ST. JOHN’S, NL
– Flight delays can be frustrating for many, but for Ashley Nguyen, it became the chance to leave a lasting impression at a recent CICan (Colleges and Institutes Canada) applied research symposium in Ottawa.
Nguyen, who was asked to be on a Growing Talent through Work and Research Integrated Learning panel as part of College of the North Atlantic’s (CNA) participation, laughed as she recalled finally arriving at the nation’s capital after long flight delays. Once at the hotel, she was told if she ran she could make it in time for her part on the panel. After quickly going to her room to don a blazer, she hurried and heard her name being called just as the elevator door opened.
“It was probably the most dramatic thing that happened,” she giggled. “Everyone remembered our project after that.”
Nguyen, along with fellow CNA Industrial Engineering Technology (Co-op) graduate Tiffany Swain; Gary Tulk, Vice President, Industry and Community Engagement; Dr. Michael Long, Associate Vice President of Applied Research and Innovation; and, John O’Leary, Chair of Industry Innovation, were among many college representatives from across the country who gathered at the Shaw Centre to showcase various research and innovation projects at CICan’s 2018 Accelerating Innovation through Applied Research Symposium.
With the technical mentorship of faculty and project management supports through CNA’s Industry Engagement Unit, Nguyen and Swain were members of a multi-discipline team of engineering technology students and recent graduates who helped Goulding’s Wholesale, the owner of Chatman’s Bakery in Charlottetown, NL, to modernize its long-used manual method of cutting cookie bars. After much research and analysis, the idea of using a custom designed robotic controlled ultrasonic cutting system was identified as the preferred choice for the operation. Working with the company and a third party partner, Proax Technologies, the students assisted with the customized design, prototyping, refinement, and implementation of the system at Chatman’s Bakery.
“This project with Chatman’s Bakery exemplifies the model we want to deploy on a much larger scale to support small and medium-sized enterprises throughout the province,” said Dr. Long. “By bringing a business challenge, whether it be scaling-up, technology adoption, and inventory management or otherwise, to the classroom where a real-world problem becomes the learning experience for our students, we enable students to showcase the skillset they’ve developed, while simultaneously providing the innovation resources that businesses need. Combined, this is an amazing learning experience for our students.”
For Swain, a student from Calvert who will officially graduate as an Industrial Engineering Technologist in June, seeing the manufacturing operation first-hand in order to complete her analysis played an integral role in the overall process. She visited the site to examine the current operation and assess how best to integrate the ultrasonic cutting machine into the existing overall procedures.
“In your mind you have an idea of how that kind of operation works, but first-hand is really interesting, and seeing the way things can be improved for everyone involved is something that I really took away from this whole exercise. You really wanted to make sure that whatever you do is going to benefit everyone involved, especially the owners and ultimately the customers.”
Swain also felt the opportunity to work directly with students and faculty mentors from multiple disciplines, including manufacturing, industrial, and instrumentation engineering technology, was particularly beneficial and underscored the importance of teamwork in engineering practice.
“I loved that I got to interact with other students, and some of the information that I had gathered and analyzed went on to students from other disciplines to assist in their work in other areas of the project. It was really interesting to see how so many different disciplines and resources can be involved in one specific project to get it off the ground and running,” added Swain.
Nguyen echoed those statements, adding that the work on Chatman’s Bakery also gave her the opportunity to learn about other types of labour, which gave her different perspectives when thinking about how to approach projects.
“It is really collaborative … to me that is one of the biggest takeaways about working in an environment like that. I didn’t really know what (the others) did (referring to mechanical, manufacturing, and instrumentation), so it was really neat to get to work with students in other disciplines.”
As the Chair of Industry Innovation at CNA, O’Leary said, “This project clearly demonstrates that the value of the applied research and development (R&D) supports being offered through the Office of Industry and Community Engagement. It extends well beyond helping small to medium-sized enterprises to increase their productivity and competitive advantage through product, process and organizational innovations. This form of applied R&D is a mutually beneficial activity for all stakeholders. Most importantly, providing students with the opportunity to apply learned problem solving skills to ‘real-life’ industry challenges allows them to develop the soft skills that will be critical to career success. It also helps demonstrate to potential future employers the real measurable value that can be realized through hiring these highly qualified individuals.”
The CICan symposium was an opportunity Swain and Nguyen jumped at when it was suggested to them, and for both it was “eye-opening” to learn about the various specialties that can stem from research, development and innovation initiatives.
“For me, it embodied what the structure of taking the resources of the college and combining it with an outside company, and how that can benefit everybody. We wanted to show this symposium that it was a great research and development project that went farther to have a lot of student involvement in the whole project,” noted Swain.
Nguyen says attending CICan was “a lot of pressure” because she wanted to be able to encompass all of the work that was completed by other students, present it at the symposium, and do it justice.
“I feel like we did a really good job. We got to talk with other teachers and students from other campuses from colleges across Canada, and they all seemed pretty impressed with the work we did. I really wanted to make sure that people understood that this was a multi-disciplinary project, and it wouldn’t have been able to happen without everyone pulling together.
“It’s awesome to see that it’s not just CNA who allows their students to be involved with real industry problems because I think it’s important that students get that real-life experience,” Nguyen continued. “I am honoured to have been selected to go, and I had the opportunity to speak on a panel … I think that CICan having an event like this not only brings together college representatives and offices of applied research, but the students as well. It’s just a really great synergy of all the opportunities for collaboration as well as really empowering.”
The Mount Pearl native explains this learning experience has carried over into her new job. Since graduating, she has become employed full-time at Lester’s Farm Market in St. John’s. Her position involves data collection, analysis and implementing change and so on, but the biggest thing she realizes is that when she has a task, she reflects on the Chatman’s Bakery project, takes a step back and thinks about how the other disciplines would approach it in order to make it work.
College of the North Atlantic