CoP Conference Sheds Light on School-to-Work Transition of Engineers

On Friday, November 11th ILead’s Community of Practice on Engineering Leadership (CoP) took another major step forward, hosting the Third Conference on the Leader Engineer at U of T. More than 70 people attended, including employees of all eight participating companies in addition to students, staff and faculty from U of T Engineering. The focus of the day was the school-to-work transition of engineering graduates, and was organized around two pieces of ILead's current research on this topic. The day began with an overview of ILead by Professor Doug Reeve and a fun interactive activity led by Dr. Robin Sacks.

In the morning, Mike Klassen presented CoP research findings from workplaces on the leadership conceptions and practices among early career engineers. This highlighted the different behaviours that early career engineers exhibit as well as some of the contradictions in how they define leadership and whether or not they see opportunities to practice it. The presentation was followed by a set of case studies of young engineers who faced different leadership challenges in their workplaces. Participants worked in groups to analyze the cases and come up with solutions.

In the afternoon, ILead’s Dr. Serhiy Kovalchuk presented CoP research findings on the role of internships and co-ops in the transition process. This showed the crucial role that these experiences play in developing knowledge and skills that are useful during the transition process. Afterwards, students and employers split into groups to describe the expectations and challenges they had for each other in relation to co-op and internships. They spent time walking around reading and reflecting on each other's comments. Finally, employees returned to their company groups to develop plans and ideas for how to improve the structure of their co-op programs.

The next CoP conference will take place in April 2017, and is exclusive to members. This is a great opportunity for companies to engage their employees, to learn about research as it unfolds, to apply it to engineer recruitment, development and retention, and to connect with talented students.

Those interested in more information should contact Mike Klassen at 

Inaugural NICKEL Conference

Over 40 people from universities, industry, associations and NGOs gathered at U of T on August 30 and 31 to discuss and share best practices in engineering leadership education.

 amy hsiao (University of Prince Edward Island)

amy hsiao (University of Prince Edward Island)

The National Initiative on Capacity Building and Knowledge Creation for Engineering Leadership (NICKEL) inaugural conference was organized and hosted by ILead in collaboration with McMaster University and Purdue University, based on earlier support from Engineers Canada and Engineers Without Borders. NICKEL featured a series of presentations, discussions and workshops highlighting programs that focused on leadership at different levels: self, team, organization, innovation and society.

 darren meister (Western university) presents at NICKel

darren meister (Western university) presents at NICKel

The focus of the conference was on building relationships and connections, and sharing best practices and key learning from program implementation. The first day included a panel discussion that shone a spotlight on the Community of Practice on Engineering Leadership – featuring Michael St. Pierre of Chemtrade Logistics, Jodi Engel of Toronto Hydro, and Emily Moore of Hatch. They emphasized the importance of developing engineers as people who are courageous, self-aware and ready to take initiative when they reach the workplace.

Schools in attendance each committed to lead a project at their own institution to apply their learning at NICKEL in a small, manageable fashion in the next three months. There were three broad categories that emerged in terms of these projects: 

  1. Developing and launching modules and assignments for course integration: individual instructors made plans to introduce teamwork & leadership into design courses, and to develop assignments on leadership and creativity.
  2. Support and integration with internship and cooperative education offices: program leaders and administrators made plans to develop local collaborations with mentorship programs, including plans to rethink staffing.
  3. Creating spaces for leadership outside the classroom: several schools planned to launch community-based projects and offer support to leaders of student organizations.
 L to r: Emily Moore (Hatch), Jodi Engel (Toronto Hydro) and Michael St. Pierre (Chemtrade Logistics) speak on a panel at NICKEL

L to r: Emily Moore (Hatch), Jodi Engel (Toronto Hydro) and Michael St. Pierre (Chemtrade Logistics) speak on a panel at NICKEL

In the final session, individuals in attendance reflected on their personal takeaways from the inaugural NICKEL conference. Three themes were echoed by many in the room:

  1. Growing community and strengthened relationships. Participants expressed the feeling of not being alone, that critical mass has been attained, and noted how the spirit of open sharing and transparency built trust among the group.
  2. Exposure to new ideas and good practice. From small changes in teaching methods, to ideas for new courses and programs, there was a wide diversity of initiatives being led under the banner of engineering leadership across Canada.    
  3. Broader mission and scale of change needed. Several people highlighted the need to leverage accreditation and the support of other engineering colleagues to develop calls to action for integrating leadership into the core curriculum.
 david colcleugh (university of toronto, ilead) answers questions during a Q&A at NICKEL

david colcleugh (university of toronto, ilead) answers questions during a Q&A at NICKEL

CoP Members Reflect on Successful First Year

As the first year of the Community of Practice on Engineering Leadership (CoP) comes to an end, we hosted a reflection lunch with key representatives from member companies on July 13th at the Faculty Club here on campus at the University of Toronto.

This was a chance to gather structured feedback, discuss lessons learned from a year of working together, and to gather input on the draft plan for Year 2 of the CoP. 

Partners were extremely satisfied with Year 1, expressing thanks for the “venue to see what other companies are doing with respect to their knowledge and leadership initiatives” and for the opportunity to “step back and hear [research and] thought leadership to apply to our organizational setting”.

Three important lessons for ILead, the driver and facilitator of the CoP, were: (1) Brand association with U of T is a central part of the CoP's value proposition; (2) It is more important for companies to access the latest research than it is to participate in the projects; and (3) Members value both the 1-on-1 relationship with ILead and relationships with other member companies. 

The feedback feeds well into Year 2 of the Community of Practice, which kicks off on September 1st, 2016. It promises growth in terms of participation, engagement, learning and impact. 

ILead Presents Research at American Society for Engineering Education

Four members of ILead’s research team travelled to New Orleans last week to present our latest findings and to connect with peers in the United States.

Robin Sacks and Mike Klassen each presented a paper in the Leadership Development Division of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), which now has more than 800 members, and is the fastest growing division in the Association. 

Sacks presented ‘Sports, arts and concrete canoes’ which details the results of a large-scale survey of undergraduate engineering students to understand the influence their extra-curricular activities have on their leadership and engineering skills and identities. This research was the first phase of the Engineering Leadership Project II, which focused on the question of how engineers learn to lead. 

Klassen presented ‘Charting the landscape of engineering leadership education’ which presents findings on the wide differences in approach taken to teaching leadership to engineers across 14 U.S. and Canadian universities who were interviewed as part of the study. This research helps to illuminate the different design decisions implicit in creating new programs, and serves as a helpful framework.

Patricia Sheridan presented the latest results from her five-year PhD research on student design teams. Her Team-effectiveness Learning System is under commercial development.

In addition to these presentations, Doug Reeve and Mike Klassen represented ILead at two important organizational meetings: COMPLETE (Community of Practice for Leadership Education for the Twenty-First Century Engineer) and the ASEE Leadership Development Division’s annual meeting. Both demonstrate U of T’s role as an important contributor to international conversations on the cutting edge of engineering leadership.