By: Saad Ejaz
McMaster University’s new health sciences-engineering program, while offering a unique education comes with an unexpected fee.
Launching in the Fall 2017 term, the new Integrated Biomedical Engineering and Health Sciences program is the first of its kind in Canada. It will offer students an interdisciplinary education that will build on a strong foundation in both the engineering and health sciences.
The application process consists of two components that will be used to assess students for the program. This includes a competitive admission average and a supplementary application component that will consist of three unique questions – two video responses and one written response. Students will be given only one chance to answer all three questions in a closed time period.
The supplementary application will be administered by an external third party company called Kira Talent, who will be evaluating and scoring each applicant’s answers.
The supplementary application to the new IBEHS program will cost the high school or transfer student an additional $40 on top of the Ontario University Application Centre fees to apply. This would entail $150 plus $40 if the program choice is a part of the students top three preferred university programs, or $50 plus an additional $40 if the program is an additional preference after the top three.
The additional fee for the program has generated mixed reviews from students and has raised questions on why the program is set up to include a supplementary application with a $40 price tag.
Prof. Hubert de Bruin explained that grades alone are no longer a reliable tool to assess students, and the supplementary application will help find students that are more than just the average student with competitive grades. This includes competence in areas such as leadership and professional dialogue. He mentions that while the cost could be an added burden to students from low-income households, the worth is incomparable.
“$40 is pretty small potatoes when you consider the cost of even going into an education endeavour,” he said.
Applying to the new IBEHS program would cost an applicant nearly double compared to other university programs without supplementary application fees. Taaha Muhammad, a fourth-year health sciences student mentions how the additional fee conveys the notion of prestige and legitimacy to the program, while creating a spectacle of deterrence to students who may be considering the program.
“...The downside is that if students are unsure about which programs to apply to – especially if they are considering a program like this, it may kind of dissuade them – the fact that you have to pay double just for this program,” he said.
The program will be accepting applicants from across Canada, and the university expects thousands of applicants to the new IBEHS program for a total of 140 estimated seats. Although the program may be among one of the most competitive undergraduate programs across the country, Delsworth Harnish the associate dean from the faculty of health sciences mentions it is likely there are many applicants that would thrive in the program that are unable to make it.
The notion poses the question of whether the supplementary application process is effective in achieving its intended purpose, as the rejected students are likely just as qualified as the accepted ones.
“The Bachelor of Health Sciences has a supplementary application and what we continually tell students after they get here is that it was a bloody lottery - that in truth we could have taken a different 160 students and they would be just as successful,” he said.
Although the program has a limited number of seats, Paul O’ Bryne, the dean and vice president from the faculty of health sciences mentions that over time the program will expand to enroll a greater number of students similar to the expansion of 80 to 240 students in the health sciences program.
The new program is expected to help students prepare for Canada’s newly emerging biomedical engineering industry.
A $43 million joint investment for McMaster University towards science and engineering teaching and research capacity was announced on Friday, Sept. 23.
The project totals at $75 million, with the university contributing $24.3 million and the Independent Electricity System Operator contributing $7.6 million.
The hefty investment from the federal and provincial governments was done in part with the Government of Canada’s Innovation Agenda, which sets out to create more jobs, drive growth across all industries and improve the lives of all Canadians.
The press conference was well attended, including speeches from Filomena Tassi, Member of Parliament for Hamilton West-Ancanster-Dundas and by the Hon. Eleanor McMahon.
“Our post-secondary education sector and the applied research that it produces will drive innovation today and the economy of tomorrow. McMaster has a world-class engineering and science faculty and students will now have state-of-the-art facilities in which to work and learn,” said Tassi in a press release.
In terms of raw numbers, $37.5 million will be from the federal government while the provincial government is set to contribute the remaining $5.5 million.
The substantial funding from the federal government is being allocated through the Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund, which will place emphasis on both modernizing research along with environmental sustainability.
The funding will be used to support various projects such as the Arthur Bourns Building repair, Retrofit, Addition, Campus COGEN project. The long-term goal with a facilities upgrade consists of improving science and engineering research, accelerating commercialization and enhancing energy conservation at McMaster.
The $7.6 million secured from the Independent Electricity System Operator will be used to increase efficiency of the renovated ABB labs as well as across campus.
Alongside this, plans for the Combined Heat and Power co-generation plant have been underway. Also labelled as the COGEN project, the creation of the plant is expected to save 15 percent on energy input as compared to traditional plants, thereby providing a substantial energy cost avoidance while contributing to the environment.
In terms of environmental sustainability, MSU president Justin Monaco-Barnes is proud of the progress made in ensuring that sufficient funding is used to accelerate energy saving efforts. “This expansion will not only give us a wide variety of tools to enhance [research and innovation], but it is done in a way that is environmentally friendly for everyone,” he said.
“One of the great things about this expansion, and sustainability initiatives in general, is that it affects all students in a positive way long after they are graduated,” explained Monaco-Barnes.
For engineering students, a new building on campus may make experiential learning more accessible, now that a full $8.5 million in funding has been raised. But students currently paying into the $50 per year levy will not see the building completed until 2016.
The Engineering Center for Experiential Learning, or ExCEL for short, was an initiative that was introduced during the 2011-2012 academic year and voted on to go ahead in March 2012.
The 25,000 square-foot building was able to complete its funding in September 2013, upon receiving a $3 million contribution from Hatch, a Canadian-based Engineering giant.
The University has said the construction is set to begin in spring 2015, to be completed in 2016.
The initiative was to introduce a new building on campus, located beside John Hodgins Engineering Building, to house workspaces for engineering student clubs and societies, design studios, display spaces and student lounge areas. The project's main mandate was to enhance the learning experience for the students in the Faculty of Engineering through experiential learning and collaboration.
But building a new structure on campus is no small project, and the ExCEL building has been no exception.
Roughly a quarter of the $8.5 million required will come from the students in the Faculty of Engineering, following a student referendum vote that decided a $50 levy per engineering student per year would be acceptable.
Starting this academic year, undergraduate students in the Faculty of Engineering will pay a $50 levy that goes towards the development of the project. The levies will continue to be collected over 10 years.
“Right now we are in the process of hiring the different engineering and construction people. Ideally it takes a year and a half to plan and design a project and another year and a half to execute it,” said Ben Kinsella, VP Academic for the McMaster Engineering Society.
“But since we have already contributed so much in terms of the design of the building, we are hopeful that the project will be complete sooner than the estimated 3 years,” Kinsella said.
The layout of the building is currently under rough speculation and subject to change once an architect is hired. Kelton Friedrich, project coordinator for the ExCEL building, provided some preliminary numbers.
The building would have four floors. The first floor would be 6000 sq. ft., a third of which would most likely be a large project storage area, for projects such as the Solar Car and Mini Baja. The remaining 4000 sq. ft. on the first floor may be an assembly area, with movable tables for smaller projects. This assembly area could be used by clubs, teams and for capstone projects.
The second floor has been proposed to be 6000 sq. ft. in size. About a quarter pf the second floor would be for an Engineering Student Lounge. Two-thirds of the second floor has been proposed for group meeting rooms and offices, club spaces, building support staff offices and MES offices.
The third floor will be 6000 sq. ft. in size. About a third would be allocated for storage lockers and the remaining two-thirds would be used as group meeting rooms and an engineering design studio. The fourth floor will be used as a “mechanical space”, according to Friedrich.
The building will also have a slanted roof that will be used for solar cell panels; the building is to be designed as being sustainable and energy efficient.
Friedrich and Kinsella, two people on the project's steering committee, help to set goals by recommending how to allocate the resources provided.
“ETB was originally intended to be the ExCEL building. I am really happy that we are finally making it into a reality now,” said Kinsella.
Aside from project leaders, engineering students have differing opinions on how their money is being invested
“We are just paying for the future undergrads. The more reputation the MES has, the better reputation the program will also have and employers are only going to look at the reputation of the school at the time they are hiring you,” said Chris Ko, a level III software engineering and game design student.
“ExCEL will benefit all engineering students as it will be home to student clubs and societies, design teams and more. I believe it is a great idea and it will enhance our learning experience,” said Labeeb Hussain, a mechanical engineering student.
“As a student who has been heavily involved with the car teams on campus, I can tell you lack of workspace is a huge concern. The workspace we get is often adapted from previous uses, and was never intended for car teams,” said David Drake.
“[A new building] means that we can build our cars better. We can provide more benefit to students and we can better represent our school at our competitions. I am pro ExCEL for this reason.”
“It will help people learn and compete better on a global level,” said Mohit Sharma, a fourth-year electrical engineering and management student.
Graphic by Ben Barrett-Forrest / Multimedia Editor