What it takes to be a great engineer: It might not be what you think

When you think of engineering, you might think about applied math and physics, design, or complicated tools, and processes. You might be surprised to learn that a successful engineer requires much more than these skills.

In fact, the Engineers Canada Accreditation Board’s list of desirable graduate attributes are skills that round out the core engineering and technology skill set. The list includes teamwork, ethics, professionalism, understanding the impact of engineering on society and the environment, and communication skills. Engineers and technologists at BCIT are able to hone and showcase some of these “softer” skills at the annual Presentation Idol (PI) competition.

What is Presentation Idol?

Eligible BCIT engineering and technology students, who have taken at least one BCIT Communication Department course, are invited to deliver a 6-8-minute presentation on a technology-related topic. Students are encouraged to showcase and/or comment on innovation in engineering and technology, for instance by presenting their own designs, or exploring and commenting on new frontiers, such as technology for sustainability, cradle to cradle design for a circular economy, the intersection of engineering and social justice, societal impacts of technology, frugal engineering, and the like.

One of the founders of this contest, BCIT Instructor Jean Scribner explains, “Our students give such amazing presentations in their classes. Ten years ago I realized it would be beneficial to bring these excellent speakers together across disciplines.”

In addition to cross-pollinating leading edge ideas across programs, the showcase brings succinct overviews of new technology to the entire BCIT community. “Whether students want to polish technical communication skills, present their own project or innovation, or showcase technologies they’re passionate about, Presentation Idol is a great opportunity for students.”

“There are so many fascinating topics every year,” explains Jean. “This year alone we have students presenting on innovation in building construction materials, reducing waste in manufacturing, overcoming energy grid challenges, and the impact of social media technologies.”

In the final round, the best speakers also become role models for their peers, setting a benchmark and something to strive for.

Helping engineering and technology students develop their “soft” skills

Presentation Idol: Smiling student presenting in front of a banner that says "communication"
Presentation Idol (Photo by Scott McAlpine)

Past finalists feel that Presentation Idol rounded out their skillsets. “Idol gave me an opportunity and a platform to grow my presentation skills and to grow my confidence, by being on stage” says Navtej Heir, past finalist and Application Specialist at Spartan Controls. He participated over four years with repeated successes. “I look back on my first year, and the last year I presented, and there was a huge amount of growth.”

“PI taught me how to break down technical information into key concepts, and present it to people with variety of backgrounds,” explains Anne Simonen, now a Civil Engineering Technician for the City of Castlegar. “This was a really useful skill when I entered the workforce and started working in interdisciplinary teams on projects with clients and contractors, all of whom had different skillsets.”

A range of firms and organizations have been happy to sponsor the event over its ten year history, putting forward the funds for the top speaker prizes, including AME Group, Fluor, AES Engineering, KD Engineering, ASTTBC, and Aplin Martin. Judges from industry frequently ask to come back year after year.

Mark Poweska, now President and CEO of Hydro One, judged a few years ago when he was a Vice President at BC Hydro, “BCIT is doing a great job of producing high quality, rounded engineers which I can attest to from the many that we hire into BC Hydro.”

Postscript: Presentation Idol 2021 Final Round

The final round of the 10th annual Presentation Idol took place via Zoom on March 31st, 2021.  It was a very strong showing for civil engineering students this year. Cody Pallin took the judges’ top spot with Defeating the Duck (The Energy Grid’s Greatest Challenge), as well as Audience Choice second place, and the Innovation Award, for a total win of $1750 over the two-round event.

Civil student Adam Janis took Judges’ Second Place with Bridging the Future of Construction with Mass Timber. Electrical and Computer Engineering student Rydhum Mann took third, from the both the audience and judges, with her presentation on wireless electricity. Amanda Markman, also of civil engineering, received the Audience Choice first place for Green Infrastructure is the new Default. Civil’s Tamara Bogicevic received the Ecocity Legacy Award for Blue-green Roofs.

While it was the first time running the event on Zoom, judges and audience alike were pleased with the converted format. Audience members enjoyed seeing the judges ask questions, rather than just the back of heads in a live audience. A clever use of sound effects and Zoom spotlight by the technical team helped make the virtual event feel special. And no more than once did anyone have to say “you’re on mute”!

Image: Cody and his mother react to his big win at Presentation Idol (Photo by Marita Luk) 


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