In the back of a portable tucked behind the J.R. Coutts Engineering Lecture Hall, a mishmash of electronic components fill one set of shelves. Another overflows with robotic Lego kits, while a couple of 3D printers whir away in the background. Meanwhile, a dozen three-dimensional paper dragons perch on top of computers, destined for a new virtual reality exercise.
Welcome to Waterloo Engineering Outreach HQ.
This is where Caity Dyck coordinates the Engineering Science Quest (ESQ) camps that attract 30,000 kids each summer. Another 6,000 participate in a slew of term-time programs: weekend Girls Clubs, March Break camps, ESQ birthday parties and more.
Programs like these have made Waterloo Engineering a leader in outreach and inspired a generation of students to consider engineering careers, says Mary Wells, Waterloo Engineering’s Associate Dean of Outreach. The secret, she says, is hands-on exploration.
This past summer, for example, Wells’ nine-year old daughter brought home a robotic floor scrubber she made at ESQ camp. “You turn this little motor on and it had a little fan at the end and it can move this brush around and clean your floor,” Wells explains. “She was so proud of that.”
She’s not alone. Wells has stacks of letters from parents and campers describing how ESQ transformed their ideas of science and engineering. The Girls Clubs sell out within two hours and the camps in less than two months.
With that much interest, Wells and Dyck are keen to expand the programs further. There’s just one hitch: lack of space.
Over the years, Dyck has become a master of begging rooms wherever she can find them on campus. Meanwhile, her program leaders are constantly lugging supplies from the portable to borrowed program space and back again.
All that will change with the construction of E7. Engineering’s newest building will include offices, creation space and dedicated classrooms for the Outreach program — and Dyck couldn’t be more excited. “It will be incredible how much more we can do,” she says.
Engineering 7: New Home to Outreach
The glass-walled space will occupy a prime position near the Engineering Ideas Clinic and the RoboHub, turning the entire ground floor into a showcase of innovation. What better way to recruit the thousands of new engineers Canada will need in the coming decades to replace retiring baby boomers and drive technological progress?
Wells has high hopes that many of those recruits will be women. In 2005, girls made up 15 per cent of the incoming Engineering class. In 2015, that number nearly doubled to 28 per cent, thanks in part to Outreach programs.
“I think we’ve shown fairly effectively that if you do targeted programming, you can have an impact,” Wells says. Now she wants to extend the focus to include other underrepresented groups, such as aboriginal youth. She also muses about creating a public “maker space,” where members of the community could bring their own ideas to life.
After all, when you have room to grow, all kinds of things become possible.