What happens when Canadian engineering students come together

By Arman Izadi

 

To most people reading this article, the acronym CFES will mean absolutely nothing. While, in engineering, there is an inhumane amount of acronyms, pay attention to this one: the Canadian Federation for Engineering Students. In simpler terms, the CFES allows unity and solidarity between the majority of engineering undergraduate student societies across Canada.

There are many benefits to having a national engineering society. To begin with, congregating engineering student leaders allows them to pool their experience and knowledge, sharing their struggles and successes with other students from universities across the nation that inevitably face the same problems. Also, with a common platform, our engineering voice is louder and more powerful, and can help lobby provincial and federal governments, or corporate sponsors and policy makers that could affect the students they represent. Additionally, the CFES aids in fostering leadership, professional qualities, engineering identity, and communication.

The responsibilities of the CFES lay, heavily, in organizing the annual Congress, the Canadian Engineering competition, and the Conference in Diversity in Engineering. They choose “host schools” nationwide and support each university with the process. They also host the President’s Meeting and the plenary sessions — sessions attended by the entire conference — which allow a variety of important issues to be advocated.

The CFES and its events are one of the only ways for many people to interact with other engineers at other schools. This means making partnerships and connections that may be invaluable in the future and learning and understanding how others operate and maybe even teaching each other a few things about our engineering cultures.

Recently, I attended the annual CFES congress as one of the representatives for the McGill Engineering Undergraduate Society. As a member of the society, I have been involved in various committees and positions such as Orientation Week Coordinator 2015/2016 and ECSESS representative, so going into Congress, I expected to learn little and pass on more information than I would bring home.

I have never been so wrong.

It felt like I had a veil lifted from my ignorant view of our society. I realized that every problem we face, such as our crushing workload and its adverse effects on our mental health, is a national problem. All engineering students face longer graduation times, difficulty passing classes and finding internships, and so on. However, after comparing McGill’s curricula to that of other competitive schools I realized that McGill has a certain flexibility that other schools don’t.

McGill’s Engineering Student Centre does present students with a template of about 18 credits per semester that one hypothetically could adhere to if they want to graduate in 4 years, but 18 credits a semester requires great sacrifice and hard work and most of peers decidedly take 12-15 credits. The luxury of being able to choose workload with the consequence of potentially extending graduation is not one that co-op programs or rigid-scheduled schools like Waterloo or Western have. Simon Frasier boasts a higher failing rate and stricter professors than McGill, as their university has rigid cutoffs, in contrast to McGill’s yearly increasing acceptance rate.

I went on to learn that our EUS is, actually, one of the most well organized societies, while handling one of the largest budgets. Also, many things we take for granted — like a student-run pub every week, free peer tutoring services, or departmental lounges — are luxuries some smaller schools can only dream of. On the other hand, some schools, such as Waterloo, excel at corporate relations and internship opportunities, where we might lack, even with our powerful research opportunities.

Furthermore, engineering schools outside of Quebec are typically the most spirited of their respective university’s faculties. Spirit is not just how loud the students are but the sense of unity and belonging and identity that each student feels towards their program and their university. An article was published in the Tribune a while ago about school spirit at McGill and how it exists in pockets of smaller involvement and is not faculty-wide or university-wide. This is also felt in our engineering faculty. In many Ontarian schools for example, engineering spirit starts from the earliest days of their orientation and is encouraged through heavily attended events focused around engineering culture and school identity. Here at McGill, the engineering spirit is often felt in the pride of a certain design team, or a department, or those involved in core EUS positions. Even then, the spirit may be more catered towards the people and those in similar individual circumstances compared to the blanket of the engineering community.

These are just some of the examples of the heaps of information I collected by attending this year’s Congress. I cannot stress how important it is to not allow yourselves to graduate from McGill without having taken part in at least one event like this, or at least learning about it. The CFES and its events are just one path out of the many that one could take to get involved. We, as engineers, are up and coming leaders; we, as McGill engineers, have a plethora of opportunities to be in the forefront of our fellow leaders. It is up to us to hone the skills that will help us shape our futures and the futures of others.

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