All-female team from SFU receives top prize at the Canadian Engineering Competition
Simon Fraser University students Aru Bhola and Erin Flood took home a first-place prize at this year’s Canadian Engineering Competition (CEC). The duo outperformed 200 engineering students across Canada, and were one of the few all-female teams.
Bhola, an engineering science student, and Flood, a sustainable energy engineering student, competed in the re-engineering category of CEC, which is an annual event that invites top engineering undergraduate students from across the country. To qualify, students must advance from their university and regional competitions. The Western Engineering Competition (WEC), through which Bhola and Flood qualified, was hosted this year at SFU’s Surrey campus. Having competed in competitions, the team gained confidence in their engineering design and learned how to prioritize their approach of tackling a problem.
“In the re-engineering category, teams are given an existing situation and are tasked to make improvements while facing constraints,” says Bhola. “As we competed, we learned how to become effective in this approach — from the identification of the problem to coming to a solution and being able to present it clearly and concisely.”
The team says that these experiences allowed them to apply their knowledge beyond the classroom and undertake real-world problems, an opportunity that they would not be able to experience until they have entered the engineering industry. The competitions also enabled Bhola and Flood to prove themselves as females in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and meet other women in their field.
“It was a great opportunity to meet other successful women in STEM and realize how high-achieving we are,” explains Flood. “It was uplifting to see a room filled with a majority of male competitors, but an even-split in winners. Competitions are a way to prove your intelligence and skill; regardless of how you place, you have achieved a significant amount by simply submitting a solution to the complex problem in a very limited timeframe.”
For their competition category, Bhola and Flood were challenged to improve the functionality of an engineering concept, technique, technology or product. They were also tasked with incorporating the themes of sustainability and accessibility into their solutions.
In their first challenge, the team developed a conceptual design for a self-sufficient, off-grid tiny home that used minimal power, recycled water, passive heating and biodegradable insulation. In their second challenge, they designed an accessible playground for children who have Sanfilippo Syndrome — a rare genetic neurodegenerative disease.
The team hopes to use the knowledge they have acquired from participating in the CEC to help them succeed as they work towards completing their undergraduate degrees. To female students considering a career in STEM, the team encourages them to explore their interests and not be afraid to step out of their comfort zone.
“If your interest lies in STEM, don’t let anything stop you from going for it,” says Bhola. “A good support network of mentors and peers can go a long way. Attend competitions, hackathons, career fairs, mentor talks, basically anywhere that gives you an opportunity to talk to people in the field.”
“Follow what you find engaging and challenging,” adds Flood. “STEM fields might seem intimidating, but once you enter the community there is a vast network of support that fosters curiosity and values the insights and skills of everyone.”