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Engineering Solutions Using the Design Process and Mentors

Grade 12 physics students at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) participated in a first-of-its-kind this month --- an Engineering Design Workshop focused on tackling real-life problems and led by professional engineers who facilitated the session as mentors.

“This is very applicable to many of the students who will be looking to go into engineering, as well as those thinking of business,” says Frank Heijmans, Department Head of Science and physics teacher at SMCS.

The Annual Engineering Design Workshop at SMCS in 2020

The second SMCS Engineering Design Workshop was facilitated by engineer/mentors.

“My affinity for SMCS is the driving force behind my participation,” says Michael Bakaic a mechanical engineer who graduated from SMCS in 2007 and one of the workshop’s mentors. “These are my brothers and I am eager to support them.”

More than 50 physics students and five engineers/mentors took part, including several SMCS alumni.

First run in 2017, the workshop format involved all participants working to solve one problem. This time around, each group tackled a unique challenge.

The Annual Engineering Design Workshop at SMCS in 2020


“This year, the Engineering Design Workshop is modelled after the previous one, but is intended to be a kick-off for the actual engineering design project the students will work on over the next several months,” says Heijmans, who is the lead organizer of the workshop.

Working in small groups, students received one of three real-life challenges to solve. 

The Annual Engineering Design Workshop at SMCS in 2020


Over a five-hour span, students:

  • Learned about the engineering design process 
  • Researched and identified need and criteria
  • Brainstormed possible solutions
  • Selected a solution
  • Developed a prototype
  • Presented their findings as a group

A pair of mentors presided over each grouping and provided pointers, feedback, and insight.

The Annual Engineering Design Workshop at SMCS in 2020


“At first glance, a fundamental description of the engineering process may seem overly simplified or cliché, however in truth, the simplified view is immensely helpful when approaching complicated engineering challenges,” says Bakaic, co-founder and CTO of Fibos, a company that specializes in optical sensing solutions. “Generating an unbiased set of success criteria provides a sharp and efficient tool for weighing the value of a plethora of brainstormed solutions. The pace of the workshop will also add some stress to the conversations to give some real-life importance to the exercise,” he says.

Two of the problems the students received were developed by Skule™ --- the University of Toronto’s engineering community.

The Annual Engineering Design Workshop at SMCS in 2020


“Each group tackled a different problem: a garbage crisis, pioneers on Mars, and bicycle collisions, in their groups,” says Heijmans, who spent more than a decade working as a chemical engineer before becoming a science teacher.

“In this workshop, we keep the process simple – frame, diverge, converge, represent,” says Heijmans, who also moderates the VEX Robotics Club at SMCS. “At the end of the process, the teams in each group made presentations of their work to their group and were assessed by their mentors.”

The goal is for students to use this new knowledge to carry out their own project in class. One of the options for the project --- to solve an engineering challenge in the field of geriatric care.