Mobilizing Students and Engineering Traditions

Author: Gamaliel Obinyan

Hello, my name is Gamaliel Obinyan, for those who may not know me I am a third year Mechatronic Systems Engineering student. Recently, I attended this year’s Canadian Federation of Engineering Student’s Congress hosted by Western. First and foremost, I want to say how much of an awesome experience it was. Networking with students from around the country forces you to step out of your comfort zone and broadens your horizon. Everyone has a different story. As a result, I have made friends from Dalhousie University in Halifax to the University of British Columbia. I would really encourage anyone who is even thinking about going to a conference to apply. It will be a time and a half. If you want to talk about Congress, or conferences in General, feel free to talk to me when you see me in the UES or hit me up at gobinyan@uwo.ca. I will discuss two sessions i attended that I connected with and the key takeaways i got from them. The first is about being about mobilising your students and engineering traditions.

The first question to ask yourself when mobilising your students is this: “Why do I need to mobilize”. There are three major points that come to mind:

  • You want to gather support for concerns

  • Gather support for regional or national causes

  • Increase general student participation

In terms of creating a strategy for mobilization, you need a plan of action. What message do you want to put out? What contacts do you want to leverage? What time timeframe do you want to establish? These are important questions to ask yourself when forming your strategy. Mobilizing involves reflecting on yourself, the relationships you have formed and the methods in which you used to form them. One key takeaway is that it is too late to form relationships with people when you need to mobilise. It pays to actively invest in forming and subsequently developing relationships with people that surround you. Finally, one of the biggest keys is to identify people that share your vision. If you can convince them about your cause, they can convince others.

Another important topic discussed at congress surrounded the topic of engineering traditions and their place in student society. Traditions provide a sense of identity, teach values (Engineering is a team sport), strengthens bonds and more importantly, offers a sense of comfort and security. With every tradition there are risks involved. We might have the most well meaning traditions but they could get misconstrued. Does it detract from your society’s goals? Could there be bad publicity? Ultimately, you may have best intentions but end up missing the mark.

The conversation then moved to the logistics of how to start a tradition. You can do this one of two ways. You can start it entirely from scratch or you could modify an existing tradition to suit your vision. There are pitfalls that you must consider when thinking about starting a tradition. With every society, you need to appreciate the history that comes with it. With that said, change is constant. You need to have a profound appreciation for the old, put embrace the new. The constant saying “We’ve always done it this way” will inevitably arise. The great thing with university is that there is a complete turnover in student population every 4-5 years. Phase out the old and ring in the new. Most importantly, create a legacy plan. Like I said before, turnover at university is rampant. If you don’t create some institutional memory, your tradition will die as soon as you graduate.

My point is that there is enough potential in you to make an impact and you have limited time here. Make it count.