Lassonde team reinvents Renaissance engineering course

Lassonde team reinvents Renaissance engineering course

Don’t expect traditional subject matter or standard delivery from the team now teaching Renaissance Engineer 1: Communications, Ethics & Problem Solving at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering.

Andrew Maxwell

Andrew Maxwell

“We always had a vision of the Lassonde School of Engineering as a different type of engineering school that embraces diversity, social science, the United Nations Sustainability Goals and experiential learning,” says Professor Andrew Maxwell, Bergeron Chair in Technology Entrepreneurship and one of the course’s instructors. “To do that, we needed to transform the way we teach.”

Luckily for first-year engineering students, the four faculty members involved with this mandatory course are among those at Lassonde most comfortable with online technology: Maxwell; Jeffrey Harris, an assistant professor in the teaching stream; Mojgan Jadidi, an assistant professor in the teaching stream; and Kai Zhuang, a sessional instructor and educational developer.

Jeffrey Harris

Jeffrey Harris

“If you picked four people to embrace educational innovation at Lassonde, it would be the four of us,” Maxwell noted. “It just happened that we were all teaching this course.”

The four decided to work as a team and reinvent the course – which was originally designed to pioneer the spirit of Renaissance engineering and has continually evolved – for a remote audience, with each person focusing on one area in-depth: communications, ethics, problem-solving and assessment. They had each taught all of the topics previously, so they had no qualms about dividing the work.

“To transition to a fully online environment, we all thought about the pedagogy of remote teaching and learning and tried to incorporate a lot of the best practices for content delivery, engagement with students and assessment,” said Zhuang. “We changed the whole course.”

Each student is assigned to one of the instructors as their guide through the course – their administrator and mentor – but they are able to benefit from the perspectives of all four. Prior to the synchronous class session each week, students are asked to watch videos in preparation. Afterward, the students are asked to reflect on the material individually and to complete related assignments. The faculty also ask them to discuss the material in groups of five or six – groups that will remain the same throughout the year so the students get to know and rely upon each other – guilds, to use the course’s Renaissance language. The guild members are chosen based on their interest in various U.N. Sustainability Goals, since they will be the focus of a winter term project.

“Their job as guild members is to support each other in class and at Lassonde,” said Maxwell. “It’s a way of building community.”

Mojgan Jadidi

Mojgan Jadidi

The teaching assistants hired for the course aren’t just the standard TAs, either. In addition to the usual graduate student TAs, the team has chosen recent engineering graduates or upper-year undergraduates who have experienced the Renaissance engineering course themselves.  Zhuang created a training workshop for them that included some training in coaching.

“They meet every other week with the students to act as mentors for them during their first-year experience,” said Harris.

The course material this year is also a bit different from the past syllabus.

“One thing we’re emphasizing a lot more this year is equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI),” said Harris. “When you have a number of different perspectives, you get better ideas – ideas that work for more people. We also want to open our students’ eyes to how they should treat each other; they need to develop empathy. Teamwork is a big part of being a professional, so we need engineers who know how to treat each other well.”

Maxwell noted that the ethics section of the course, too, is always changing as the world changes.

“Every time there are advances in technology, new ethical issues arise that we’ve never before considered,” he said. We use examples from current events, as well as case studies. We emphasize to our students that people my have the best intentions, but there can be a negative impact. We’re consciously making this a bigger part of the course.”

The communications section of the course also needs regular tweaking, said Jadidi.

“We definitely have a section on fake reporting and one about how students can learn to present their arguments about technology in a way the public an understand,” she said.

Kai Zhuang

Kai Zhuang

As for problem solving, the Lassonde team takes a different approach from many other schools where the students are presented with a problem and asked to solve it. At Lassonde, the teaching team first asks the students to identify the problem.

“We want to help them understand the importance of defining a problem before proceeding,” Maxwell said. “We also offer additional immersive activities outside of class, such as hackathons, that that require them to apply this skill and others they’ve learned.”

Then, there’s the revolutionized grading system for the course. During the semester, students won’t receive numerical grades; the only options are Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations or Revise and Resubmit. The final course grade is a letter grade, but it will be based on assignments, not an exam. In addition, the team is trying to co-ordinate due dates for major assignments with other professors who teach first-year courses.

“We’re trying to look at the first year holistically so we can be sure our students are set up for success,” said Harris, the first-year coordinator.

The overarching motivation behind the course redesign is innovation.

“We try things and the result is innovative,” said Maxwell. “We want to share our passion for research and new knowledge with students and hope they get excited, too.”

congratulations class of 2020 graduates

Congratulations Class of 2020: graduation message from Department Chair Alidad Amirfazli

This academic year’s ending was unique in many ways due to the pandemic… it was surprising, hard, and special as it made us think of new ways of doing things….. As I reflect, I find that this is the life in front of you…. sometimes hard… sometimes surprising, but if you focus on what possibilities it can bring to you… your life will be full of positive promises and enjoyable as you will always find new ways of pushing ahead and making the best of your situation for yourself, your communities and humanity in general.

Go out there and make the world a better place as I am sure you will!

With best wishes for all of you the Class of 2020 Mechanical Engineering at Lassonde,

—Alidad Amirfazli, PhD, PEng
Chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering,

Professor Roger Kempers awarded an NSERC Alliance grant

Professor Roger Kempers awarded an NSERC Alliance grant

Professor Roger Kempers was awarded an NSERC Alliance grant entitled “Characterization and Optimization of Heat Transfer from GRIP Metal Enhanced Surfaces”. The project is in partnership with NUCAP Industries and is valued at $60k.

Project Summary:
NUCAP Industries has developed a novel method of enhancing the surface of metals in the form of small metal hooks (GRIP Metal). They have recognized the potential this surface structure holds for the enhancement of heat transfer; however, they do not have a complete understanding of how GRIP Metal design factors affect convective heat transfer performance.

Roger Kempers – photo from younger years at McMaster University

This proposal directly addresses NUCAP’s need to develop the knowledge, models and design tools to allow them to design and optimize GRIP Metal surfaces for a wide range of heat exchange applications by developing comprehensive models to quantify heat transfer for a wide range of flowrates and fluids for a range of GRIP Metal designs.

This will be accomplished through a series of experimental heat transfer measurements in conjunction with the development of numerical models and semi-empirical correlations which together will serve as design tools and help optimize GRIP Metal fabrication parameters for a given heat exchange design goal.

The results will allow them to leverage their fabrication process to enable the development of new high-performance heat exchangers for a wide range of industrial applications.

This launch of a novel and effective heat exchanger product line will allow NUCAP to position themselves in the innovative area of low-cost waste heat recovery or efficient space heating. This project will contribute to the local economy by creating more jobs at NUCAP’s manufacturing facility in Toronto. It will also facilitate the development of a novel heat exchange technology which will result in system efficiencies, less waste, and greater savings for Canadian industries.

Video Lecture by Learning Skills Services (LSS) June2020Calendar: online webinars on how to study effectively during COVID-19

Staying Motivated While Working From Home

🔗Online learning is challenging. Not only do you have to master complex, university-level content as in all courses, but without the familiar on-campus routines of going to lectures and connecting with classmates in person. How can you stay motivated while working from home, to get the work done that you need to? This workshop can help!

For more information about Learning Skills services at York University and their other services and workshops please visit their website:

Learning Skills Services (LSS) Workshop Calendar June 2020

Active Thermography (AT) using infrared (IR) cameras: a study, led by Professor Nima Tabatabaei, enables the low-cost roadside testing of cannabis consumption (THC)

Active Thermography (AT) using infrared (IR) cameras: a study, led by Professor Nima Tabatabaei, enables the low-cost roadside testing of cannabis consumption (THC)

Samadi, N., Thapa, D., Salimi, M., Parkhimchyk, A. & Tabatabaei, N. Low-Cost Active Thermography using Cellphone Infrared Cameras: from Early Detection of Dental Caries to Quantification of THC in Oral Fluid. Sci Rep 10, 7857 (2020).

York Media Relations: Link to the article

CONGRATULATIONS! The Mechanical Engineering Capstone team wins the PEO York Chapter award for the stem cell dispenser project

Spenser The Stem Cell Dispenser

Team Instructor: Professor Hossam Sadek
Team Supervisor/Advisor: Professor Terry Sachlos
Team: Sara Kashanchi, Gianpaolo Lenard, Sherif Ibrahim, Mubariz Nagi, Sultan Humidan, Daniel Colvin.

🔗Project description: Drug and cell screening-based experiments rely heavily on the culturing techniques carried out within a laboratory. As such, liquid handling is crucial in the procedures adopted to test different drug delivery methods, to aid in determining which biological controls and parameters lead to optimize cell survival rate and/or simply observing cells in vitro outside of their natural environment. In times of urgent medical crisis, a portable, low-cost and easy to use liquid handler would be a suitable solution for high throughput drug and cell screening. Currently, the world is experiencing an unfortunate pandemic due to a pneumonia virus outbreak. With increasing COVID-19 cases in many countries, medical resources are being exhausted at a high rate. Spenser can be potentially deployed in medical centers such as hospitals, clinics and research laboratories as an additional tool in fast tracking drug screening of potential COVID-19 treatments.

YorkU funds 20 new research projects related to COVID-19. Lassonde Professor Marina Freire-Gormaly receives research on microdroplets—the implications for improved HVAC design

YorkU funds 20 new research projects related to COVID-19. Lassonde Professor Marina Freire-Gormaly receives research on microdroplets—the implications for improved HVAC design

TORONTO, May 5, 2020 – York University has awarded $300,000 in research grants to advance 20 new research projects dedicated to Canada’s fight against COVID-19 and its impacts. The University recently announced a $250,000 research fund and call for proposals to support immediate term COVID-19 research projects. Due to the impressive response, the University increased the fund by $50,000 to support the further development of additional high-potential projects.

The full text of the article🔗

Webcast: Innovation During times of Disruption by Dr.Andrew Maxwell

Webcast: Innovation During times of Disruption by Dr.Andrew Maxwell

On Wednesday April 22nd, 2020, Dr. Maxwell shared insights from his research on the challenges of innovating at the York University Scholars’ Hub @ Home speaker series . In this lecture, following Albert Einstein’s guide “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity“, Dr. Maxwell provided tools and frameworks to help identify specific actions that one can take to turn the current challenges facing their organization into new ways of creating customer value.

Continue to full story at🔗