A Different Summer Student Experience

Posted on August 06, 2020

From the threat of unemployment to becoming essential to numerous major projects, some Queen’s students have had an exciting – and enriching – summer. Working in research positions and with the Student Work Experience Program (SWEP), summer student employees pivoted to remote work when the COVID pandemic threatened on-campus work. From there, they fulfilled key roles in important faculty projects.

“I am just really grateful to have had the opportunity to work,” says Emma Stickley, a third-year Applied Mathematics student working as Content Developer and Instructor for the Engineering Outreach team, Connections, this summer, “It has been extremely rewarding teaching the younger generation and being able to reach out into the community during these tough times.” This summer, Emma developed and delivered STEM-based programs to elementary and high school-aged students over the online video platform Zoom.

The roles students have taken on during the pandemic were adapted to work with the new remote reality. Luke Reist, a third-year Mechanical Engineering student also working with Connections, appreciates the flexibility supervisors have given summer students. The circumstances have allowed him to develop a unique skill set and awareness. “Delivering content online made me aware of barriers to learning and accessibility that I had never thought of before” says Luke, “I also developed strong organizational and time management skills that will benefit me greatly with the remote delivery of courses this Fall.” Luke has also spent the summer developing and delivering online programs to students through Queen’s Connections Outreach.

The students are not the only ones thankful for these opportunities. Amy Wu, principal investigator of the Biomechanics x Robotics Laboratory (BxRL), is grateful to have undergraduate students working with her this summer. “The [undergraduate students] were really helpful in terms of their enthusiasm and their ideas. We couldn’t have done the research projects without them.” Wu currently has six undergraduate students working on various projects related to robotics, biomechanics and COVID-19. Two students are funded by the SWEP program and two by the NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA). Two other undergraduate students, who had their summer jobs cancelled, started out as volunteers but became employees when the lab learnt that they had received the COVID-19 Rapid Response grant. “Taking part in a research initiative related to COVID-19 is such an incredible opportunity,” summer research student Charley McCann (fourth year biomechanical engineering) says of the experience. “Getting the chance to be part of a meaningful contribution in response to this world event is pretty remarkable.”

Biomechanics Robotics Lboratory Projects
Projects made by undergraduate students in the Biomechanics x Robotics Laboratory.
A) Test rig developed to test the brace tightness after tightening with the motorized pulley system for a robotic ankle stabilizing brace.
B) Wireless, wearable sensor system for monitoring gait in the wild.

At the outset of the pandemic and when the outlook for summer jobs started to look grim, the Faculty made a conscious decision to be as creative as possible in seeking employment opportunities for students. The result has been better than the Faculty could have ever imagined. From designing face masks in response to COVID-19 to creating and delivering programs for youth, the summer student employees have played an important part in progressing projects during this pandemic. “It was important for us as a Faculty to help the students in whatever way is possible even if it meant that we had to be innovative and deliver programs in new and unfamiliar ways to keep existing student jobs” says Dean Deluzio. “It has been better than expected. The student employees have been a key part of the FEAS team this summer. The creativity and enthusiastic problem-solving that our students demonstrate year over year continually impresses me. We owe our hard-working students a great deal of credit in making our summer as successful as it has been.”

Although they did not get a chance to meet in person, this did not stop the students from finding time to meet and interact with each other through planning meetings and game sessions. These opportunities are ones that the students are very grateful for and certainly ones that will be hard to forget. “This summer has been nothing I expected,” says Emma, “but working in these circumstances has taught me a lot and will help me a lot with my engineering education.”

Content developers projects
Projects made by undergraduate students working as Content Developers and Instructors for Connections (Engineering Outreach team).
A) 3-D model of a rocket that Emma Stickley made using an online CAD platform called Tinkercad. This rocket was made for the Connections workshop for students.
B) Scratch workshop that Luke Reist developed for grade 4-6 students to work through in one of his Connections workshops.