Convocation: Stand-out student seeks to help others walk again

June 08, 2016

By Allen Tung, University Communications 

As an undergraduate student in SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering, Shaun Bourgeois scored an A+ in 42 of his 46 courses for an impressive cumulative grade point average of 4.29 out of a possible 4.33. And not once did he miss the dean’s or president’s honour roll.  

Those high marks earned him a 2016 Governor General’s Silver Medal, awarded annually to the two undergraduate students who have achieved the highest academic standing in a bachelor’s degree program.

A modest upbringing fuelled Bourgeois, who says he wanted to make the most of his Tadeusz Specht Memorial Scholarship in Applied Science, worth $10,500.

“The scholarship meant I could focus on my studies instead of finding a job,” says Bourgeois. “I am really grateful to the donors for this opportunity.  I also thank my family, friends and instructors for their support. These things really drove me.”

Hailing from Creston in B.C.’s East Kootenay region, Bourgeois had a particular interest in, and special aptitude for mathematics and physics during high school. That, combined with his interest in robotics, made mechatronics a natural fit.

SFU’s mechatronics program, based at the Surrey campus, is the first of its kind in North America to integrate mechanical, electrical and software engineering. It was launched in 2007 to meet the increasing demand for engineers who can work across all domains.

Bourgeois zeroes in on a first-year course building, programming and battling LEGO Mindstorms robots as his “true” mechatronics beginning.

“The projects combined the mechanical design required to build the robot for its purpose with the software development needed to dictate its behaviour,” he says. “I found that really interesting.”

Bourgeois, who graduated last October, is now an SFU master of applied sciences student in mechatronics, under the supervision of professors Siamak Arzanpour and Ed Park. His research focuses on assistive robotic systems for people with physical disabilities affecting mobility.

He is working with Arzanpour, Park and mechatronics PhD student Soheil Sadeqi to refine a hip exoskeleton system, or wearable robotic mobility device, that he helped develop during an undergraduate research co-op term with Arzanpour and then later for his capstone project.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Bourgeois and his team chose the hip because it is a relatively complex joint, and many people stand to benefit from improved assistive devices for this anatomical structure.

“The project has real potential to empower people who are otherwise immobile,” Bourgeois says. “The realized ability for people in wheelchairs, for example, to just stand among other people and be at eye-level—this is something I would like to help happen.”

Story originally published by SFU News