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New chair to develop aerospace engineering design

by Gregory Todaro November 24, 2015
New chair to develop aerospace engineering design

Catharine Marsden will link Concordia to national network

A new chairperson has been established at Concordia University focusing on implementing design into the university’s engineering curriculum.

Catharine Marsden, the first senior chair in aerospace design engineering, at Concordia. Photo by Gregory Todaro.

Catharine Marsden, the first senior chair in aerospace design engineering, at Concordia. Photo by Gregory Todaro.

On Nov. 18, the university announced mechanical engineer Catharine Marsden as the first senior chair in aerospace design engineering (NCADE), part of a national network of 16 chairs under the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). NCADE is one of the 16 working towards the same goal: determining the best way to deliver curriculum so students understand how design for engineers works.

“There’s a whole bunch of research being done … and one of the great things about this chair is that now we’re part of that network,” Marsden said. “Now Concordia can benefit from all these resources.”

Marsden, who came to Concordia after six years as a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, said this chair is one of the first in Canada focused solely on aerospace.

While at the university, Marsden said she has two main projects. The first is to develop the current curriculum; Marsden said one of her priorities is to get students engaged in cross-disciplinary engineering.

“What we don’t do with students in university right now is get them to appreciate the complex, system-of-systems nature of aerospace design,” she said. “We’re not going to change what we teach students, but we’re going to try and change the way we teach it. We’re going to get them to focus on interdisciplinary work from the beginning of their degrees.”

Marsden said in aerospace engineering in particular it’s important for students to realize the interconnectedness of different fields of engineering.

“If you look at an airplane today, what do you see? You see an airplane,” she said. “We’re going to try and get students to, when they look at an airplane … see the structure, powerplant, propulsion, fluid mechanics, electrical, software, computers, control systems, feedback loops, all of this different stuff.”

“Every single discipline in engineering is represented somewhere in that aircraft,” she added.

The other project Marsden will develop—the one she calls a “cornerstone” of her work—is an apprenticeship program. She said these apprenticeships will be unique from regular internships and co-op programs.

“The companies want the students to actually know the program they’re working on,” she said. “Students are going to go and work in companies, but they’re not going to work as engineers; they’re going to work on the shop floor, they’re going to work in manufacturing and maintenance and product support … They’ll get to know the people that make and use the product so at the end of the degree they’ll be able to go an work as design engineers and design the product.”

Marsden also said students in the program will be hosted by one company through their entire four-year degree. She hopes to have the first apprenticeships started by the summer of 2016.

NSERC awarded $1 million over five years for its NCADE Chair in Design Engineering program. Along with contributions from aerospace organizations like Bell Helicopter, Bombardier and Pratt & Whitney Canada, the total value of the program is at around $4.4 million over five years.

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