Difficult Decisions

All admission decisions have been made for Fall 2019 for Waterloo Engineering.  By now, all applicants should know if they have been offered admission to Waterloo Engineering and they should know if they are receiving scholarships.  If you are an applicant, hopefully you have received very good news.  We are currently preparing for You@Waterloo Day being held this Saturday.  Our welcome banner has already been hung on South Campus Hall to welcome our future warriors.

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The process of selecting students is incredibly difficult.  This is especially true for Waterloo Engineering since we do not simply use a cut-off system where top averages are selected for admission without consideration of other factors.  Much time was spent reviewing Admission Information Forms and online video interviews in an effort to find exceptional future students.

By February 20th, we had received over 11,289 applications to just 1,699 available spaces.  In other words, we had 6.6 applications per available space.  For high demand programs such as Software Engineering, the competition was fierce.  As an example, we had 9.4 applications per available domestic space in Software Engineering and 30.4 applications per available visa space in Software Engineering.  We had 124 available spaces in Software Engineering and 198 applicants with averages in excess of 97.0% this year.  For Software Engineering, programming experience was an important consideration for admission this year.  Successful Software Engineering applicants often had several years of practical programming experience, knowledge of several programming languages, and a track record of success in programming.

The final round selection process took about two weeks from start to finish.  This time was necessary to perform individual selection in highly competitive programs such as Software Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Mechatronics Engineering.  The total time was slightly longer than it was supposed to take but quite reasonable given the large number of applications to consider for each program.  I recognize that delays increase the stress of applicants, their families, and the many staff members working in admission roles.  It is certainly not our intention to induce stress.  I would like to thank everyone for their patience throughout the admission process.

Now that our difficult decisions have been made, applicants face a June 3rd deadline for making their difficult decisions.  I am sure that some applicants and their families are very concerned about making the right decision.  The important thing to remember is that you can’t really make a terrible decision with respect to attending university for engineering programs.  All engineering schools in the Province of Ontario have accredited programs.  Regardless of which engineering school you attend, you will get a great education.  Regardless of which engineering program you choose, you will have great career prospects.  There really is no wrong decision to make in most cases with one possible exception…

If you already know that the program you have been offered is not a good fit for you, don’t accept the offer!  Accepting an offer to a program you are unhappy taking will only lead to a year of misery and likely very few options at the end of the year.  If accepting an offer of admission to a program does not excite you in any way, don’t accept the offer.  You need to be motivated to succeed in a university program, particularly an engineering program.  The workload is much higher in university and there are many demands on your time.  If you do not enjoy some portion of the work you will be doing, you will not do well.

If you are undecided on whether you will like the program you have been offered, don’t worry!  Choosing the wrong university or the wrong university program is a mistake that can be fixed with some hard work.  The consequences are reversible so you should not fear making a poor decision.  At most, you might spend one year of your life realizing that another path is a better one for you.  In fact, you might even learn some valuable skills along the way.  A few of our future warriors initially chose a different path but they have been accepted (a year later) to pursue Waterloo Engineering starting in the Fall.  So relax, take some time to think about it, and know that whatever choice you make with respect to university programs, it will likely be okay.

One thing to keep in mind is that once you choose a university program, transferring into another university program is not always an easy process.  You will need to get good marks (80% or greater) in your current program and you will need to be willing to start over.  Transferring into engineering from another faculty can be a difficult challenge.  Some applicants mistakenly believe that they will be able to easily transfer into a different program if they make the “wrong” choice.  Transfers are difficult, but not impossible, to obtain.  Obviously, transfers into high demand programs such as Software Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, or Mechatronics Engineering are extremely rare.

Rather than transfer programs, a better approach is to customize your university program to your liking.  Most university programs offer access to elective courses, options, and minors that allow you to specialize in other areas while completing your major.  For example, you do not need to be a Software Engineer to study programming.  In fact, many of our engineering students have programming duties in their co-op jobs, regardless of their chosen discipline.  You do not need to be a Management Engineer to study management sciences.  You simply need to have a desire to learn the topic and a schedule that fits the classes you wish to take.  Before giving up on a program, think about ways you might be able to make it work.

In the media, you often read simplistic advice that suggests you should follow your passion.  While there is some truth to this message, it is important to realize that what people really mean is that you should choose a path that allows you to pursue your passion.  You do not need to be passionate about everything you do in life to be successful.  You just need to pursue a path that allows you to do the things you are passionate about and that the positives outweigh the negatives.  You won’t like every class you take in university.  You won’t like every aspect of your co-op job.  But if doing a few things you dislike will allow you to do the things you are passionate about, you will always find a way to succeed.

Sometimes, students ask me why we don’t teach how to write computer games or mobile application development as a core part of Computer Engineering.  My response is always the same…

At university, we teach you the things you need to study that you wouldn’t otherwise study.  We need to teach you Calculus and Physics because these subjects are important and I know very few Computer Engineering students who would willingly rush home at night to study these subjects.  I do know many Computer Engineering students who willingly self-study writing computer games or mobile application development.  The role of a university program is to ensure that you receive the breadth and depth of education necessary to succeed in life.  We teach you the things you need to know that you don’t already know or can’t easily learn elsewhere.  It won’t always be fun but it will always be educational.

Tomorrow, I will be on campus for You@Waterloo Day to answer your questions.  For our future warriors, you might want to know that our W Store which sells university apparel will be open from Noon to 4:00 pm.  It will be a great opportunity to have your parents buy you a hoodie, a pair of track pants, and a backpack for the Fall term.  Also, don’t forget to check out our residences so that you can decide how to prioritize your residence selection.  I look forward to seeing some of you tomorrow.

Quick Admissions Update

A few final round admission offers have now made it out from our university but be assured that many more will be processed over the next week.  It is my understanding that many staff members are working throughout the weekend to expedite the process.  I expect that all offers will be communicated by the end of next week at the latest.

We have been working around the clock to make admission decisions and to communicate them.  The image below is an image of the parking lot when I left the university last night at 12:47 am.  It was the first time I have every seen an empty parking lot on campus and I have worked many late nights over my career at the University of Waterloo.

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Usually, we manage to get out engineering admission offers to all Ontario Secondary School students by the 2nd Friday in May but we ran into some issues that delayed processing.  Please be patient with our staff.  They are doing the best they can under very difficult circumstances.  It is a huge effort to code and communicate all of the admission offers for our university.

My best advice is to try to focus on your studies and other activities.  Knowing the answer as soon as it appears on Quest will not change the outcome.  Knowing the answer a few days earlier shouldn’t change your decision.  I suspect most applicants already know what decision they will make if they get accepted and what decision they will make if they get denied.

Of course, if you are still on the fence, we will have an event on campus called You@Waterloo Day that will give admitted students another opportunity to visit the campus with their families and learn more about university life.  You will hear more about You@Waterloo Day after receiving admission to the university.  I am scheduled to be on campus for the entire event to help answer questions.  I look forward to meeting with you.

Waterloo-Wellington Science and Engineering Fair

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the Waterloo-Wellington Science and Engineering Fair.  This fair attracts students from Grade 7 to Grade 12 to compete for awards and opportunities to represent the region at the Canada-Wide Science Fair organized by Youth Science Canada.  I have volunteered to help out with the running of the regional fair for approximately 15 years now.  A few years ago, I accepted the role of Division Co-Chair for the Engineering Division of the fair.  Essentially, this means that I co-ordinate the judging of the engineering projects and I participate in selecting the award-winning projects.

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This year’s fair was the largest in recent years with 250 projects on display.  Locally, there has been a renewed interest in science projects.  I have no doubt that this is likely related to Donna Strickland receiving a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018.  For many years, she has served as a judge at the fair, inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.  For an idea of what the fair looked like, check out the following image of the display booths at the fair.

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I was impressed by a number of projects that I had an opportunity to assess including two projects by Grade 12 students who have both applied to Waterloo Engineering.  Both of these students were looking forward to attending the University of Waterloo and I have no doubt that they will be highly successful here.  There were also some exceptional junior and intermediate projects.  One project that I particularly liked was a project that implemented a “Multispectral Detector for Non-Destructive Testing of Food”.  The project involved the design of electronics, software, and 3D printed casings for a handheld device to assess the freshness of fruit (in particular, pears).  Using the ingenious device, a person could quantitatively predict the ripeness of a pear.  It was an amazing project made even more impressive by the fact that it was designed, built, and tested by a Grade 7 student.

The complete list of 2019 Grand Award Winners is now available online.  The Award of Excellence for the best overall project at the fair was given to an engineering project entitled, “Random Forest Classification of Histopathological Images”.  This project attempted to automate detecting cancer in medical images.  The tool was not designed to replace a pathologist but rather to assist a pathologist in detecting false negatives (i.e., missing potential signs of cancer in a patient).  It was an impressive project from a student who has previously represented the region at the Canada-Wide Science Fair.

On behalf of the University of Waterloo and the over 200 volunteers from the community who assist with the operation of the fair, I would like to congratulate all participants on a great event celebrating science and engineering.  All of the students who participated should be very proud of their accomplishments.

I would also like to point out that regional fairs such as the Waterloo-Wellington Science and Engineering Fair without generous donations from local companies and individuals.  If you are interested in supporting the Waterloo-Wellington Science and Engineering Fair, you may do so easily using Canada Helps.  The Waterloo-Wellington Science and Engineering Fair is a registered charity in the Province of Ontario.

Capstone Project Awards

I haven’t had an opportunity to post to my blog lately.  This is the busiest time of the year for anyone working in admissions.  However, it is also a very busy time of the year for all faculty, staff, and students.  Here are a few of the highlights from my last two weeks.

Every year at the end of March, the Faculty of Engineering showcases the capstone design projects of our 4th year engineering students at a series of symposiums.  For many years, I served as the coordinator of the ECE Capstone Design Symposium.  It is a challenging task to solicit sponsorship, attract a team of volunteers, and plan logistics for a graduating class of ECE students.  My involvement is now limited to serving as a judge for various competitions and assessing ECE student work for the purpose of grading.  Shown below are the members of a medal-winning ECE capstone project team that I advised this year.  They developed a game to encourage students to learn American Sign Language.

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For an idea of what one of the symposiums looks like, shown below is an image of a symposium taken this year in our Engineering 7 (E7) atrium.  This image shows roughly one third of the projects on display at this symposium.  There were events like this one held every couple of days for a period spanning approximately two weeks.  Graduating students, including those from our first class of Biomedical Engineering, displayed their projects at one of these many symposiums.

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For my fourth consecutive year, I was a member of the judging panel for the prestigious Palihapitiya Venture Creation Fund which provides $50,000 for up to two capstone project teams to pursue commercialization of their projects.  This year, two teams were selected to receive funding.  The Stacktronic team from Mechanical Engineering developed an innovative Li-ion battery module to build modular battery packs of different capacities for mining, farming, and industrial use.  In addition to the $50,000 cash prize, the team also receives space in the Velocity incubator and mentorship from some of the best venture capitalists in the business.  The Project Beacon team from Systems Design Engineering developed a software platform for universities to better inform and assist students struggling with mental health issues.  Their software enables universities to provide students with timely and accurate information about mental health and the many counselling options available to students.  This team also wins $50,000, space in the Velocity incubator, and mentorship.  On behalf of the judging panel, I wish the teams all the best on the creation of their new ventures.

I also served as one of two judges for the Autodesk Canada Capstone Award which is given to a capstone project team for demonstrating an innovative and practical design solution to a problem.  The project must include a significant software component but the team can be from any engineering discipline.  Thirteen teams from engineering competed for the award this year.  The winning team was Inspeksi from Mechatronics Engineering.  They developed a robotic system to automatically identify surface defects in fabricated materials.  The system used software to control the positioning of the cameras and software to perform extensive image processing.  The team received $5,000 cash to be split among the team members for their efforts.

Most recently, I attended the Norman Esch Entrepreneurship Awards for Capstone Design where six project teams received cash awards of $10,000 and one team received the Adel Sedra People’s Choice Award.  This year’s recipient of the Adel Sedra People’s Choice Award was the Compr team from Management Engineering.  They were also the recipient of one of the $10,000 awards.  Other award winning teams included Atlas Medical, Stacktronic, Stellar Care, Augeo Medical, and Reka.  Although I did not participate in judging this competition this year, I did attend the pitch competition and I was thoroughly impressed by all of the teams competing.

Most recently, I attended the Toast of the Graduating Class of 2019.  This is an event that we hold annually to celebrate the achievements of our graduating class.  This year’s event was the largest ever held with over 600 people attending the event.  Shown below is an image of balloons dropping on the graduating class after the toast.  It was a great event that gave faculty members, like myself, a chance to personally congratulate students on their many achievements.

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Over the past two weeks, the Engineering Admissions Team has also been assessing interviews and AIFs in preparation for our next round of admissions.  Applicants who have requested early consideration will learn whether they will receive an offer of admission to Waterloo Engineering on April 17th.  We received 310 requests for early consideration from applicants who have offers at other universities or colleges requiring acceptance by May 1st.

All other applicants will learn whether they will receive an offer of admission by the middle of May.  Scholarships will also be decided during the final round of admission.  For those who are interested, our prediction models suggest we have filled 493.2 domestic spaces out of a total of 1470 domestic spaces and we have filled 61.5 visa spaces out of a total of 203 visa spaces.  In other words, 66.4% of all domestic spaces are still unfilled and 69.3% of all visa spaces are still unfilled.  The majority of our spaces will be filled in the final round of admissions.

Requesting Early Consideration

I have been contacted by a handful of applicants who currently have offers of admission to excellent engineering programs at out-of-province institutions.  As you have probably discovered, out-of-province institutions often have different acceptance deadlines and some of them are earlier than the Ontario deadline.  At the University of Waterloo, we offer applicants the opportunity to request early consideration of their application in such circumstances.

If you have received an offer of admission from another university that is requiring you to accept or decline the offer by early May and you do not currently have an early offer of admission to Waterloo Engineering, please contact the Engineering Admissions team by e-mailing enginfo@uwaterloo.ca.  When sending your e-mail, attach proof of your offer and the acceptance deadline from the other institution.  If you e-mail us prior to April 1st, we will review your application and make a final decision on your application by April 17th.  This will allow you to make an informed choice about your future university studies.

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Please keep in mind that applicants who request early consideration will not be reconsidered during our final admission round in mid-May.  We request that only those applicants requiring a final decision in mid-April contact our office to request early consideration.  This allows us to prioritize those applicants who have earlier deadlines to meet.

 

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.

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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.

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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.