COVID Communication: Academic Updates II

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

In late May, the university finally made its announcement that school will be online in the fall. Yes, this means that all classroom instruction will occur online**. I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes, this is very sad. I’m sure you have many questions, like “when will I see my friends again?” or “will the civil structure be gone again by the time I come back?” or “how will I get any lab experience?”, as do I… But as the saying goes, keep on keeping on and hopefully the answers will come to us with time. I do, however, have some information here that may offer some solace, so read on!

Many efforts have been established in response to this news. The first is with respect to the state of all of our courses, many of which have never been offered in an online format. As you may have been able to predict, our faculty had a feeling that things would go online in the fall, and as such, has developed an array of contingencies to address this reality. Profs have been hard at work to move their classroom structure into an online environment. Many students have been hired to help facilitate this transition, which is great because we love to see our students involved in academics and employed! Looking for a job? Consider reaching out to a faculty member. They may be looking for summer students to help them prepare their resources in the fall. Typically, they are looking for students who have taken their course before, so look through your transcript for some inspiration on who to reach out to!

Of course, you may be wondering about graduation and capstone projects for the upcoming year. While I am not kept fully in the loop on these items, I can tell you that the faculty has a variety of task forces working on the phased reopening of our school. As of now, the university is in phase 1 of their reopening plans, which includes the return of research groups back to campus and limited access to buildings. Only trained and experienced research students will return to campus in this stage of reopening and must adhere to very strict physical distancing guidelines. All buildings remain locked and require granted key-card access to enter.

The task force understands the importance of the capstone course as a requisite for graduation, and they are working very hard to establish the logistics of the capstone courses this year. Students who require access to facilities on campus will be prioritized in the return to campus… they will likely fall into the small group of exceptions to the closure of the school in the fall term, which was alluded to in a recent message from the associate dean academic and the dean of engineering. Where possible, capstone students will be encouraged to engage in an inquiry-based fall semester, where they gather the information and knowledge base needed to create their capstone projects. This will be coupled with a synthesis-based winter term that is more heavily focused on the design-build-portion of the capstone project. The university is also investigating the possibility of creating a virtual environment within which students will be able to work on their capstone projects. Still, little is known about if this will be possible and how this would work...I will keep you updated on any new developments in this area!

A lot of students have approached the MES with concerns surrounding our tuition for the fall. In particular, with the notion that the price of tuition should decrease for an online semester. Please know that this is an issue being discussed at universities all across the province and is being taken very seriously by the MES. We acknowledge that the online experience is likely not to be the same as the on-campus experience we all know and love. As you may be able to appreciate, this is an extremely multifaceted issue with many factors and stakeholders at odds with one another. If you haven’t already, please read the MES’ official letter of address on this issue, which can be found on the MES website. As student advocates, we are doing what we can to discuss this issue with the faculty and central campus to better understand the breakdown of our tuition. As we continually learn more about what constitutes our tuition and the university’s current predicament, we will keep you informed on what the MES knows and how we plan to respond. Please refer to these blog posts for further updates on this matter!

I would like to make clear some confusions that may have arisen from our official statement regarding tuition fees. The MES and the MSU are working together, along with the other faculty societies, to better support our students in this new reality. After much debate and analysis of our operating budget, the MES has decided to decrease our membership fees to 85%. This decision was made on the basis of many factors, including the surplus created by premature closure of Mac in the winter term, the activities and services we will and will not be able to run, and the new investments we are making this year as a society, such as increasing our support of more sustainable events and helping clubs and teams adjust to online means of communication. Although the fall term is online, the MES has every intent to support our students as best we can, and we assure you that the value of your MES membership will remain upheld. To note: The MSU did not make the decision to maintain the price of tuition, they simply informed the MES that the motion had already been passed. Despite this motion passing, the MES will continue to look into this matter, with the hopes of clarifying why this decision was made, what factors have been at play, and what specifically constitutes the price of our tuition. Any information we find can and will be found here in our academic updates.

In light of recent events, the MES has connected with NSBE’s McMaster chapter to discuss ways that we may better support black students in engineering, as well as iBioMed, computer science, and B.Tech. We acknowledge that these discussions are long overdue. The MES has committed itself toward lifting up the black student committee from various viewpoints, the details of which can be found on the MES website. From an academic standpoint, the MES will help NSBE to spearhead a Mentorship program for black students in the faculty of engineering. We also intend to support NSBE in running academic help sessions throughout the year. The MES will remain receptive to ideas for academic initiatives under the leadership of NSBE in the future. We also intend to advocate for the hiring of more black professors and professionals within our faculty, encouraging equitable hiring practices from the interview all the way to the original job posting.

On another note, I bear news that Dr. Colin McDonald has stepped down from his role as Director of Engineering 1. As the faculty of engineering pivots its education paradigm towards a more experiential, integrated, project-based program, the role of Director of Engineering 1 has been revamped to encompass leadership of the entire 4+-year design. This role will now be referred to as the Director of Experiential Learning, and will lead the establishment of the new Office of Experiential Learning. The Office of Experiential Learning will be responsible for all courses with the code ENGINEER, including the newly developed ENGINEER 1P13 course set to roll out this fall. 1P13 will be followed by collaborative upper year design project courses that span all disciplines of engineering, calling for a more holistic approach to problem solving that will thrive on the talents of each stream. As of June 30th, the position of Director of Experiential Learning will be held by Dr. Andre Phillion from the department of Materials Science and Engineering. We wish him the best of luck in his new role!

In a continuous effort to expand our academic services and options, the Faculty of Engineering has vested in the development of a more diverse and functional spring/summer term. The faculty has encouraged each of our streams to offer more courses in the summer terms, so those who would like to spread their courses thinner, and those who would like to get ahead, may do so. If you have any recommendations on which courses your department should offer in the spring/summer terms, I encourage you to reach out to your department chair about it! It is the faculty’s hope that this initiative will help our students mitigate their stress, compensate for lost credits, and take greater ownership of their academic plan.

If there is anything else you are curious about, or if there is something you would like further clarification of, please reach out to me at Also, keep on the lookout for ways to get involved in academics! Applications to be a mentor for the MES Mentorship program will soon be open!

All the best,

Andrew D’Elia

VP Academic, McMaster Engineering Society