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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Waterloo Engineering Society Logo

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.


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.