From January 18th to January 20th, we welcomed approximately 300 engineering students from across Ontario to Hamilton and McMaster University for the annual Ontario Engineering Competition (OEC). The OEC is a long standing tradition within the province dating back to 1980, originally organized by Queen’s University to foster the creativity of engineering students in 3 distinct categories. Today, the competition has expanded to 8 different categories, to offer more venues for students to test their mettle, better reflecting both the soft skills and array of technical skills required to succeed as an engineer today in a multitude of industries.
Looking at the broader picture, OEC is 1 of 4 regional competitions that takes place across Canada, where winners of these competitions go on to compete at the national Canadian Engineering Competition. The OEC itself collects qualifying students from 16 feeder schools across the province. In our eyes, the OEC is one of the many integral parts to experiential learning for engineering students across Canada, and we are extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to plan this event, and give engineering students an opportunity to test themselves.
Back to how OEC functions, year to year, OEC follows a general layout which is: competitions take place Friday night where every team works to complete a design, a technical report, or presentation (outside of the Debate category). Competitors only compete in 1 category, and qualify for OEC by winning in their category at their respective school’s internal competition. The next day of OEC, these submissions are then brought before a panel of professional judges working in fields aligning with the different categories, these categories being: Junior Team Design, Senior Team Design, Programming, Consulting, Innovative Design, Re-Engineering, Communications, & Debate.
These judges are engineers or related professionals themselves, and provide students with feedback to challenge students to think critically to prove their competence in both the technical and communicative aspects of engineering. When every team has been judged for each category, each category’s panel of judges decides on the top 3 winners of each category, who at the Awards Banquet are awarded cash prizes.
In addition to being a longstanding tradition for engineering students to host and compete at, it is also the proud partner of many corporations and organizations that have supported the competition for decades. The OEC is actually overseen by an Advisory Board, made up of engineering professionals and past OEC Chairs that have chosen to continue to dedicate their time to this event.
With this team of professionals we worked to ensure our event planning met a respectable standard that both impressed our fellow engineering students, but also corporate partners that see OEC as a fantastic proving ground for aspiring engineers and talent pipeline for their companies. Typically, the panels of judges are made up of corporate representatives from sponsoring companies, getting to interact directly with students. In addition to that, the OEC hosts a Career Fair, to provide students the opportunity to network with top engineering companies. Some of these companies include Hatch, OPG, Hydro One, Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, BBA Consulting and the Sandford Fleming Foundation. This year, our team has worked hard to invite Aecon, GeoTab, MTE Consulting, Accenture, and C.F. Crozier & Associates. This doesn’t even begin to cover the ground of past consistent sponsors, and the growing network of sponsors that commit in new years to help oversee the OEC’s success.
Unique to our event, we partnered with the City of Hamilton. It follows that every year OEC has a specific theme. For OEC 2019, we chose to focus on sustainable development, specifically within the context of sustainable development within Hamilton, Ontario. This provided a tangible twist to the problem statements, as well as the competitor solutions, that drew on knowledge and personal experiences to help shape their presentations and proposals. Some of these problems focused on things like the Hamilton Harbour Remediation project, which is an area of concern due to decades of industrial manufacturing and development over decades. These problems also focused on developing sustainable transportation infrastructure for Hamilton as a growing city, where easy contrasts can be drawn in many other parts of Ontario as transportation modernizes to meet the needs of more people and diverse communities.
OEC was also much much more than just a 2 man show. We had 8 amazing VP’s who worked hard in the last 14 months to ensure every aspect of logistics, competitions, marketing, sponsorship and finances had been taken care of. On top of that, we had 2 experienced advisers who provided input as well as acted as provincial and national liaisons with the larger engineering student societies in Canada. As well, we also had 2 Volunteer Coordinators which were not only in charge of all the volunteers during the event but also aided the logistical planning of the event. Last, but not least, we also had 8 hard working Competition Leads who ensured that competitors from all over Ontario competed in challenging but fair competitions.
Now that the dust has settled on OEC 2019, and as a team we have had time to reflect on this experience, it is astonishing to consider that 14 months of work can culminate in just about 2 days of time. However, in working with each other, the City of Hamilton, the Faculty of Engineering, our corporate sponsors and the students that we hosted this event for, it is easy to see the value in professionally executing an event that can bring professionals and students from across the province together and make it memorable and enjoyable for all. Looking into the future, we pass the torch on to the University of Guelph to host the 2020 Ontario Engineering Competition. We are excited once again to see this laborious process, yet unique part Ontario engineering tradition, unfold once again for the students that drive innovation and passion in engineering.