In the summer of 1997, two people met for coffee. They began to talk about their mutual concern over the lack of enthusiasm young people often showed for science, technology, and math related subjects. The conversation moved on to engineering – and how it is often unrecognized and unknown to students even through high school. Even students who enter engineering in college or university don’t always know what to expect, or have a clear picture of what engineering is really all about.
The question then became – what could be done?
One of those people turned out to be George Comrie, the then-Chair of Professional Engineers Ontario’s Education Committee. The other was Jeffrey Crelinsten, principal and co-founder of the Impact Group, and a specialist in science and technology education and public awareness. Jeffrey pointed out to George that the words “engineer” and “engineering” showed up in the Ontario Ministry of Education curriculum documents only a few times, compared to 100s of times for the words “science” and “scientist”. He suggested the idea for Engineer-in-Residence – a program that would go beyond the usual drop-in-for-a-day style of school-expert engagement, and would be designed to enhance and enrich the school curriculum. George was intrigued and funded a small feasibility study to test the idea with educators and engineers. The survey results were unanimous. Everyone liked the idea of creating a special relationship between students, engineers, and teachers – a relationship that would foster inquiry-based learning and problem solving abilities in students while inspiring them to engage in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects through hands-on activities and presentations. The EIR presence in the classroom would also mean older students would have someone with whom to discuss career and other advice.
In the fall of 1998, the EIR program began as a four-month pilot in five Toronto-area schools. By September 1999, the EIR program was established with 14 schools involved. We have been growing ever since. In the 2011-2012 year, the EIR program served 80 schools across Ontario, reaching close to 40,000 students. We are in communities large and small from Thunder Bay to Ottawa. The EIR program has also been expanding its scope, hoping to reach more students through alternative means. In 2002, the EIR program expanded its mandate to include community engagement through partnerships with local museums and science centres, running a day of EIR-led activities and presentations for children and their families at museums in Ottawa, Windsor, and Kitchener. In Fall 2011, we initiated Bridging Worlds: An Engineering Education Experience, a project that partners undergraduate engineering students with teacher candidates in order to design and implement their own STEM activities for elementary and secondary students.
We hope to continue to expand in the years to come,
reaching more students and helping inspire the next generation of problem-solvers!