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Maud Cohen, President of Polytechnique Montréal

In joining Polytechnique Montréal, I saw it as a priority that we carefully consider the major challenges ahead. Engineering, as a profession, is about finding solutions, so we need to make sure our work is still effective in addressing societal needs.

Due to the scope and complexity of the main problems of our time, such as climate change, disease threats and food, water and energy security, there is no easy fix. And making a difference requires a systems’ thinking approach and collaboration. We need to look at a challenge as a whole – and not just portions of it – so we can try and address it in a way that benefits the greater good and doesn’t cause other issues.

Considering the bigger picture typically requires multidisciplinary engagement with other professionals as well as community members. An engineer who works on health-care technology, for example, must consult not only with engineering colleagues but also with the medical professionals and patients who will be impacted by the solution. Engineers designing water solutions, such as improving access to potable water in First Nations communities, have to listen to the concerns of community members.

Some major infrastructure projects serve as an illustration of what happens when there is a gap in community engagement. In moving forward transportation infrastructure, some projects aim to increase public transit options for residents as well as reduce emissions, yet people often position themselves against them. The reason for this is that while communities affected by the transit plan are informed of the project, they are not invited to be involved at the conceptual stage.

I see this as a reminder that professional teams need to be collaborative and inclusive from the early stages of a project. Without doing so, there is a good chance that we’ll miss the mark, especially for addressing today’s big challenges.

What is required is that our professionals are trained on more open concepts. They have to learn to better communicate and collaborate with other experts and with community members. That’s where diversity and inclusion come into play. Diversity – and a representation of women and other equity-deserving groups – in engineering brings a richness of perspectives that can enhance creativity and innovation.

I’m proposing that we pay more attention to incorporating openness, collaboration and diversity into our training as this will inform how engineers interact with the world around them.

That way, we can maximize the impact of engineering, which will be crucial in solving challenges and enabling communities to thrive, not just in Canada but across the globe.


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