"My 'expertise' is a willingness to learn and engage in solving real-world challenges."
What brought you to UPEI? Why did you choose to teach here?
I grew up in Guelph, Ontario and before learning about the UPEI Faculty of Sustainable Design Engineering (FSDE), I was uncertain whether I would want to work in academia. My interests are diverse, so I struggled to see a fit in many of the traditional engineering schools that use departments to divide engineering teaching and research into specific disciplines.
The FSDE offers a unique, interdisciplinary learning and teaching environment that gives students a sound engineering foundation that equips them with important knowledge from different disciplines. While there are some focus area opportunities, the FSDE works as a whole to support student learning. Similarly, research is not mandated to stay within a specific engineering discipline. The interdisciplinary approach to engineering here at UPEI encourages creativity in learning and research, which captured my interest and allowed me to find a place in academia.
One of the other unique aspects of the FSDE program is the integration of design into undergraduate education. I really value applied, design-based engineering and seeing this value captured in an engineering program was incredible. Community and industry partners are engaged in all design projects and the support offered by FSDE staff to students during their projects is unbelievable.
What courses are you teaching currently?
I currently teach Engineering 3710 and 3720: Project-Based Professional Practice. It’s a series of two third-year design courses in which students work on teams to design, build, and test an innovative solution to a real world problem. Projects come from community partners, both on and off Island. For 2023–2024 we have 12 teams, each working on unique projects, with 10 different partners.
What kinds of research are you involved in, and what is your area of expertise?
It’s probably easiest to start with my area of expertise, as it sheds light on my research interests. I would say my ‘expertise’ is a willingness to learn and engage in solving real-world challenges. My engineering background is interdisciplinary, spanning materials, environmental, and design engineering, renewable energy, air quality, sustainability, and product development. This background exemplifies my diverse interests, gives me a strong technical engineering foundation to tackle different challenges, and also demonstrates my underlying value of incorporating sustainability into the work I conduct.
In order to do meaningful research, I first looked at the key environmental challenges being faced globally, and then explored the root causes for these challenges. I believe that these challenges stem from three areas; resource consumption, energy, and emissions. As a result, my research program uses these three areas as focal points.
To address resource consumption, I am looking at circular economy and what this means in engineering design. My research team has started diving into one key industry, construction and demolition, to understand how material flows on PEI and identify opportunities to spur the transition to a circular economy. We have been working with the Construction Association of PEI (CAPEI) to do a waste audit of a Tiny Home build happening through their skilled trades programs.
There is amazing energy research happening in the FSDE by a number of my colleagues, spanning anything from bioresources for energy production, renewable energy systems, to neighbourhood energy design. I am taking a slightly different spin on energy and looking into the holistic, sustainability assessment of energy alternatives. With a push to reduce carbon emissions, green energy alternatives are being pursued and often the conversation doesn’t include other important environmental, societal, or economic considerations. This is the gap I am hoping to fill with my research.
Carbon emissions are often front and centre in news and research but there are numerous other air pollutants that play a significant role in environmental and human health. While clean energy alternatives seek to reduce carbon emissions, consideration needs to be given to the other air pollutants that may be generated, what the long-term implications of these emissions will be, and how we can take measures now to mitigate these future impacts.
"UPEI’s size and variety of programming offers amazing experiences for faculty and students. In only a short while I have been able to meet colleagues from many faculties on campus and share knowledge in teaching and research."
What do you find unique and interesting about UPEI’s Sustainable Design Engineering program?
The highlight of UPEI’s program is the design-based education. Students are engaged in design projects in each of the four years of the degree. These projects run for the whole year and offer opportunities for students to apply the engineering knowledge they learn in the classroom to real-world challenges. Students gain experience in designing, modelling, 3D printing, building, welding, automation, programming, testing, among other skills. At the end of each year, they have the chance to showcase their projects to their community partners, families, peers, and faculty. The projects also give the students valuable ‘work’ experience and establish connections with industry that can lead to opportunities for summer jobs or full-time employment after graduation.
What's unique about UPEI, and Prince Edward Island, in your experience?
UPEI’s size and variety of programming offers amazing experiences for faculty and students. In only a short while I have been able to meet colleagues from many faculties on campus and share knowledge in teaching and research. The programs here (engineering, nursing, veterinary, medicine, education, island studies, kinesiology, and others) provide students many avenues to engage in meaningful studies that provide a wealth of employment opportunities post graduation.
PEI is a cheerful, welcoming province that embraces students and newcomers. There is an abundance of culture: food, music, festivals, and outdoor opportunities that are very accessible to UPEI.
You recently started a leadership book club with your students—what's that been like?
It’s just something I started this past summer with some summer students who were working with me and other faculty members on campus (it was opened up to the faculty, but only students came ha ha ha). We read Change Your Questions, Change Your Life by Marilee Adams. There was interest to keep it going in the fall, and so there’s a different group of students meeting with me in the mornings and we’re talking about Start with Why by Simon Sinek over coffee. In both cases I proposed a few options and then the students ultimately picked a book of interest to them.
I started it because I really enjoy and find value in learning about self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and leadership, so slightly selfish because it’s a good reason to force me to read some of the books I have been wanting to read. The unselfish reason is that engineers often find themselves in leadership positions and so there is value in helping equip our students to think differently and more intentionally about their roles as leaders. The current book is helping students understand their ‘why’—understanding what motivates and drives them in their endeavours. Students are using the insight to help them figure out decisions for post graduation opportunities, and even the dynamics of their teams in the design projects they are involved with on a daily basis within the FSDE.