Learning by doing

Two students working on a robot

Engineering is an exciting area of study because it’s all about learning and applying knowledge. You start by building up a strong foundation in the fundamentals of science and math throughout your degree. You’ll then use that understanding to build and create solutions to challenges large and small.

“As engineers, we spend a lot of time learning how the universe works—learning how matter and energy behave so we can predict what’s going to happen under certain conditions, and using that to design new processes or devices,” says Dr. Gabriel Potvin, an Associate Professor of Teaching at UBC Chemical and Biological Engineering.

What’s really exciting for engineers is the opportunity to apply their technical knowledge to shape outcomes and design solutions to specific problems or to achieve desired goals. That could be coming up with a better door hinge or designing a particle accelerator to collide subatomic particles together at close to the speed of light.”

UBC Chemical and Biological Engineering  Dr. Gabriel Potvin 

Why Engineering will set you up for success

Learning and doing from day one

UBC’s foundation year gives you lots of opportunities to translate theoretical knowledge into practical solutions. You’ll take courses in math, physics, chemistry and coding, and you’ll then synthesize and apply this knowledge in two design-focused courses where you will work on open-ended projects that you will remember long after first year!

These projects often involve making things: you may design a robotic claw to pick up items or come up with a prototype to help prevent, manage or fight wildfires.

Watch a video on the wildfire mitigation strategies developed by first-year students at UBC Okanagan.

After first year, when you start focusing on a specific engineering discipline, you’ll continue to have opportunities to make, build and test. Some programs allow for more hands-on learning than others. 

For example, students in Engineering Physics at UBC Vancouver participate in “robot summer” where they build autonomous robots. And students in Mechanical Engineering take MECH 2 in second year, where they complete four one-week modules to gain practical skills.

We did a machine shop intro class and were able to work with lathes and mills and learn about circuits and drafting and CAD,” explains student Caitlyn Molander. “It was a month-long crash course in all these things and then we got to build a magnetic levitation device to practice all of these different skills we’d learned.

Foundation Year  Engineering Physics 

Caitlyn Molander

Capstone projects bring it all together

For many students, capstone projects are a highlight exemplify what makes engineering such a fun and rewarding area of study. Over two semesters, you’ll be part of a team working with an industry partner to come up with a solution to a real-world problem. Here are just a few recent projects:

Biomedical engineering students

Biomedical Engineering project

A group of students built a rig to mimic the biomechanical rotation of a swimmer’s head to test smart swim goggles.

Biomedical Engineering project

Integrated engineering students

Integrated Engineering Project

Students built a scaled-down version of the CyberTruck that they controlled through a remote driving station. 

Integrated Engineering project

Computer engineering students

Computer Engineering project

Students worked with a local sustainable finance technology startup to create an app to map the forest canopy, which will give decision-makers access to better data for forest management. 

Computer Engineering project

Mechanical engineering students

Mechanical Engineering project

Students worked with the Kitksan Watershed Authority to build a fish wheel to sort salmon migrating upstream so they could be safely transported around a landslide.

Mechanical Engineering project

When reflecting back on their capstone projects, students emphasize time and again the value of working on a large-scale project where they can bring together and apply all the knowledge they’ve acquired over their degree.

As a group of Civil Engineering students said about their capstone project: “There’s great pride that comes from stepping back and realizing how much knowledge we’ve gained over the degree, both in our classes and co-op positions. It’s sometimes hard to have an accurate sense of your skills or knowledge because civil engineering includes such a vast range of topic areas that you need to cover. But for this project, we had to apply our knowledge from so many areas, and it was rewarding to recognize that we know a lot!”

Capstone Projects

Design teams make it real

For the ultimate in designing and building a device or product, UBC’s engineering design teams are hands-on to the nth degree. There are teams that build Formula 1-stye racing cars (both electric and non-electric), build and design net-zero sustainable buildings, and build and launch rockets or drones. There are teams creating soccer-playing robots and coming up with a bench-scale microbrewery.

Mechanical Engineering student Robyn Xiong says being part of design teams has been a great way to pursue her love of making things and to mentor others as they gain practical hands-on skills. She led a subteam of AeroDesign, building remote-controlled, fixed-wing aircraft. 

It was my first time needing to manage the technical side of a project as well as a team of people,” she says. “It was great to help others build their confidence working with their hands and was an excellent growth opportunity for me.

UBC’s engineering design teams  AeroDesign   

Robyn Xiong

Build a successful career

Engineering is a great career choice for people who like to build and create things, and who don’t want to spend their entire working life sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen (unless they’re computer engineers!).

If you read through profiles of UBC alumni, you’ll learn how rewarding they find it to apply their knowledge to improve our built environment, make a better product or design a better solution.

“A lot of the projects I’ve worked on, I can now use as an end user, whether I’m riding my bike or taking the bus,” says civil engineer Joses Akampurira, who worked on multi-million dollar infrastructure projects for the City of Surrey.

Check out profiles of other alum, like Arjun Venkatesh, who designed circuit boards and motor drives used by Boston Dynamics’ robots, and Emma D’Alessandro, who is leading a project at Boeing to use biobased feedstock in products used to prevent corrosion.

UBC alumni profiles  

It all comes full circle

Project-based learning makes for a very exciting environment that is very different from traditional lecture-based learning,” says Dr. Potvin. “It gives you an opportunity to identify a goal and apply and synthesize knowledge from your life and other classes to come up with a solution. Learning by doing is a not a new concept, but it’s a very powerful way for you to take ownership of your education. No one else is going to come up with the same solution as you.

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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