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Prof. Brian Frank, associate dean of teaching and learning in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Queen’s University, encourages students to be creative and curious.SUPPLIED

Curiosity and creativity are key to tackling the complex challenges the world’s population is facing; climate change, human migration, health issues and changing demographics grab the headlines and engage problem-solvers in finding solutions.

Addressing these global challenges will require teams with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills, plus the willingness to ask questions that are often associated with the social sciences and humanities, says Brian Frank, associate dean of teaching and learning in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Queen’s University.

Prof. Frank teaches in the first course in the program’s four-year Engineering Design and Practice Sequence. The sequence of courses assembles diverse student teams to address engineering challenges. The program strives to nurture students’ creativity and curiosity, just as instructors strive to be creative in delivering a program that reflects the students’ background, societal needs and advances in educational technology.

“We strive to set an example of being curious and creative in delivering the program and encouraging interaction with industry and partners outside of the university,” he says.

That interaction shows a broader recognition of the importance of creativity and of working within diverse groups.

“There is increasing recognition in the engineering education community that appreciates that engineering has significant elements that go beyond science and mathematics.”

The result of this recognition is that students are placed in situations that emulate professional practice, which presents them with real-world challenges and opportunities.

“Students have to understand processes for learning about the problem, gathering information and identifying possible solutions. They need to work well in teams and with clients, all while [effectively] managing their project,” says Prof. Frank.

Curiosity can be encouraged in students by their getting involved in activities outside the curriculum including in student design teams participating in international competitions or taking on a range of summer jobs and internship opportunities that enable them to experience different disciplines and applications of engineering.

“We’re encouraging students to look at the world around them and to try to use their skills for things that are meaningful, and that can have an impact on the world. Doing that stimulates a sense of curiosity,” says Prof. Frank.

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