Discover student-centred learning at UBC Okanagan

Students working on a project

Imagine being a first-year engineering student and coming up with a solution to a real-world problem that’s actually implemented, wins a national or international award for innovation, or receives funding so the idea can be put to good use in industry and the community.

This happens at UBC Okanagan every year. In 2021, for example, a student team placed in the top two in the AquaHacking Challenge for their design of a mobile filtration station. In addition to bragging rights, they were awarded $20,000 in funding to advance their idea through a start-up incubator. 

“We believe that creativity and passion are key to being a great engineer,” says Sabine Weyand, Associate Professor of Teaching at the School of Engineering. “And although our first-years don’t yet have technical expertise in engineering, they are very creative and passionate. With the right guidance and tools, they have proven time and again that they can come up with great solutions to real-world problems.”

UBC Okanagan  Sabine Weyand


First-year courses

All first-year UBC Engineering students take a foundation year that includes courses on the fundamentals of math, physics, chemistry and coding that they will use throughout their degree, as well as two engineering-specific courses where they get to “do engineering” – working in teams to design solutions to real-world problems. 

The two courses at the heart of the first-year engineering experience at UBC Okanagan are APSC 169 (Sustainable Engineering Design) and 171 (Engineering Drawing and CAD/CAM). (Students at UBC Vancouver take APSC 100/101 to gain similar skills.) 

Foundation year

Okanagan’s First-Year Curriculum

Vancouver’s First-Year Curriculum

Sustainable engineering design 

At UBC Okanagan, the first semester engineering course focuses on sustainable engineering design,  where students explore the connections between engineering and sustainability, while also gaining crucial skills like how to work in groups, time management and leadership. 

For the final project in the course, students design a solution to address a sustainability goal, such as access to clean water, sustainable resource use or clean energy. 

“By the end of the semester, students have a solution to a real-world problem that they can, if they wish, move forward with trying to commercialize or enter into a student design competition,” says Dr. Weyand

In 2023, students from UBC Okanagan represented Canada at the UNESCO World Engineering Hackathon, where they placed second for their filtration device that purifies water during floods. 

Students’ ideas don’t just win competitions – they are actually implemented at UBC and beyond.

 “It was amazing to share my skill set with my peers and learn from them [in APSC 169],” says Erika Pineo, who graduated in 2023. “It resulted in an influential water consumption reduction program that was implemented by UBC Sustainability and remains on campus today.”

“We believe that having students work on these real-world problems benefits both students and society,” says Dr. Weyand. “It’s their opportunity to dive deep, apply engineering principles, use the design cycle and better understand the value of the foundational knowledge they’ll be learning in second and third year.“

UBC Okanagan at the UNESCO World Engineering Hackathon

Erika Pineo


Engineering Drawing and CAD/CAM

In their second semester, engineering students at UBC Okanagan take APSC 171 (Engineering Drawing and CAD/CAM) where they learn computer-aided design and computer-aided modelling. They then build a fully functional prototype of their design using 3D printers or CNC milling machines.

Just as with the first semester sustainability design course, this course also requires students to reflect on a real-world problem or issue. 

In 2018, for example, after more than 15 people had died from climbing inside clothing donation bins, students were asked to come up with a new design for the bins that would make it harder for people to get inside them. 

“Students have developed solutions to help elderly citizens with daily life, come up with ideas to minimize the spread of COVID-19,” says Dr. Ray Taheri, who has taught the course for many years. “This year, I am asking students to develop a solution to address the devastating effects of wildfire. It could be anything from lighter-weight gear for firefighters to detecting or monitoring wildfires to helping people to get evacuated and sheltered.”

Read about the issue and solutions developed by students Dr. Ray Taheri Read about Dr. Taheri’s approach to teaching

All first-year courses taught by engineering profs

At UBC Okanagan, required first-year courses in math, physics, chemistry, coding and communication are taught by faculty members from the School of Engineering.

“This allows for a lot of coordination among the content and deliverables and means we can weave in engineering examples in these core courses,” explains Dr. Weyand.

School of Engineering


Choosing the program that’s right for you 

At the end of first year, engineering students at UBC Okanagan choose from five programs and are guaranteed entry into their program of choice.

“As an evolving institution, we have the opportunity to be nimble,” explains Dr. Weyand. “We don’t have caps on programs so we can accommodate students’ first choice. The degree is the same, and the level of programs are the same for UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan, but the way we operate in the Okanagan is a little different and very student-centred."

Five programs Why Engineering

Setting you up for success

“UBC Okanagan offers a very intimate learning environment and unique educational culture,” says Dr. Taheri. “Like my colleagues in the School of Engineering, I’ve always had an open door policy and I encourage my students to come and talk with me.”

Whether you choose UBC Okanagan or UBC Vancouver, at the end of first year you will have the technical and core skills you’ll need to succeed wherever your engineering journey takes you. Having been exposed to the different engineering specializations, you’ll also benefit from the first-year advantage of UBC Engineering compared to other schools – giving you a year to explore your options and figure out which engineering specialization is best suited for your passions and interests. 

Technical and core skills you’ll need to succeed

First-year advantage of UBC Engineering

An engineering student at the Design and Innovation day exhibit

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Design & Innovation Day, Kai Jacobson

Start Your Future at UBC Engineering

You may not know yet if you’re interested in leading an organization. But one thing is certain. Starting your future at UBC Engineering will give you a well-balanced education and sought-after skills – the first step and the foundation for a challenging and rewarding career.

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