interview is highly recommended.  We assign scores to the interviews.  These scores are added to your admission average.  Completion of the online interview has the effect of increasing your admission average.

Failure to complete a required task by the admission deadline can result in an offer of admission not being granted to a qualified applicant.  There were a few students last year who were denied offers of admission for not completing the AIF.  The students were academically strong enough to receive an offer of admission if they had completed their applications.  Unfortunately, they did not do so.  We will only issue an offer of admission if applications are complete.