PODCAST: In Conversation with Dean Kevin Deluzio

Posted on May 15, 2020


Dean Kevin Deluzio is also a Queen's alumnus. In this podcast, he talks about his first year at Queen's and how Queen's Engineering is training leaders for a brighter future.

  • Today we're speaking with Kevin Deluzio, the Dean of Queens Engineering and Applied Science, about the value of an engineering degree in today's world and how Queens Engineering is training leaders for a brighter future. Welcome to the podcast, Kevin.

    Hi Nanci. It's great to be here.

    I'd like to take you back to your own days as a student here at Queens. I wonder if you could tell me about your experiences and your first year.

    Wow, that's a, that's a long time ago. It was, and you know, each year when the students come to campus, I reflect upon that experience. You know, I grew up in a very small town in Northern Ontario. So to me, coming to Kingston was actually coming to a big city. And um, it was very far from home. No one from my high school was coming to Queen’s, so I didn't know anybody in that sense. I was also though so excited. It was such a change of life, an important time in one's life where you're branching out, leaving home.

    And, uh, I was so excited for the experience of Queens Engineering and they still do this, during the summer, the engineering students prepare you and reach out. So they had sent this primer to the house that talked about Queen's life and it just built that anticipation and I knew that I was joining something that was going to be quite incredible.

    So tell me about that first year. What do you remember from it?

    Yeah, it was really hard. I remember being overwhelmed and the quantity of work, not necessarily the, challenge of the material so much as the pace at which the academics went in. And also this idea that we're all in it together, that we traveled as a cohort. We were broken up, we were in sections and in those days you were sectioned by your alphabetical last name, you know, men and women with the last name. Cs and Ds were in my section and you travel all together.

    So there's an incredible sense of we're all in this together. And we're going to look after each other.

    And you see that today?

    Absolutely. We still section students and absolutely there's this sense of community. They have all the same courses together. They're in the same sections together. And that builds that sense of community and also that, that sense of we can get through it together.

    It really helps build confidence, I would think. 

    Absolutely.

    So are you still in touch with some of your peers?

    Yes. Yeah. It's funny. We celebrated our 30th anniversary a couple of years ago and it was really fun in the sense that some of them I hadn't seen, since over that entire time. Others we've kept in touch with, of course. But it was amazing how quickly we got back into step and that the years disappeared.

    And it was really exciting to learn where they were, where my peers had gone to. And it was really inspiring to see where some of them are. For example, Mary Anne Turcke, who was one of our classmates is now the CEO of the, of the NFL. And, so you know, who would've thought from Civil Engineering, to the NFL  -- and yet that was the preparation. She talks about it. She says the challenge of problem solving, problems, how hard engineering was, the technological basis of that education and the teamwork skills that she gained were important to building that career. You know, we've had entrepreneurs of course, and also what's really impressive is the range of fields

    Yeah. I'm always amazed at the very different careers that engineers end up in now from entrepreneurs, leaders, healthcare.

    Yeah. It's really exciting to see.

    I'm really struck by one of your younger alumni who actually designs watersides around the world.

    Yeah, that's a great story. And again, is living that life that you kind of think really, how do you get into these kinds of things? And that exciting career -- engineering is one of those fantastic foundational degrees that prepares you for almost any career. And when you look at it, and especially today when all careers, all jobs really have some technological basis. Now, technology is the foundation of so much of what we do. And having a degree in that area really prepares you excellently for that.

    You also did your master's and PhD.

    Yes I did. Queen’s University was really a leader in the area of biomedical engineering. It was one of the first programs in Canada to really look at the application of engineering toward healthcare. And we had a really great partnership here with the orthopedic surgeons plus the mechanical engineering group to solve problems related to orthopedics.

    That multidisciplinary research and collaborative research that was going on at that time is still going on today at Queen’s. And it's really a hallmark of Queen’s. So very fairly small campus. And the research that is done across disciplines is easier to happen when the physical distances are smaller. You see more multidisciplinary work and a lack of kind of siloed research at Queen’s. And that really is the impactful research that goes on to change people's lives, whether it be in biomedical engineering or other aspects of telecommunication or other areas of research.

    And I would think too that it's really a great opportunity for students then to really access research  and be involved right at the beginning, right?

    Yes. We've provided a number of pathways for students to engage in research during their undergraduate career, either as a summer research assistant or as part of their curriculum as well. Yeah.

    That sense of community seems to carry on;  your alum are incredibly dedicated. You've had amazing fundraising success and I know last year for the 125th anniversary, you celebrated 125 of them.

    Yes. We, there was a 125th  anniversary birthday bash as I like to call it. It was a really fun year. We celebrated everybody. We celebrated our alumni, we celebrated our students, our faculty, our staff. But definitely the highlight was this 125 awards of alumni excellence that we gave out. If you look at that list of the 125 winners, you see people from all walks of life. What was also amazing at that during the event itself, I think we had, we had hundreds of people back for that. But that sense of community, that tightness, that relationship.

    You often talk about engineers being problem solvers and leaders, and in these challenging times right now we need that more than ever. 

    Yeah. I think it's a great point in that sense that this global pandemic is a problem. Like the world has never seen the implications, the challenges, the changes to our daily life that are going on and we're going to need the next generation of creative problem solvers to tackle this and the other challenges that are going to come that we don't see.

    The magic of what we do when we're trying to train engineers and to create creative problem solvers has something to do with the content of course. But really it goes way beyond that. And because the skills that are needed are the professional skills of being able to work in teams. Well, what do we do at Queens’ to give the students the skills of being able to solve problems with an engineering approach? And a lot of that has to deal with obviously the content, but a lot of it has to deal with the extra things around that.

    How do you work well in teams? How do you develop communication skills? How do you brainstorm, how do you, how do you get through those, all of those professional skills that are wrapped around and built into the curriculum. And I think that's something that has been, that separates Queen’s engineers in a number of ways. And part of this is that sense of community, because we have a cohort experience where our students all enter first year. They're all working together. It's a non-competitive group in the sense that they're not competing against each other for slots in upper year programs. It's a guaranteed choice to get into the discipline of your choice. So that encourages a certain collaboration and those collaborative teamwork skills are the essence of being able to solve these kinds of problems well. So that's a really important part of this.

    Queen’s has been a leader for a number of years in energy, in innovation, in engineering education. So, you know, 20 years ago this building that we're sitting in was built around an integrated learning concept where we were taking students across disciplines and bringing them together to learn how to solve problems in a multidisciplinary way,  we're looking at how do we teach design and design problem solving and how do we put that into our curriculum from first year straight through all of our years so that the students learn how to do engineering problem solving by doing engineering problem solving. And there's a great deal of hands-on components of our program where students learn to build and design and test and repeat. And the repeat is there because often those initial designs and early prototypes fail. They don't work as expected. And that's where the learning comes in. We try to do this in our courses by having some unstructured, open-ended problems that get the students to think creatively, but also gives the students a chance to fail. And reboot and try again and succeed. And it's that iterative process, um, that that really gives the students the skills that they need to, to solve problems.

    This is going to be a very different year for first years. Not just because we're sort of trying to figure out how, when schools are going to open up, but also because their high school last year was disrupted. So some of them might be feeling really unprepared.

    Yeah. I really feel for the graduating class of high school this year, not only for the educational component, but the graduations have been affected, all these rites of passage. So I really feel for them and I guess I want to tell them that they should look to the future at Queen’s and their start at Queen’s with the same excitement that I had 35 years ago when I came. And the sense that we've got this, we've reached out to high school teachers and principals and students to understand where the students are and then we know what it takes to, to succeed in engineering.

    So part of that is we're developing a program called QEng Prep. The big courses that really matter in terms of success in first year engineering are math of course, physics and chemistry. They're the ones that are challenging and really require a good foundation in high school.

    So understanding that that might've been affected by this. We've got this QEng Prep specifically focused on those courses. We'll be launching that this summer to help our students prepare. The other aspect is that sense of community and how do you do that? We'd love to be welcoming students to campus to tour and get a feel for campus. We are usually have those kinds of activities now. Now we're looking at how we can reach out to the students where they are. We have an amazingly engaged engineering student society and they've thought of a lot of creative ways that we can reach out and start to build that community with the students before they arrive on campus.

    I wonder if you can tell me a little bit about how you're preparing during these uncertain times to help students and to plan for contingencies.

    Yeah. So this is what engineers do, right?

    The engineering faculty, indeed Queen’s University as a whole, is looking at this. This is a very complex, uh, problem with many unknowns, um, and lots of uncertainties. So we broken that down into a number of scenarios that we've, that we're planning for. We have to follow the guidelines of public health on this. And the number one priority is the health and safety of our students, of our faculty and staff.

    We have teams that are planning for all kinds of scenarios, including the scenario that we have to be remote teaching this fall. And the level of, of innovation, you know, crises inspire innovation and our approaches to how do we give students real purposeful experiential learning opportunities if they're not on campus. There are amazing solutions for that that people have been developing using things like virtual reality, using kits that we can send to students, of using different ways to engage with the students. Our goal is to provide an excellent academic experience for all of our students.

    So let me speak to the incoming class of Queen’s Engineering and tell you that we've got this covered. You're going to have an amazing undergraduate experience with Queen’s Engineering, and we're going to do everything we can do to help you prepare for this year so that we know you will succeed and we're going to do everything we can to make this first year an incredible experience for you.

    Thanks for speaking with me today.

    Thank you very much.