Many of you may know about the Vision 2010 Campaign – “A Blueprint for Excellence in Engineering Education and Research”, a strategic plan drafted in 2006 by the Faculty of Engineering Dean, Adel Sedra. As it enters its final year of implementation, The Iron Warrior has interviewed Dean Sedra to comment on its progress.
IW: Would you like to comment on the general progress of Vision 2010?
Dean Sedra: I am very happy to comment on the progress. We are at the moment doing exactly what we intended to do. Every spring we have published a document which provides the progress report over the previous year. At the moment I can tell you what we think we have done over the last four years. On the undergraduate front we have added new programs: Nanotechnology Engineering, the first cohort of which graduates in June 2010 and more recently we added a program in Management Engineering. We made some progress on addressing issues of retention and on improving success rate especially of first year students, but it’s still a work in progress.
We also now accept international students – we started from 0 in 2003 and the number of international students are now up to about 6%. The vision 2010 goal was to reach 8% so we are not exactly there.
At the graduate level we made dramatic changes. We nearly doubled the number of graduate students – about 1800 students are currently enrolled in doctoral, research masters and professional masters programs. I am particularly happy with the new, interesting and innovative masters programs offered that are intended for working engineers, some of which are delivered completely online. You can complete those programs without ever setting foot on our campus. We also increased the number and variety of graduate courses and perhaps most importantly we increased our faculty complements. When we started out we had 200 professors; we now have 260 professors. It creates a more intellectual teaching and research environment for all concerned. We have also increased the number of key staff positions. I should mention that the position of the person sitting right in front [Robin Jardin], came as a result of Vision 2010. We talked about improving student liaison, and working with students and adding Robin was an element in that direction.
In research, we almost doubled the money that comes into research. This money wasn’t given to us in gifts; we won it through grants and contracts that we competed in with other schools and scientists. I am happy to say that when we started this process we had about $27 million a year and this year we close the books with over $50 million a year.
On the space front, we are adding 400000 ft2 of new space to Engineering. Chemical Engineering will be the beneficiary of a new building E6 which we broke ground for last September, and it will be substantially complete by March 2011.
IW: When do you expect to be in functional form?
Dean Sedra: I would say by Fall 2011. E5 is going to open this spring. The first two floors will be for the engineering teams. We provide space for research and teaching space for three different departments [Mechanical Engineering, Mechatronics and Systems Designs]. Quantum-Nano Centre which will be the home for Nanotechnology students and Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN) will open at the end of 2011.
IW: I am guessing that space will be shared between Engineering and Physics department?
Dean Sedra: Half of it will belong to IQC [Institute for Quantum Computing] which we and physics are part of. The other half will be shared between Nanotechnology, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Electrical and Computer Engineering so it’s a multi disciplinary building. I should also mention that we picked a number of different research areas as part of Vision 2010 and started institutes and centres for these areas. One is Waterloo Institute for Automotive Research (WATCAR) which provides focus to all our work in automotive research and brings together professors from different departments and faculties. We also have Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy (WISE), a new institute that has 70 professors from Engineering, Science and Environmental Studies.
IW: As we are talking about space, would you like to say something about Engineering 7 (E7), because I personally have only seen it in books?
Dean Sedra: I would love to say something about E7 except that it’s not happening yet. E7 is only in the planning stages. It’s going to be attached to E5 via a bridge and will be attached to E6 eventually. E7 will be the same size as E5, about 170000 ft2 and we have the plan ready to go. We don’t quite have all the money we need to complete E5 and E6. We need around 100 million dollars and we are 20 million dollar short. Right now we are trying to close that gap and E7 will come after E6.
IW: I was going through the 2009 progress report and it said you hired fewer faculty members than targeted: 248.8 versus 277.3. Were there any particular reasons?
Dean Sedra: There were 2 reasons: One is the economic downturn and secondly, UW has a hiring freeze so we are only allowed to hire the mission critical positions. We will have to take 1 or 2 more years to complete our target of 300 faculty members but that’s alright because my second reason is we don’t have the space right now. We have to slow down to have the space catch up with hiring and increasing number of undergraduate students.
IW: You talked about the two new programs that have been introduced. In the near future, do you have any plans of introducing any new programs?
Dean Sedra: There are some proposals on the table for some new and innovative undergraduate programs. I am of two minds about that: we are very large already. We have nearly 6000 undergraduate students. We are the largest in the country and among the largest in North America. The question is does it make sense to grow? We are not sure. We will have to weigh pros and cons.
IW: Can you specifically name the programs?
Dean Sedra: One is bio-med engineering and the other one is architectural engineering which brings in the School of Architecture together with the Department of Civil Engineering and maybe some participation from systems design so it’s an interesting program.
IW: The 2009 priorities talked about the Nanotechnology Accreditation visit. Can you comment on the status of the Nanotechnology Engineering program Accreditation?
Dean Sedra: The visit happened and went very well and we are waiting for the report from the visiting team. CEAB will make a decision in June after the visiting team prepares the report. I am very optimistic because the visit went very well and we have a great program but until the decision we can’t be confident.
IW: Under communications goals the Vision 2010 plan also talked about improving Engineering Faculty web presence, as a part of the new visual identity. What has been done in the past year to improve that?
Dean Sedra: We have a new web designer working for us. The university is also in a big web design project and we are definitely a part of it. We have been participating in the discussions about a new visual identity and we are adopting some of what the university is doing, but not all. We are however going to maintain the crest; it will stay on our business card and letter head so we are not adopting the modern look that is being suggested. We have picked purple for Waterloo Engineering with a push from Robin.
IW: When is this web design expected to be completed?
Dean Sedra: The university web design will take about 9 months, and probably will be completed by the end of this calendar year. We have to use the same feel as the UW campus website. We are working with them on the content on the engineering web pages. I am not sure how the coordination will work.
IW: What are your comments on the decrease in OUAC applications choosing UW?
Dean Sedra: That’s a good question. We don’t know. But I am very concerned. We have made an initial assessment to inquire why and there are all kinds of answers. Maybe some self selection among students who know they can’t get into Waterloo Engineering so they are not applying here. Secondly, maybe because these numbers are largely coming from the GTA and due to the economic situation some students do not want to go very far away from home. So there are explanations of that sort but maybe we are not doing as good a job in marketing ourselves as a school. Will we be able to meet our target? Yes, we will be because this year like every year we have a lot more applicants. So I am not worried about that but I am concerned why our numbers are dropping. We just can’t be sitting; we have to work hard to find out what’s going on.
IW: At the EngSoc meeting you mentioned that Engineering Faculty has hired a lot of co-op students. What specific measures is Engineering Faculty taking to ensure that more co-op students get jobs in the coming terms?
Dean Sedra: First, I just looked at the numbers for this term; 97.6% students are employed which is much better than what we expected. There are still these 2.4 % – almost 76 students that didn’t get jobs. One student who doesn’t get a job is a problem. But in terms of ‘Have we done well?’ Yes we have. The faculty subsidized jobs for about 100 students which is expensive but it’s money well spent because students are going to get a really good experience working in research positions.
IW: Are you planning to do the same for the coming term too?
Dean Sedra: We will assess what’s happening. It’s too early to make an announcement.
IW: One last question, in the Vision 2010 blueprint it was stated that as a part of reviewing the curriculum you were looking to have a more common first year.
Dean Sedra: That was the initial plan but we have made no progress.
IW: Why would you prefer that over what we have right now?
Dean Sedra: For two reasons: one is, students come from high schools and many probably still don’t know what disciplines they want to take. Some do but a lot don’t. When I talk to high school students, they are good at math and physics and chemistry but they don’t have a good idea of what engineering they want to take, so having a more common first year will facilitate this choice after first year. The second reason is that students come into our program and then they decide to switch and switching is difficult. But I am going to give up on this goal because we haven’t made any progress.
IW: Why wasn’t any progress made? Is it due to hesitance on part of the departments?
Dean Sedra: Universities are democratic institutions. The departments have to agree. I can’t order anyone to do anything. Each department said it’s a good idea but we have to have these concepts and so on. We made progress on some fronts. Chemical and Civil are much closer than before but Electrical Engineering moved a little bit farther away. It’s a good idea in theory. Maybe it doesn’t work at Waterloo where students go on co-op right after 1A and it’s easier to get jobs if you come from a particular engineering background.
IW: Are you looking to forming a five-year plan? And when will be the plan drafted?
Dean Sedra: There will be lots of consultation and brainstorming involving everybody who works and learns here. It will involve faculty members, undergraduate and graduate chairs, staff and students, in helping us to decide where we go from here. The Progress Report for Vision 2010 will be published in spring and then we will publish the new plan by the end of the new calendar year.
IW: Thanks for your time Dean Sedra!