Dr. Mehrdad Saif
Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, University of Windsor
Demonstrating the excitement of engineering and improving equity, diversity, and inclusion will help attract more students to the field.
Engineers have changed the world. From bridges and roadways to mobile technology and space travel, the field’s impact is everywhere.
Dr. Mehrdad Saif likes to point this out when he meets high school students considering their future. “I say, ‘Look around at the internet, your phone, and the apps on your phone — engineering is predominantly responsible for most of it,’” says Dr. Saif, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Windsor. “There are so many new areas of engineering. It’s rapidly evolving, and the prospects are very bright.”
Despite this, jobs in engineering are the third most difficult for Canadian employers to fill. This need will only increase as retiring engineers exit the workforce. One of the main causes of this shortage is that not enough young people, and especially girls, are interested in engineering. Dr. Saif says that the solution needs to start when students are young.
“Elementary and high schools need to let students know what engineering is all about. Students learn math and science, but engineering isn’t a subject. It isn’t well understood,” he says. “On TV and in the movies, you see doctors and lawyers. You don’t really see engineers. They’ve always worked in the background to help humanity enormously but aren’t front and centre like some other professions.”
Hands-on learning is key to success
Dr. Saif says that to increase interest, teachers can introduce engaging school projects that
demonstrate modern engineering. In addition, engineering schools must commit to equity, diversity, and inclusion. “We need to come together to find solutions,” he says. “When you’re working in a team, diverse teams are the strongest. We need to create inclusive environments so that women and Indigenous and Black students feel like they belong.”
Providing hands-on learning opportunities will also make engineering more engaging and better prepare students to enter the workforce. “Engineers, by nature, are builders and problem-solvers. Students don’t only need to be capable of analytical and theoretical aspects, but to be hands-on. You can design and prototype but there comes a time when you have to build,” says Dr. Saif.
The University of Windsor offers undergraduate and graduate programs in civil and environmental engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical, automotive, and materials engineering. Partnerships between academic, business, and industry sectors located in the middle of an international manufacturing cluster within the Windsor-Essex/Michigan region provide hands-on training on real equipment, career opportunities, and the chance to work in advanced facilities. A co-op education program allows students to gain industry experience across the globe and earn a salary.
Preparing engineers for the future
Dr. Saif says that engineers are working in areas like medical devices, clean water, and energy, and will need to go beyond the technical aspects to deal with complex issues. “When you build an electric car with sensors that drives itself, there are ethical, legal, and policy aspects involved,” he says. “The engineers of the future need to be exposed to these aspects and to be cognizant of them when designing a product. We can’t give them engineering, law, and policy degrees in four years, but the challenge is to train students so they have a solid understanding of the issues.”
Dr. Saif believes that there will always be high demand for engineers, who are needed to solve complex problems and design innovative new products. “It’s a rewarding career,” he says. “It’s a fantastic area for students to study.”