Helping engineering students find their way

Published: 15 February 2023

In December, the Faculty of Engineering held an event to thank some of the donors who have offered their support to the McGill Engineering Student Centre (MESC) over the years.

It all began when Helgi Soutar (BSci’58) and her late husband Ian Soutar (BEng’58) funded four exchange students from Estonia to come to McGill for their MBAs. At the end of the program, one of the students in the group told Ian that he might have stayed if he’d had more support from the University to prepare him for the demands of the Canadian workplace.

Shortly afterwards, the Soutars decided to fund what is now the Soutar Career Centre at the Desautels Faculty of Management, and the McGill Engineering Student Centre (MESC). Their vision was to provide career guidance and academic support. Ian was presented with the McGill Alumni Association Award of Merit in 2015 for his work enhancing the reputation and prestige of McGill.

The Soutars’ initial investment has snowballed as major donors have contributed to MESC’s evolution and success.

Career Guidance and Academic Support

The launch of MESC helped consolidate the many academic advising and career resources for students that were scattered throughout the Faculty of Engineering. Thanks to alumni support, MESC now resides in a large, centralized space in the Frank Dawson Adams Building and has grown to 21 employees.

MESC serves as the umbrella to four areas: Student Affairs (SAO), Engineering Career Centre (ECC), Engineering Peer Tutoring Services (EPTS) and Mental Health and Wellness (Engineering LWA).

In the new structure, Julie Godin, who has worked at MESC since 2010, is now Associate Director of the Engineering Career Centre (ECC). Her colleague, Nancy Lewis, is Associate Director, Academic Affairs.

The Engineering Career Centre (ECC) partners with students and industry to host TechFair, the largest career fair held at McGill. TechFair attracts employers from around the world who hire engineering and physical science students. MESC also helps with the popular McGill Design Day, where students in their final undergraduate year present design projects to professors, alumni, and industry.

Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning has always been part of the ECC. As part of the new structure, Godin is also responsible for Empower, one of the Faculty’s priority 4E initiatives.

Empower encompasses Skills Development, Leadership and Experiential Learning. “Developing leadership skills and a sense of community are vital to the learning experience outside the classroom,” Godin says. “When students come back from these experiences, you can really see how the skills they’ve acquired will have a positive impact on their careers.”

Experiential Learning opportunities for undergraduate engineering students are funded by donors who support the Student Initiative Fund (SIF), the Global Challenges Award (GCA), and the Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering (SURE). For students who would otherwise be working to support themselves during the summer, this funding allows for participation in programs that add valuable skills to their engineering education.

Godin and her colleagues have seen changes at MESC during the last two years that they’ve been waiting for. Tasks like making an appointment or dropping a course can now be completed using an automated form online. However, students still come in person. Staff members take turns answering questions at the counter.

“When students first come in, they’re a little bit intimidated. They might ask about which courses to take,” says Godin. “Once they feel more comfortable, they’re excited to find out about the opportunities that are available to them.

Godin is proud to be a member of the MESC team. “Even though we each have our specialties, we’re all aware of the different programs and partnerships we offer. It’s important to us that when a student comes in, we can quickly establish which of our programs might help them out.”

Gathering MESC Donors

Annabel Soutar (D.Litt) accompanied her mother to the MESC event and told the group that she has grown up in an environment of philanthropy and hopes to continue her parents’ legacy.

Another long-time connection is the Hamilton family. Ross Hamilton (GrDip Management’16), his sister Margaret (BArts‘88) and son Andrew (BArts‘11) attended the event together. Andrew is a sixth generation McGill graduate. The Philip Henry Banfill Hamilton Endowment for Student Advising in Engineering was set up by Ross and Margaret’s father, Philip Hamilton (BEng ’54). Ross said his father wanted students to have as many experiences as possible so they could become better engineers.

At the event, Max Pruneau, Sr. Manager, Technology & Operations, RBC, said that “the bank is on the lookout for graduates who have experience working in new fields, like AI. The RBC Global Challenge Award,” he explained, “is there because students help us improve our offering and in the long run make the world a better place.”

Janie Pelletier and colleague Monika Nowicka are early career specialists who both work with McGill students and represented WSP Canada Global Challenge Award. “WSP is committed to supporting the expansion of the educational experience offered to the next generation of Engineers,” said Pelletier.

Sébastien Hylands (BEng’11) VP of Development at Kevric Real Estate Corporation, attended on behalf of the Kevric Student Initiative Fund. Deeply involved in student initiatives during his studies at McGill, he said that experiences outside the classroom can be transformational. “They allow students to develop new skills, build confidence in their abilities and develop a passion for solving complex problems.”

As part of the Class of 1979’s Student Initiative Fund, Mat Fokas, BEng’79, MEng’87 helped design teams in 2005. Benno Novak, BEng’60, University of Manitoba MCP’66, appreciates hearing from students who write to thank him and tell him what they’re working on. André Allaire, BEng’82, MEng’86, PhD’91, donated to MESC because he enjoyed his time at McGill – it is also where he met his wife.

The Impact of Donor Support

Following the event, donors were taken to Engine, located around the corner from MESC, to meet some of the students who had benefitted from SIF and GCA awards.

Joel Jean-Philyppe (BEng’22) is a current graduate student with the Alternative Fuels Laboratory of McGill, and he came to speak to the group as former Captain of the McGill Rocket Team.

“It’s a complex engineering project to build an amateur rocket, with apogee targets of between 10,000 to 30,000 feet,” he explained. “The technical knowledge, project management, teamworking and teambuilding skills that we acquire enrich our education and prepare us for industry.”

SIF funding made it possible for the team to bring their development research for a fully operational hybrid engine to the International Astronautical Congress ’22 in Paris.

Civil Engineering student, Mathem Maluak (BEng’23) spent last summer working in the Indigenous community of Neskantaga in northern Ontario, a project funded by the GCA.

“I was surprised to be sent on a project to filter drinking water in Canada!” said Maluak. “But there was a need, and I’ve learned many things about filtration systems that I will be able to apply when I go home to South Sudan/Uganda.”

In her new role, Godin’s vision is to group all the experiential learning activities into one online hub. “I’d like to help students find available opportunities more easily, and to showcase the incredible experiences they’re getting for everyone in the engineering community to see.”

Please contact us to find out about SIF, GCA and SURE funding.

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