The Faculty of Engineering’s Strategic Plan, Driving Curiosity Forward, was released in 2022. It is Queen’s bold response to a serious challenge first posed by Engineering Deans Canada in 2019: “Engineering education needs to change.” This declaration was borne of a rapidly changing world, including deepening globalization, public demands for technological accountability, and growing societal challenges.

We sat down with Kevin Deluzio, Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, to ask him about the plan’s progress and his vision for the future of engineering at Queen’s.


Driving Curiosity Forward was created to address a changing world with unprecedented opportunities and significant challenges. What are those challenges, and how do they impact the way we teach engineering at Queen’s?

With traditional engineering education, we often give students problems with a narrow set of solutions and built-in constraints to keep the problem solvable. For example, we might say, “Solve assuming no friction, and no side forces.” By contrast, the world’s most pressing challenges are not that simplistic: the solution path is not clear, the problem is not already defined, there are competing goals, and the constraints are not artificial. Examples of these kinds of wicked problems include sustainable energy, water and food security, climate change, and more. While we do include some realistic problems in our programs, we don’t do so as frequently or as intentionally as we want it to be.

Engineering education must align with the nature of these enormous and ambiguous global problems. We need to give students more opportunities to meaningfully address significant, realistic problems through all four years of study. Driving Curiosity Forward is about evolving our programs to be more technically rigorous, experientially focused, socially conscious, and creatively inspired.

Beyond evolving the curriculum, we also need to combine engineering principles with perspectives from outside the classroom and from other disciplines. Collaboration is key in achieving this.


And how does the Faculty of Engineering collaborate with other faculties, and industry? 

We do this in a number of ways. One example is our flagship experiential learning opportunity for third-year students, where they spend 12-16 months on a paid internship.  Here the students gain experience working with community partners and industry applying the knowledge and skills gained at Queen's. Another example of collaboration is with our colleagues in occupational therapy, where our biomechanical engineering students work together with occupational therapy students on a problem, such as creating assistive devices for real people in the community.

All our first-year students engage with a community- or industry-based project, and many of our fourth-year students engage in significant industry-based design projects. Our goal is to deliberately offer more of these experiences that involve industry, community, global engagement, and alumni across the full undergraduate curriculum.


One focus area of Driving Curiosity Forward is pushing the frontiers of education. What does that look like?

We want our program to provide realistic contexts that illustrate the role of engineering in addressing challenges that benefit society. This will motivate our students, while also attracting a broader range of students to our program – people who want to change the world. We need to use an array of interesting problems based on industry, research, community, and global challenges. And we will use a human-centered mindset to frame these problems. Our students need to have significant interactions with industry, including internships, industry-based design challenges, and assistance in articulating their skills to industry. We need to update our assessment strategies to give students more responsibility for their own learning, and to allow faculty to give richer feedback on the development of students’ knowledge and skills. This will help them become more independent, and better able to articulate their abilities.

Through this engineering education model, our graduates will have the knowledge and tools to not only create our technology and processes—they will also be able to guide their evolution, and how they integrate with society and the world.


Another focus area is research impact. Can you explain what this is?

Most research-intensive universities measure success through research dollars or how many graduates we can produce. We still look at that, but for the strategic plan we chose to focus on impact—societal impact. Graduates need to understand the interplay of people and societies with the physical, natural, and built environment. Our research must be proactively connected to those wicked problems.

We have been awarded national grants for research investigating wicked problems, including for Mechanical & Materials Engineering researchers Laurent Béland and Roshni Rainbow looking at computer models to diagnose bone fragility, and Laura Wells of Chemical Engineering collaborating with partners in Health Sciences on cross-disciplinary approaches to mitigate sex-based harmful oversights in medical device design and use.

Our faculty are tackling global challenges in other ways as well, including Civil Engineering’s Sarah Jane Payne’s innovations in examining water system infrastructure and the role of sanitation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Josh Woods, also from Civil Engineering, has been instrumental in using groundbreaking technology to create “smart” bridges, with global implications on building robust and climate-resistant infrastructure. In the same department, Neil Hoult is making significant advances in how to make concrete production – the second largest CO2-generator on earth – more ecologically friendly.


‘Engineering for Everyone’ is the Strategic Plan’s focus area in developing a diverse and inclusive community. What can you say about progress in this area?

With a lot of listening, conversation, and community engagement, we have been able to learn and grow. That approach helped shape the inspiration for our Black engineering student group. As a result, these types of initiatives have spaces for study, networking, community connections, mentorships, and industry liaison opportunities—and each is tailored to the diverse and unique needs of our students.

Engineering is made better the more diverse we become - better for the type of students we attract. the community we build, and the graduates we produce. If we're designing solutions for society, we must reflect that society. So, to truly make engineering better at solving the world's problems, we are committed to creating and maintaining diverse and inclusive communities.


Can you say more about the priority or urgency surrounding the strategic plan?

There’s such an urgency to do this. We have an obligation and the wherewithal to make these changes. Our students expect it, and the world is changing fast.

Also, we must evolve engineering education at scale. This ambition must operate at scale across thousands of students—not dozens.


Speaking of change, as you move forward, what are some of the things you do not plan to change?

The strength of community at Queen’s will not change. Our technical rigour will not change. Our focus on research that impacts society will not change. Our drive to bring that balance of excellence in research and engineering education, pedagogy—that balance and symbiotic relationship—will not change.


Finally: as you look to the future of engineering, what do you want Queen’s to be known for?

Our people.

To be known for students and graduates that are truly multidisciplinary and can make a difference in areas where you might not have thought of hiring an engineer. That an engineering graduate from Queen’s is not just somebody who needs to build a robot to go into a system, but someone who can integrate and design that system for the local community’s benefit, for their company’s benefit, and for society’s benefit.