Scitech | Problem-solving for the win

Hands-on competition brings McGill engineers together

The McGill Engineering Competition (MEC) is an annual competition that brings together engineers from all disciplines to compete against one another in solving real-life problems representative of those found in the industry. This year’s instalment, held on November 24, saw 150 engineers compete for an opportunity to enter the Quebec Engineering Competition, a province-wide event held in January 2013.

Greater effort on the part of the planning committee to obtain support from local organizations resulted in a significant increase in the number of sponsors this year, and consequently the event was held on a larger scale than had been previously possible. The sponsors consisted of local companies such as BBA, Hatch, Haivision, and Genetec, among others.

“It’s very important that the industry get involved. The event would not have been possible without them,” stated Alexandre Courtemanche, an engineering graduate student on the MEC committee. The large number of sponsorships allowed the committee to purchase more materials and resources, enabling a more exciting and challenging competition than those held in previous years. Additionally, instead of a panel of judges consisting of graduate students and professors, this year’s sponsors facilitated a panel of mainly professionals, providing students with a unique chance to network with potential future employers…. One of the benefits of this event is the opportunity to meet professionals and…[to] make a good impression,” said Iva Deng, the financial officer for the MEC executive. The benefit ran both ways – companies were given a chance to scope out the talent at McGill for future prospective employees.

The MEC was divided into five categories: senior and junior design, re-engineering, consulting, and debate. Within each category, teams were assigned a problem and were given the day to solve it to the best of their abilities. From constructing robots and launch towers, to modelling designs for building theatres on cruise ships, McGill engineers worked hard to showcase both their individual talents and team-working abilities.

The engineering buildings were abuzz with the sound of building, planning, and preparation. According to many of the students and organizers, an event like MEC is one of the few opportunities they have at McGill to get involved in hands-on work.

“McGill’s engineering program is very academically focused, and the degree is very academically focused…if students don’t go out of their way to do [these competitions] or extra-curricular activities, you can easily finish your degree without doing any hands on type stuff,” said Stephane Beniak, a McGill engineering alumni and a member of the MEC committee. The lack of opportunity provided by the school’s program for students to have such hands-on, problem-based experience makes participation in these events critical in the journey to become a well-rounded engineer. Students learn technical and team-building skills, while receiving a networking opportunity for future job prospects.

In an interview with The Daily, Alexandra Duron, a judge from McKinsey & Company, described the importance of her experiences as a competitor during her days as an engineering student to future work. “These competitions – either organizations or doing them – [are] just great. It gives you another perspective on what you’re learning in school. You gain a chance to apply what you learn. In your courses or lessons, you are given formulas, problems, and exams. In these situations, you need to integrate everything to produce something clever. There is also leadership, making your team better, dealing with stress, and [other important skills] to be learned at such events.”

Overall, the time and effort spent on careful planning resulted in a successful event. Student-run functions such as these are important additions to the student experience that allow students to apply their knowledge, gain contacts, and perhaps most importantly, enjoy their study.