A Stance on Stances

Author: Ivan Zvonkov

Back in good ol’ September the Canadian Federation of Engineering Students (referred from henceforth as the CFES) released a survey to all undergraduate engineering students in Canada. The purpose was to find out about the issues students face within their engineering education, specifically related to coop/internships and mental health.

The CFES Advocacy Working Group looked over the results and put forward some Stances at Congress. Stances are researched positions which the CFES supports and can advocate for.  The value of Stances is that they give the CFES more credibility in advocacy. By advocacy I mean telling the organizations in charge of making policies on undergraduate engineering education how to improve those policies. Organizations such as Engineers Canada for example.

So what stances were put forward?

All of them start with “The Canadian Federation of Engineering Students believes that…”, I will omit that part to avoid repetition. There was a total five stances adopted (so at least 90% of the CFES member schools agreed to adopt them).

  1. On sustainability

    “...sustainability is an essential consideration in engineering practice, and believes it is necessary to educate and engage its members on issues of sustainability, while also evaluating and improving the sustainability of its own practices.”
  2. On Mental Health

    “...engineering students confront negative mental health outcomes at rates exceeding the general population as a consequence of the structure and workload demands of their programs. All stakeholders, including faculty, accreditors, and student leaders, have a responsibility to review and amend their practices to give students a healthy and effective learning environment.”
  3. On Coops/Internships

    “...the quality of engineering internship programs across Canada is inconsistent and often substandard, and that engineering programs have a responsibility to revise their practices in order to offer students better value for their program fees.”
  4. On language course electives

    “...as the future engineers of a global society, Canadian engineering students should have the opportunity to take elective language skills courses as part of their undergraduate degree program.”
  5. On accreditation

    “...the accreditation system for Canadian engineering programs should serve the interests of engineering students, by ensuring a high and consistent standard for the quality of their education and by involving student voices in the process of accreditation visits and the development of accreditation criteria.”

Okay, great a bunch of “official” words, now what? The above quoted text is just the Stance statement. The Stance also includes an “Issue” which describes the research done to come up with this stance. Finally, the stance also includes some actionable items at the end divided into three sections: “What the CFES is doing”, “What the CFES plans to do”, and “Recommendations to Partners, Stakeholders, and Other Entities”.

I’ll just go through the actionable items from the Mental Health stance so that this blog does not turn out too long.

“What the CFES is doing

  • The CFES conducted a National Student Survey in 2017 to collect data on the mental health of engineering students, and to replicate some results of the QCESO student mental health survey, as part of a broader research effort on student workload and mental health.

  • The CFES has run sessions and talks on student mental health, with a focus on student initiatives and student volunteer burnout, at its major events including CFES Congress and the Conference on Diversity in Engineering.

What the CFES plans to do

  • The CFES will facilitate the sharing of best practices related to mental health between its member societies, and provide resources for its members to advocate for improvements to student mental health and balanced workload at their respective institutions.

  • The CFES will undertake a pilot project to track total hours of student workload at a limited number of programs within its member institutions.

  • The CFES will pursue further research into the specific consequences of negative student mental health, and best practices for improving mental health at engineering schools.

  • The CFES will evaluate how it can better promote student mental health internally through the operations and content of its events.

Recommendations to Partners, Stakeholders, and Other Entities

  • The CFES calls on the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board to investigate changes to accreditation criteria that better account for the full burden of student workload, and that require access to basic mental health services for all undergraduate engineering students.

  • The CFES calls on the National Council of Deans of Engineering and Applied Sciences (NCDEAS) to encourage its members to work with the CFES and its member societies on improving the culture of mental health in their programs, including access to student resources, re-evaluations of program practices, and the review of course offerings to eliminate elements causing non-productive stress and workload.

  • The CFES calls on Engineers Canada and the National Council of Deans of Engineering and Applied Sciences (NCDEAS) to partner with the CFES on research related to student mental health and workload, with the intention of clarifying the specific impacts of workload on the mental health of engineering students, and the best procedures for improving student mental health in engineering programs.

  • The CFES calls on its partnered regional organizations (WESST, ESSCO, QCESO, ACES) to collaborate on future initiatives in student workload and mental health, potentially including a workload tracking system or a second national student survey.”

These actionable items will now be literally tackled by the VP Academic and Advocacy Working Group and thus the CFES will be the voice of engineering students.

If you want to read more stances, they will shortly be on the CFES website.