York’s student engineers impress judges in first competition

A team of designers from York’s Engineering Program surprised and impressed the judges at the Ontario Engineering Competition in Waterloo, Ont., on Feb. 12, the first time a York team has participated in the annual event.

York engineering teamRight: From left, York team members Noushin Khosrodad, Travis Dunlop, Matthew Cannata and Henry Nguyen

Normally open only to accredited schools of engineering, third-year students Travis Dunlop, Henry Nguyen and Noushin Khosrodad and second-year student Matthew Cannata entered the competition after organizers extended an invitation in anticipation of York’s accreditation, which could come as early as June 2005. Competing in the Senior Design Competition, the team combined techniques learned from their studies in computer, geomatics and space engineering with a large measure of ingenuity to come up with a creative solution to the competition’s sample problem.

“We left a really good impression and surprised a lot of the other teams,” said Khosrodad. “They said York has really good potential.”

York has been working toward accreditation as an engineering school since 2001 and currently has three streams in the Engineering Program offered through the Faculty of Science & Engineering: computer, geomatics and space engineering. Before the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board can accredit a school, it must have a full four-year program; York students entered fourth year in the Fall 2004 semester, allowing an accreditation review at the earliest opportunity in January 2005. In preparation, Professor Robert Prince, director of the Engineering Program, has been attending meetings of the Council of Ontario Deans of Engineering and hosted the council’s annual fall meeting at York in 2004.

In addition, the Engineering Society at York, led by current president Jameel Sayani, was formed in 2002 to promote pride in the profession among students, an important element in the accreditation process. Prince encouraged the society to pick its own team for the Waterloo competition from all three streams. Renita D’souza, the society’s vice-president internal, said each team member brought a different talent to the team: Cannata was chosen for his mechanical design skills, Nguyen for his computer expertise, Dunlop “because he’s a genius” and Khosrodad for her innovative approaches to given tasks, including as a woman in a highly male arena.

The group, which had no prior competition experience, entered the Senior Team Design category. The goal of the competition is to encourage undergraduate engineering students to produce a feasible design despite limited materials and preparation time. Engineers are often required to think quickly to produce a working solution given limited resources. This year’s task involved designing a device to help accurately deliver medical supplies by helicopter air-drop.

When the team members arrived at the University of Waterloo on Friday, they were given their design task and had that evening to design their solution. They were given $400 to build and test their device, which had to be completed within four and half hours on Saturday, including preparation of the presentation to judges. Their device was tested in a three-storey drop indoors at the competition site.

york design entry

Left: York’s entry in the senior design competition

Khosrodad said while other teams produced variations of traditional systems involving parachutes, the York team created a motor-assisted mechanical system with a triggering device that proved effective and impressed the judges with its innovative design. In fact, the team was so confident that they had met the competition criteria, they had real hopes of placing in their first-ever competition. Although York did not crack the top three finishers, Khosrodad said the team came very close and outperformed many schools with more competition experience. The judges said they were particularly impressed with the team’s innovative design and teamwork.

For more information about engineering in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering visit the Engineering Program Web site.