Abhi Mukherjee
The Silhouette

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.

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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

Watch the live-feed from the SRA meeting on Sept. 29. The bulk of bylaw 5 discussion begins at 40:35. For the full video feed, click here.

After a tumultuous week in the world of student politics, the question of ancillary student fees has been put on hold.

The proposed amendments to a McMaster Students Union bylaw which would see five student groups go to triennial review by referendum did not pass at the meeting of the Student Representative Assembly on Sept. 29.

The amendments, proposed by the Finance Committee under the leadership of Commissioner Daniel D’Angela and with the support of VP Finance Jeff Doucet, sought to bring greater financial transparency and accountability to the set of non-MSU, non-university administered groups.

Each of the affected groups was given an opportunity to voice their concerns at the meeting.

“We think there are better, more effective ways to bring conversations with students, and to create more meaningful conversations,” said Kathryn Chan, co-president of Engineers Without Borders, to those present. She explained that her organization was interested in transparency, though not through what they considered time-consuming referendums.

“We think that [the referendums] come at a cost of decreased quality in the work that we do,” Chan said.

Miranda Clayton, president of the McMaster Marching Band, echoed Chan’s sentiment.

“While the changes have good intentions, they ultimately harm the groups involved,” she said.

The McMaster Marching Band was granted a student levy to the amount of $0.90 per student for the 2013-2014 academic year after winning a referendum in January 2013.

Although each of the five groups opposed proposed bylaw framework, the discussion highlighted that issues with the amendments were rooted in the drafting process.

While the groups felt a referendum was taxing, Doucet and the Finance Committee believed such a model was best for maintaining group autonomy.

“All these groups are very different, so…it’s hard to come up with a solution,” he explained. “But one thing they all had in common was going to referendum to get student money.”

Lexi Sproule, co-president of EWB, felt that the perceived lack of consultation was a miscommunication between groups.

“It’s a pretty classic misunderstanding between people making strategy decisions and people on the ground.”

After nearly two hours of discussion, the decision was made to send the proposal back to the finance committee for a more thorough consultation process.

D’Angela explained that the Finance Committee has now asked for policy suggestions from each group on “how to improve students democratic input into the fee” and a period of consultation is expected to follow.

 

After paying tuition, many students may not know what happens to their money. But organizers within the McMaster Students Union are working to see that changed, and show students what happens to their fees.

The finance committee of the MSU has proposed changes to a bylaw that would see student groups have their levies put up to referendum on a regular basis. The bylaw in question deals specifically with the five non-MSU, non-university organizations that currently receive a portion of student funding.

“What this bylaw essentially does is give [students] more information on where their money is going,” said Daniel D’Angela, MSU Finance Commissioner and Social Science SRA representative.

The groups that fall under this category are Ontario Public Interest Research Group, McMaster, Engineers Without Borders, Incite Magazine, the McMaster Solar Car, and the McMaster Marching Band. The money these five groups collect from the student body amounts to $10.86 for each full-time student.

And despite the enthusiasm of key players within the MSU, the groups affected have come out in vocal opposition of the motion.

“It’s an inefficient way to consult students,” said Lexi Sproule, co-president of the McMaster chapter of Engineers Without Borders of the proposed system.

Under the changes, EWB and the other four organizations would have their levy put on the presidential ballot as a referendum for students to vote on every three years.

“It’s not very in-depth feedback,” said Sproule. “Even if you get approved, you don’t know if students have any issues with how you run things. It’s so much energy for feedback that’s kind of superficial.”

Proponents of the referendums disagree.

“I don’t think that once every three years having to spend two weeks going out and telling students about what you do, I don’t think it’s that taxing,” said Jeff Doucet,

EWB currently collects 37 cents from every full-time undergraduate student. While not making up their entire budget, the approximately $7700 it receives goes directly to funding students participating in the Junior Fellowship Program, a four-month volunteer placement overseas.

While the dollar amount per student is small, the effect the potential loss is on some of the organizations is significant.

“[Without the levy] I don’t think we’d be able to operate—that’s what keeps us going,” said Yuvreet Kaur, one of eight student board members of OPIRG McMaster.

OPIRG McMaster is one of a network of organizations across the province, which promotes social justice issues through grassroots organizing and through the funding of student and community-led working groups.

Of the five affected groups, OPIRG currently collects the largest fee, at $7.57 per student. However, the fee is refundable within three weeks of the drop and adds date in September.

“We give students the opportunity to take that money if they need it or if they don’t support the work we do,” explained Kojo Damptey, also on the OPIRG Board.

”We’re the only organization on campus that does that.”

The threat of OPIRG McMaster losing its funding is not unheard of; other OPIRG chapters across Ontario, including those at the University of Toronto and at Queen’s University, have come under scrutiny through NOPIRG campaigns, which aim to abolish the system of contributing student fees to the organization.

In the case of Queen’s, NOPIRG organizer Stuart Clark told the Queen’s Journal he was opposed to the levy because of “the use of publically available funds for certain activities that don’t reflect the values of the entire community.”

Mac’s chapter, however, feels that its values align very well with the university.

“Our current president [Patrick Deane] talked about forward with integrity—we’ve been doing that for two decades here,” said Damptey. He emphasized that the working groups funded by the group, which address a range of social justice issues, are the product of student ideas.

“There are certain working groups that a lot of the McMaster population is familiar with,” echoed Board Member Sabeen Kazmi. “Other groups…like the McMaster Farmstand and MACycle started under OPIRG.”

OPIRG and the other four organizations involved are seeking not only to make students and SRA members aware of their role on campus, but also to voice their opposition to the process of the bylaw changes being made.

Sam Godfrey, co-editor-in-chief of Incite Magazine, expressed her concern with the idea of a referendum to determine fees.

“It’s hard to measure worth…by whether the majority of students read [Incite]. If you only funded things that the majority wanted, you wouldn’t have the same kind of community at Mac.”

However, D’Angela said that his impression was that the groups were in support of amendments.

“I met with them midway through the summer, the fee holders, and overwhelmingly, I’d say they agreed with increasing with transparency,” he said.

Sproule explained that while EWB is completely supportive of financial transparency, no mention of the proposed changes was made.

“All we heard was ‘great job’…what are we supposed to do with that? If we’d heard they had concerns, we’d be happy to change things,” she explained.

The bylaw changes were made within the Finance Committee but did not involve any further consultation with the groups.The process of amendment also didn’t involve notifying the groups when the motion was set to go to the SRA for voting; a system that was met with concern by OPIRG, Incite, and EWB, but to others was not problematic.

“If the finance committee decides to make a change because they feel we need more democratic input, should they notify the groups in advance that they make their change, before it goes public? I’m not sure if that will change the conversation that much,” said Doucet.

The discussion on the proposed changes will continue at the upcoming SRA meeting, scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 29.

Despite the opposition raised by the five groups, who are expected to present at the meeting, D’Angela and Doucet stand by the Finance Committee’s suggestion.

“If students want to have democratic input, referendum is the most efficient way to do so,” said Doucet.

“We think that the students are smart, they are intelligent people and they’re able to weigh the pros and cons of any single vote,” explained D’Angela upon being asked about the effectiveness of a referendum.

“We think that students are able to make decisions if you give them the right information and give them the important information.”

Abhi Mukherjee
The Silhouette

A group of McMaster engineering students is determined to make the school’s fasted solar car yet.

The McMaster Solar Car Project started in 1999. It has had a roster of students from all the different streams of engineering. It builds solar energy powered cars to race in competitions held roughly every two years. $1.07 from full-time undergraduate student fees goes towards the project.

The most recent undertaking of the group is the Spitfire, a car projected to reach highway speeds while, in the spirit of the project, consuming a very negligible amount of energy.

The braking system planned for installation converts part of the braking energy into electrical energy, which will be used to fuel the battery of the car instead of dissipating into the atmosphere.

The battery can store 3.8kWH energy, so that it can be used for longer amounts of time. With features like this, the car is designed with the idea of sustainability in mind.

The Spitfire is projected to be complete by summer 2014, making it the fifth car in the club’s repertoire.

“It usually takes about two years to build a car from scratch,” explained David Drake, the project manager of the group working on the Spitfire. Drake, a fourth-year Electrical and Computer Engineering student, summarizes the responsibilities of his position in the group as not only working on the car itself but performing non-engineering tasks such as finance management, networking and artistic designing.

“Engineers cannot do what artists can do,” said Nabeel Tariq, associate member of the group. He stressed that the project encourages people from different fields to come together.

“Everyone assumes that if you are building something you have to be in engineering. Totally not true,” said Drake.

“We give a lot of technical tutorials for engineers and non-engineers,” said John Diller, another associate member of the project. He explained that these cater to people who might want technical skills, but are not necessarily interested in the car itself.

While the Solar Car project has in its history been focused on the vehicle itself, the group members see it as a platform for bigger things.

“Through the club, we can spread more awareness about solar energy, ” said Tariq.

 

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