Jan. 24, 2014

Young engineers race clock to solve a big problem

Schulich Consulting Team wins Western Engineering Competition

Imagine it’s 8 a.m. and you’re given a complex technical problem that you don’t know much, or anything about, and you have until 4:30 to come up with a solution.

The Schulich Consulting Team did just that and came in first place at the Western Engineering Competition in Edmonton earlier this month, beating out 11 other student teams from across Western Canada.

A week before the competition, the teams were given a hint about the problem they would be asked to solve. In this case it was “something about the oilsands,” says team member Anjuli Cheema, who graduates from civil engineering this year. “None of us was familiar with oil sands, aside from what the general public hears in the news.”

But they got up to speed fast and on competition day, when they were handed their “problem statement” about a fictional company first thing in the morning, they got to work.

“We had to evaluate three methods for managing and reclaiming a tailings pond and present which option would be most viable along with detailed implementation plans, construction schedules, cost estimates and process flow diagrams,” she says. “It’s the most work any of us had completed in eight hours.”

The next day, the team presented their solution—In line thickening with thin lift deposition—to the panel of judges. “I was nervous since the presentation is your chance to prove how much you know even if it didn't quite make it into the report,” Cheema says. “We were all exhausted mentally from the day before, but had to force ourselves to be at the top of our game.”

It worked—communication between team members was key—and the Schulich team won. Next up, the team will compete at the Canadian Engineering Competition March 13-15 at Western University in Ontario. The winner of that competition will go on to compete at the International Engineering Competition.

The events are designed to foster innovation and help strengthen ties between engineers from different backgrounds and industry leaders. “We all enjoy how much we get to learn as well as the adrenaline,” says Cheema.

She and her teammates, Aaron Baskerville-Bridges and Brayden Kooistra from chemical engineering and Steven Eidsness from mechanical engineering, are feeling confident about the next round of competition.

“We will be doing some serious preparation work in order to represent the University of Calgary well!”