History Trails
  The Founding
  Faculties, Departments & Schools
  People A-G
  People H-O
  People P-Z
  Buildings & Campus Development
  Affiliated Institutions
  Clubs & Groups
  Speeches and Addresses

Faculty Profile: Engineering

Historical Background

The Faculty of Applied Science was established in 1913, although a program in civil engineering had started five years earlier. In 1948, the Faculty was renamed “Engineering” and by that date programs in electrical engineering (1915), mining and metallurgy (1915), chemical engineering (1926) and petroleum engineering (1948) had been initiated. Mechanical engineering was established as a degree program in 1959, and the Department of Mineral Engineering was created in 1973.

The somewhat “dry” list of names and dates hides the dynamic response of a Faculty that has adapted itself to the changing requirements resulting from Alberta’s industrial development. For example, the institution of a petroleum engineering program was a response to the growth of the oil industry that had its future confirmed by the Leduc discovery of 1947. The Department of Mechanical Engineering was created, with the support of the Association of Professional Engineers of Alberta, when it became evident that the Province required engineers who had a special knowledge in the area of applied mechanics. The Faculty established the Department of Mineral Engineering as the result of a study of the requirements and the future potential of the natural resource industry of Canada and that of Alberta in particular. With hindsight the creation of the Department is of increased significance now that the energy crisis has made every citizen aware of the limits to our natural resources.


Although enrolment fluctuated in the past, a rapid increase in the demand for places in the Faculty in the period 1973-76, resulted in the introduction of a quota system in the academic year 1976-77. Since then applications have consistently exceeded the number of positions available and so a “steady-state” enrolment of approximately 1,700 undergraduate students has been reached.

The implementation of the quota system became necessary when the unrestricted enrolment of students at a time of space, equipment and staff limitations would have had a detrimental effect on the quality of the educational programs being offered in the Faculty. In order to try to meet partially the demands of both students for places, and industry for engineering graduates, the Faculty adopted a plan for controlled expansion. To date, however, we have been unsuccessful in attracting the resources necessary to expand the size of the Faculty and yet maintain the required quality of education. The number of female students has increased very slowly although each year the group forms a larger percentage of total undergraduate enrolment. In 1974, female students accounted for only 1.8 percent of the total undergraduate group while in the 1980-81 academic year they form 7 percent of the group. The Faculty feels that female students are not aware of either the nature of a university engineering education or the career opportunities that are available upon graduation. During the last three years the Women’s Engineering Society has visited several high schools in Edmonton and occasionally Northern Alberta to try to give potential applicants a clearer understanding of “engineering.” The group is also active in the organization of presentations during the on-campus University Orientation Days held in February. Figure 1 shows the history of undergraduate enrolment in the Faculty and compares it with overall engineering enrolment in Canadian engineering schools. Although we followed the trend across Canada in the period 1965-76, it is evident that from 1976 engineering education opportunities have increased in Canada as a whole, in marked contrast to the static enrolment in this Faculty. However, engineering graduate student enrolment statistics (see Figure 2) at The University of Alberta reflect the national trend fairly closely. We share the concern of other Canadian schools of engineering that fewer students choose to continue in graduate studies. The probable explanation, especially in Alberta, is that students who obtain BSc ( Eng) degrees are able to start work at very attractive salaries. Nevertheless, the Faculty is making efforts to increase enrolments so that the situation does not deteriorate even further. It is essential that graduate programs across Canada maintain an enrolment that is high enough to assure the country of highly skilled engineers. The masters and doctoral students specialize to a greater extent than is possible for students in the undergraduate degree programs. If Alberta is to become a centre for research and development there will be increasing need for graduates with advanced degrees.

Undergraduate Education

A fundamental aim of the Faculty of Engineering is to provide society with individuals who have an understanding of the engineering fundamentals, who have a capacity for further learning, and who are capable of contributing to the creation of a climate favourable for intelligent industrial growth.

The Departments of Chemical, Civil, and Mechanical Engineering offer programs that allow some specialization within their respective disciplines but overall emphasis is placed on the development of student competence in the particular discipline as a whole. For example, students in the Department of Chemical Engineering are able to take groups of courses that are focussed on such areas as process dynamics and control, natural gas, food processing, and environmental engineering. Civil Engineering students have the possibility of choosing technical electives that give added emphasis to hydraulic engineering, surveying, geotechnical engineering, transportation engineering, structural engineering and environmental engineering. The Department (if Mechanical Engineering provides students with a broad coverage of all fields of mechanical engineering, and encourages students in its program to obtain additional depth in fields such as applied mechanics, industrial engineering (which includes the areas of production methods and management techniques) and thermo-science.

The Department of Electrical Engineering offers three distinct “patterns” of programs. Pattern 1, taken by most students, allows some specialization in areas such as digital microprocessors, telecommunications, power systems, electronics, lasers and biomedical engineering. Students who wish to develop a specialized knowledge in theory are encouraged to take the Pattern II program which is offered jointly with the Department of Physics and is called “Engineering Physics.” Well qualified students who are interested in managerial work may elect to take the Pattern III route which consists of electrical engineering courses augmented by courses in business administration and commerce.

There are four distinct programs offered by the Department of Mineral Engineering-petroleum engineering, mining engineering, metallurgical engineering and mineral process engineering. Those students who are enrolled in the petroleum program take courses dealing with all aspects of petroleum engineering, including drilling and completion, production operations and reservoir engineering. The mining engineering curriculum addresses itself to all phases of mining, including exploration, rock mechanics, mining methods, environmental control, and management. A student in the metallurgical program can expect to complete courses in such areas as extractive metallurgy, physical metallurgy and corrosion. The mineral processing courses are concerned with primary processing of fossil fuels (for example, coal and tar sands), metal-bearing ores and the industrial minerals.

Job Prospects Upon Graduation

In recent years there have been excellent career opportunities for graduates with engineering degrees. Since Alberta is heavily dependent on the oil and natural gas industries, many of our graduates obtain their first position with a company that is either directly or indirectly related to those industries. Chemical engineering graduates have found jobs in the petrochemical industry — mainly in the refining and chemical processing areas. Graduates from the programs offered in the Department of Mineral Engineering have had little difficulty in obtaining engineering-related employment. Graduates from the other programs have often gained employment in the petroleum industry although there are increasing opportunities for students to find employment in their “own discipline.” In order to ensure that they continue working in their own specialization some graduates seek employment with one of the engineering consulting firms. An increasing number of opportunities will probably develop in the field of environmental engineering.

New Program

Approval has been gained from the Board of Governors for a program in computer engineering that will be offered jointly by the Faculties of Engineering and Science through the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Computing Science. It is expected that graduates of this program will be in great demand since industry has expressed the need for people who are well-versed in both the hardware and software aspects of computing. Competition for positions in this quota has been keen and it is expected that students of high calibre will graduate in 1983.

Industrial Support

The Faculty has been pleased with the very tangible support of industry that has developed during the last four years. The Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority (AOSTRA) possibly started a trend when it initiated a program of sponsoring professorships in Alberta universities. This Faculty is fortunate to have two AOSTRA positions, where funds are provided for the salaries, research activities and associated expenses of the recipients of the award. Since then three additional positions have been sponsored by industry. The Nova Corporation supports the professorship in Welding Engineering; Alberta Power, Calgary Power and Edmonton Power have agreed to sponsor a professorship in Power Engineering; and the Alberta Construction Association has joined this Faculty and the Faculty of Extension in providing funds for a professorship in Construction Engineering. The Welding Engineering professorship has enabled the Faculty to provide a new program at the master’s level in welding engineering, the Power Engineering professorship has helped to strengthen a key area in the Electrical Engineering curriculum and the Construction Engineering professorship will enable the Faculty to provide courses for undergraduate students that focus on aspects of the management of major construction projects. In each case, the holder of the professorship is expected to keep in close contact with the respective sponsors and thus achieve a more formal line of communication with industry than existed before.

Nevertheless, less formal contacts were established many years ago and practising engineers continue to be involved in teaching whether by delivering an individual lecture or seminar, a series of lectures or a full credit course. The Department of Mineral Engineering has had an industrial advisory board in place for several years. The Student Work Experience Program (SWEP) benefits from an advisory board that draws its membership from the major segments of industry in the province.


The Faculty of Engineering, recognizing the value that students could derive from practical engineering-related experience, was the original sponsor of the “Student Work Experience Program.” The emphasis has always been on helping to provide opportunities for students to obtain discipline-related summer employment although, in one or two cases, it has been possible to accommodate a student who wished to spend eight months in industry. In recognition that industry benefits from a schedule that provides an “employee” on a year-round basis and that students value a system that would incorporate their work experience into their academic record in a formal way, the Faculty has proposed a Co-operative Education scheme that has been accepted by The University of Alberta and is currently being considered for funding by the Department of Advanced Education and Manpower. If funding is made available, we hope that the program can be implemented for May 1981. The various Departments would join the cooperative scheme during the first five-year period.

In the case of both SWEP and Co-operative Undergraduate Education the attempt is made to match the student’s employment position with his academic background. Another goal of programs which aim at planned industrial experience is to have graduates who will enter the permanent workforce with few “transition” problems and a greater realization of the actual work situations that await them.

Graduate Programs

In addition to the welding engineering program that has been mentioned, the Faculty has developed a master’s program in oil sands that is the result of coordinating courses already offered by the Departments in the Faculty. The first group of students started in September 1980 and, since the program is being offered in a cooperative education format, they will return to industry to work for a twelve-month period prior to completing their studies in April 1982. AOSTRA has recognized the importance of a program that will provide highly trained engineers who will work in the oil sands industry. The Authority is supporting twelve of the students during their four-month academic terms and will be employing up to six of the students during the work periods associated with the master’s program. Hudson’s Bay Oil and Gas Company has also supported an employee during his academic terms and he returns to work with the Company during work terms. The Department of Civil Engineering has introduced a cooperative program for its M Eng degree in geotechnical engineering.

Other graduate cooperative schemes have been arranged for individuals who have interests in such areas as structural design, river engineering and transportation. Generally students will have secured employment and will have established a work and study schedule that is mutually acceptable to student and employer and, of course, meets the requirements of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research.


A vigorous research program not only provides a vehicle for instruction but also contributes to the development of the faculty members involved and serves as an excellent means of promoting long-term industrial growth. It is impossible to detail all the research being undertaken by the Faculty in this brief report but some examples may be of interest. Most of the Departments in the Faculty have academic staff who are involved in tar sand-related research. This can range from experiments to determine the feasibility of separation of sand and oil by electrical processes in the Department of Electrical Engineering, to a study of in situ recovery in the Department of Mineral Engineering, and geotechnical studies in the Department of Civil Engineering.

Three Departments are involved in research projects that address themselves to aspects of biomedical engineering. The Department of Mechanical Engineering was recently involved testing the strength of various hip joint devices-work that is being followed up by the Department of Mineral Engineering from the point of view of corrosion characteristics of the prosthetic devices. The Department of Electrical Engineering has research that is concentrating on the medical application of lasers.

A major project is underway in the Department of Mechanical Engineering to determine the energy conservation and solar heating characteristics of houses. In the Department of Chemical Engineering work of international repute is in progress on the thermodynamic properties of natural gas and oil. The Data Acquisition Control and Simulation (DACS) Centre operated by Chemical Engineering allows sophisticated computer applications to be carried out, for example, on petrochemical process control techniques and the Department offers one of the best opportunities available anywhere in the world for education and development in the area of process control and real-time sensor-based computer applications. Research on different techniques on the recovery of oil and coal and mineral processing is carried out in the Department of Mineral Engineering.

Research to establish design criteria for steel, masonry, concrete and wood is underway in the Department of Civil Engineering. This includes a major study on the behavior of buildings that house nuclear reactors during over-pressure conditions. The reference design was that of the Gentilly 2 nuclear power plant that is being used in CANDU power plants in New Brunswick, Argentina, and Korea.

Cold climate engineering is another area of research that is being carried out in several Departments. One of the many geotechnical projects in the Department of Civil Engineering is concerned with the behavior of frozen ground. Another research project examines the effects of ice jams in rivers. Research in the Department of Mechanical Engineering includes a study of the characteristics of heat transfer in an Arctic environment and an investigation of icing.

Research Funds

The information supplied in Figure 3 shows that although the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) continues to provide most of the research funds available to faculty members, the funding attracted from other sources plays an increasingly important role. Individual faculty members have become more involved in mission-oriented contract research. One of the advantages is that graduate students are involved in projects that are of direct interest to industry, and when they eventually leave to pursue their careers they help enable the transfer of technology from the University to industry. It is also beneficial to faculty members to be involved in research that is of direct interest to industry since it promotes useful interaction with industry and, of course, eventually enriches the undergraduate and graduate curricula.

Research Organizations

In an attempt to provide a focus for research projects that may be interdisciplinary, the Faculty has established two Centres that will act as coordination vehicles. The Centre for Medical and Dental Technology seeks to keep faculty in the medical sciences aware of the help they can receive from this Faculty for engineering problems in the fields of medicine and dentistry. It also attempts to link requests for assistance with the appropriate faculty member. The Institute for Coal Research also hopes to act as an information-exchange centre and link academic staff from different Faculties that are engaged in coal-related research.

Investigations are also underway to determine the feasibility of establishing a Centre of Excellence for composite materials research. The importance of developments in the area of composite materials and the potential that they have for the establishment of a high technology base in the Province gives added importance to the creation of this Centre.

Published February 1981.

ua logo