Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Design Symposium

Well, I was intending on finding some pictures and getting permissions to post them from the people in them and the people who took them. However, as this draught has just turned one week old, I'll post it now, and come back and edit with pictures later.

One of the things that everyone in engineering at Waterloo has to do is a fourth year project. This varies from department to department, but what MME (Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering) students do is to tackle a design project. There's two courses to this - ME 481 in the 4A term, where we have to design something, and then come up with enough detailed drawings, component lists, etc that we could give our final report to someone who knew nothing else about the project, and get it made exactly right. The second course is ME 482, in 4B. For Mechanical students this is optional, but for those of us in Mechatronics it's mandatory. This is where you build the project, and discover all the places where you left out information in the design phase.

On Monday, all the Mechatronics students had the penultimate part of our course. We took our finished projects and went to the great hall in the student life centre to set up our symposium. For four hours, we took questions from visitors to campus - lots of parents came, younger engineering students- especially the third year mechatronics students who have to do this next year, and other students who to figure out why the chairs that normally sit in the great hall had been moved.

My project was an automated window. Basically the relevant parts are that it will open and close itself, based on how warm it feels inside and outside. There's a couple of manual overrides, and a few other constraints on how it works, but those weren't why we made it. Basically we wanted to make something that would encourage green technology, things like opening the windows instead of turning on the A/C.

My partner and I were kept talking all afternoon, explaining to people what the project was. There were a surprisingly large number of people.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Outnumbered? So what?

Engineering at the University of Waterloo.

It's true: it's a male-dominated faculty by the numbers. So how will this affect your university life? How will you make friends, and fit in amongst your classmates? It's really not a problem.. just ask any female engineering student, and you'll find that there are tons of outlets to meet other girls (and make friends with your male peers as well!).

In my Software Engineering class, out of just over 100 people, just less than ten of us are girls. Sounds pretty scary, huh? Not really... I promise!

Starting your first year of Engineering as one of the few females in a large class can be intimidating, but don't let it affect you. It's really an asset to be one of the few women. Just being here, in the first place, allows you to stand out from the crowd. Many females are drawn to other fields, and the stereotype may make people believe that women aren't suited for something as "difficult" and "scary" as being in an Engineering program, so just the fact that you made the decision to pursue Engineering (and got accepted) means a lot. People recognize that, and respect you for choosing a field you're interested in, rather than going along with the crowd.

There are tons of events and organizations that you can join to meet other female Engineering students, including Orientation Week, Women in Engineering, and EngSoc events. University is a chance to break free from the high school life and become anyone you want to be. You're free to pursue countless new interests, join clubs, teams and societies, and yes, make new friends along the way.

During the first week of lectures in my first year, my class was electing Class Representatives for the term. I didn't know anybody when I entered the program, but met a small handful during Orientation Week. I'm not sure what got into me, but when they asked for anyone who wanted to be considered as a candidate, I stood up in front of 100+ strangers to plead my case. To my surprise, I was elected a Class Rep! Taking on that position allowed me to get over my fear of speaking in front of large groups. I was also able to meet dozens of my classmates and made friends with many of them. I became well-known in my class as I sent out informational e-mails about upcoming events and received class feedback regarding issues to be addressed. Almost 2 full years later, I'm still a Class Rep. It just goes to show, even the smallest decision can make a world of difference.

Long story short, being a woman in Engineering isn't scary. It doesn't have to isolate you or make you feel out of place. It's truly an awesome experience that I wish more women would pursue. The things you learn, the people you meet, and the community you become a part of are all things that will stick with you for life, so make the most of it. :)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mechatronics - Nut Sorter Project

One of the exciting things that I have done in Mechatronics so far is this Nut Sorter Project.

The idea is to design a Mechatronics system that can sort nut of different sizes and types. It should also be able to detect coins in the process and reject them. There were size constrains as to how big the sorter can be and we also had a budget that we had to work within.

At the start of the term we were given a kit that contained some sensors, stepper and DC motors and some basic electronics components. At the end of the term a competition was held to evaluate the sorter based on speed, accuracy and design.

Here is the picture of the nut sorter that our group had designed. This sorter works based on the shadow a nut casts. Depending on the size of the shadow, the nut is dispensed into the respective bin.

Attached are two of the videos that shows how the sorter works

Enjoy the videos. You can look at other nut sorter projects on Youtube.

Martha's Sons

Part of going to a Canadian engineering school is a special ceremony called "The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer". This was alluded to in the previous post. If any of you already know engineers, then you're familiar with the iron ring. It is a reminder to engineers that the work we do is important, and we get it when we participate in a ceremony in which we agree to always do our best to produce good work. Both my parents are engineers, and I've grown up knowing about the iron ring. It's really cool (and weird) to finally have my own. You cannot attend the ritual unless you are an engineer who has an iron ring already, but since both my parents are, and one of my grandfathers, here you can see me with my guests.

This ritual was written by Rudyard Kipling for Canadian engineers back in the 1920's, and to this day every graduate of Canadian engineering schools is given the opportunity to participate. So it means a lot to me that I got to take part in this ritual. The ritual is semi-private, so I can't really give a lot of details here, but here's a picture of the iron ring, what everyone spends their time here looking forward to. Sorry for the quality of the picture, but the ring is worn on the dominant hand, so anyone trying to take a picture of their own ring is forced to use their non-dominant hand (left in my case).

The post title comes from one of Kipling's poems. It's one that really shows why he was considered appropriate to write a ritual for engineers, and the high esteem in which he holds the work of engineers.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Engineering Antics

My class has been looking pretty ridiculous lately. Somebody decided that this month would be Moustache March so there's been a lot of not shaving going on.

The girls in the class were the judges today, and we awarded the following titles
  • best musketeer
  • most original design
  • least kissable (they all won)
  • creepiest 'stache
  • best use of mascara
  • dirtiest
Also, tomorrow is IRS (Iron Ring Stag) so basically all the graduating engineers get their rings, and then go to a giant party. However, that means today is the day the engineers get dressed up, parade around campus, disrupt class rooms, etc.

I'm really excited because if the class of 2009 has gotten their rings, it means that I am next in line. Class of 2010, here we come!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Co-op Experiences as a Mechatronics Undergrad

Mechatronics Engineering is a combination of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering which has given me very broad opportunities. Through my work terms I have gained experience working on sheet metal enclosures for high voltage switches, working at a high tech company that makes software and working for a building design consulting company.

My favorite work experiences have been doing building design consulting. Through my work terms in building design, I have worked on the renovation of the UW Dana Porter Library and on the design of the new Waterloo Regional History Museum. Both projects were full of learning opportunities and it was amazing to work on buildings that are so important to the community that I live in.

Through this position, I did both Mechanical and Electrical building design. Mechanical building design includes: heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, sizing air flows, ducts and pipes and ensuring temperature and humidity requirements can be met and maintained all year round. Electrical building design includes: service load calculations, lighting calculations and ensuring user requirements for lighting and power were satisfied.

One of the most important parts of design is ensuring that the design is actually possible in the real world. This means that a lot of time is spent coordinating with all of the other engineers and architects involved in the building design process to make sure that everything will fit and work together seamlessly.

In addition to doing design work, I was also given opportunities to interact with clients and partnering firms. People skills are a very important part of my job as an engineer because it is important to be able to explain technical results and findings to clients in a way that they will understand. Organizational skills are also essential to my work because I always have many deadlines and milestones that I need to keep track of, as well as, long lists of things which must be designed, verified or confirmed.

The Waterloo Regional History Museum

One of the most exciting aspects of my work in building design has been the opportunity to work on environmentally friendly buildings. The museum that I worked on has been designed to be very environmentally friendly. A couple of the things that are being incorporated into the museum include rainwater collection, and energy recovery systems.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Design of a Culvert Crossing

I am a current first year environmental engineering student. The final project for our 'Introduction to Civil & Environmental Engineering' course involved the predesign of a culvert crossing on campus. A culvert is a tunnel that allows water to pass through. They are often used to allow water to pass under roadways.

Currently there is a by-pass channel (flowing body of water) on campus. There is a crossing with two steel culverts that allows water to flow under the crossing. The project was to develop a more advanced culvert system that would be able to handle a greater amount and speed of water. The replacement culvert was to be designed to stand up to a hundred year storm. A hundred year storm is the largest storm that would be expected to occur in the area within a hundred year period.

We spent hours outside surveying the site. We recorded the elevations of the land around the channel and even put on waders and surveyed through the channel. We recorded the distance between all points so that they could accurately be plotted on an AutoCAD map.

Once the data were collected we created a map of the area, and developed a design for a replacement culvert. We had to consider the quantity and speed of water from a hundred year storm.

The project was very open ended. It was up to us to specify the finer details of the proposed crossing. We had the option of designing a sidewalk and guardrail if we thought it was necessary and we had to determine a suitable road width based on how much traffic the site sees. We had to compare the efficiency of 5 different culvert diameters and the number of culverts was completely up to us.

Ultimately, the design that I proposed included 6 culverts, each having a 1.2 meter diameter.

Through the experience, we all developed our surveying and autocad skills, and learned about report writing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Thoughts of Summer

The recent warm and sunny weather has made me think of nothing but this upcoming summer term. Last summer I was in school so I am really looking forward to being on a work-term this summer and I am planning to enjoy my free-time and the sunshine to the fullest.
The past few days I’ve been daydreaming of all the things that I am going to do this summer:

-Go camping and enjoy the outdoors – I’m not much of an outdoorsy person but much to my surprise I actually love camping (as long as there are decent washrooms and showers... I know some may not consider this to be real camping but for me it is a must!) So I am definitely looking forward to a weekend of campfires in the bush.

-Make a long overdue trip to the rock store in uptown Waterloo – Uptown Waterloo has so many awesome little stores like the rock store in the Valu-mart plaza. I swore I was going to bring my friends to see the rock store over the last work term and this just never happened – probably because of the prospect of walking to uptown waterloo in freezing cold weather. (Other notably awesome places in uptown waterloo: Yukiko’s cafe, Gen X movie rental and Whole lotta gelata)

-Use the other side of my brain – Over the work term I am taking two night classes, Intro to Psychology and Macroeconomics. Even though it is more school I am definitely looking forward to classes focused on something completely different.

-Read a book – I love to read but somehow I can never fit it into school terms so this summer I am going to force myself to take some time to relax and enjoy a good book.

-Enjoy smoothies in the sun – no explaination needed on this one!

-Visit the clay and glass gallery – The clay and glass gallery is such a short walk from my place and I pass by it all the time. Ever since I moved into my place about 3 years ago I’ve been planning to visit the gallery. This summer I am definitely going!

-Relish in the ability to say “I graduate in less than a year!” – This is probably one of the most exciting prospects of this summer!

-Learn a ton at my co-op job – I’ll dedicate a whole post to this later in the term...

I’m sure this summer is going to be amazing!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Engineering Explorations 2009

This past Monday was Explorations 2009. Explorations is an outreach event that is run every term for elementary school students in grades 6, 7 and 8. The students are toured around the campus and shown different things that people are working on within engineering.

I volunteered as a tour guide for the evening and brought a group of about 8 interested students around to our various stops. They all had lots of fun and learned a lot about what engineering is all about.

Some of the highlights of the tour were:
-the autonomous landmine detectors which are being built by the UW Robotics Group
-the Connect 4 robot which is able to play the game connect 4 (and it usually wins!)
-the geological display where the kids were shown how quicksand occurs and were able to simulate an earthquake
-the Solar car which runs entirely on solar energy that has been collected by the solar panels covering the entire car

I think Explorations is a great event and such a fun way to introduce young students to engineering!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Orientation Week is Coming!

We are! We are! We are the engineers!
We can! We can! Fix anything with gears!

Ah, the echo of Orientation Week.. it's something that you never forget. Being a head leader for Software Engineering's 2009 Orientation Week makes it something that I never want to forget. Let me take you back to last year:

Orientation Week is a longstanding tradition of the University of Waterloo. Although the events have changed drastically over the years, the same spirit of excitement and pride in our school and faculties can be seen today.

Take Engineering Orientation, for example:

Over a period of two days, the incoming students last year were invited to participate in such ridiculous events as sliding down an enormous homemade "Slip 'n Slide" to splash into a big puddle at the bottom, grasping onto their very muddy leaders to guide them safely over a 20-foot long mud pit, working together to form a human conveyor belt to transport their leaders across a lawn and into a kiddie pool, and forming teams to transform a junkyard mess into carts and catapults. And that's not even the half of it!

All joking aside, the greatest quote that I have ever heard regarding Waterloo's Orientation Week is, "The purpose of Orientation Week is not to have fun". Although it may sound a little harsh at first, the meaning behind it is that Orientation Week's true purpose is to make all incoming students feel welcome. It's a chance to make new friends, get acquainted with your school, and get to know a little more about your faculty and program... all the fun is just a bonus.

The planning and excitement for this year's Orientation Week is well underway, and I can safely say that Engineering's Orientation Week will be an event not to be missed. With any luck, I'll see you there! :)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Canadian Undergraduate Technology Conference

This week was the 10th annual Canadian Undergraduate Technology Conference. The CUTC is the largest undergraduate-run conference in Canada and was founded 10 years ago by UW Engineering students. Three of my classmates and myself attended the conference as delegates and it was a great experience and we took away a lot of valuable knowledge from the speakers and seminars.

This year there were three excellent keynote speakers from OpenText (a well established UW spin-off company), Rypple (a small start up company based out of Toronto) and Engineers without Borders (an international non-profit organization founded by UW Engineering students). Each speaker had a unique and valuable message and each had an insightful and inspiring message to share.

In addition to the keynote speakers, the conference also included seminars on a broad range of technology related topics including nanotechnology, technical entrepreneurship, technology sectors and air traffic control. Each of these speakers had impressive credentials and years of experience. This made them an invaluable resource for the undergraduate delegates.

The conference was held in downtown Toronto - which was a blast! During some free time my friends and I took a trip to the newly opened Art Gallery of Ontario. The architecture of the building was absolutely phenomenal and the art gallery was so much larger than I had anticipated. I'm sure we could have spent hours longer viewing all of the art. It was a great change of pace and an awesome culmination to our trip to Toronto.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Introductory Post

I am a current Women in Engineering director for the University of Waterloo. I am studying Mechatronics Engineering and I am currently in 3rd year.

At the University of Waterloo the Undergraduate enrollment in Engineering is only about 16%. The percentage of women varies between programs with some programs as high as 50% and others as low as 3%.

In my class of approximately 100 students, there are only 7 women (Which means this picture from last year's Engineering Semi-Formal shows 43% of the women in my class!)

I am planning to blog about the experiences of undergraduate women in engineering with the hope of broadening the perceptions of engineering as a profession.