McGill hosts Canadian Engineering Competition

The 2016 edition of the Canadian Engineering Competition (CEC) took place from March 3-6 2016 in Montreal QC, and was organized by the Engineering Undergraduate Society of McGill University. This event, widely regarded as one of the nation’s most prestigious Engineering competitions, annually gathers over 160 of the best and brightest Engineering students from Universities across Canada to compete in one of seven categories ranging from Junior and Senior Design to Extemporaneous Debates. Participants earn the opportunity to represent their school at CEC first by winning their Engineering Society’s local competition (such as the EUS’s McGill Engineering Competition), and then by finishing in first or second place in their category at their regional competition (such as the Quebec Engineering Competition).
The opportunity to host the Canadian Engineering Competition was awarded to the EUS in March 2014 by the Canadian Federation of Engineering Students (CFES), a Canada-wide organization that represents approximately 60,000 Engineering undergraduates across Canada. Over the course of the two years that followed, the event’s organizing committee, led by U3 Mechanical Engineering student Dean Di Giorgio, has worked to produce an event on par with the high standard of excellence and professionalism that are hallmarks of the McGill Faculty of Engineering.

A beacon in the dark

Every year, the Canadian Engineering Competition is branded with a theme to provide the event with an identity and a motivation behind the different design challenges that the competitors face at CEC. The theme of this year’s edition was a beacon in the dark, chosen to “highlight the ability of engineers to overcome the most dire situations with the might of innovation and the power of teamwork. The theme aims to expose the Canadian engineering talent to challenges such as large-scale disasters and issues like extreme poverty, in the hope that they are inspired to resolve worldwide problems in the future,” according to the event’s sponsorship package.
The guiding principle behind this theme was especially noticeable in the Competition’s Junior and Senior Design categories, in which teams of four are given a limited amount of time to build a prototype tasked with accomplishing a very specific goal. In the case of the former, the challenge was to build a deployable and retractable bridge capable of spanning three different lengths. The context behind this challenge was to provide a third-world village with the means to acquire useful resources that would otherwise be inaccessible. The challenge for Senior Design, which was by all accounts exceptionally difficult this year, was to build a Bluetooth-controlled robot capable of navigating difficult terrain, and then acquiring and storing three Styrofoam cubes and 0.5L of water. This was intended to simulate a robot finding food and water in a disaster zone.
In a different interpretation of this theme, the challenge for the event’s Consulting Engineering category was to come up with a detailed plan to build a roof over the velodrome at the National Cycling Centre in Bromont QC, so that the track can be used regardless of the weather, all while accounting for logistical concerns such as parking and lodging in anticipation of the province of Quebec winning its bid for the 2021 Francophone Games. This challenge was designed by back-to-back Quebec Engineering Competition consulting champion Robert Ralph, in collaboration with National Cycling Centre director Nicolas Legault. This idea was based on a real-life plan to cover the velodrome that has been ailing for the past several years due to a lack of funding. Though the solutions developed by this category’s participants won’t relieve the project’s financial difficulties, the wide array of solutions presented by the contestants will hopefully breathe new life into this initiative.

A rare experience

It goes without saying that engineering students would benefit from more opportunities to apply the often highly theoretical concepts learned at Faculties of Engineering at McGill and elsewhere. The Canadian Engineering Competition helps complement this brand of teaching by providing students with opportunities where they can not only apply the theory learned in the classroom, but also recognize, value and develop the soft skills that separate an average Engineer from an amazing one. Skills such as developing and defending cohesive arguments, or considering the financial, environmental and social aspects of massive community-wide engineering projects, both of which are woefully disregarded in many engineering curricula across Canada.
The friendships formed over the course of the event, the undeniable prestige of being at such an illustrious competition surrounded by so many brilliant students, and the career opportunities offered to participants by virtue of making it to CEC help round out an undoubtedly unforgettable experience for all of the participants, sponsors, volunteers and organizers involved in this event.

The organizing committee for CEC 2016 at McGill.

The organizing committee for CEC 2016 at McGill.

A piece of history

Although this year marked the Competition’s 32nd anniversary, this edition of CEC is only the second to be hosted at McGill, the other being as recent as 2011. The EUS is also far from done hosting events of this nature, as McGill will also be hosting the second edition of the CFES Conference on Diversity in Engineering (formerly known as the National Conference on Women in Engineering, which originated at Queen’s University in 1990 in response to the 1989 shooting at École Polytechnique that left 14 women in Engineering dead).
This recent interest in external student conferences is very much reminiscent of the founding days of the Canadian Federation of Engineering Students. In fact, the Federation’s inaugural Congress was hosted by McGill in 1969. The McGill Engineering community showed tremendous leadership nearly fifty years ago by creating a venue where Engineering student leaders could gather, share their experiences, and work together towards the common good of their students. Today, we see that this sense of national leadership is as strong at McGill as it has ever been.

By Bryan Gingras – bryan.gingras@mail.mcgill.ca

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