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