If you’re like many others using Twitter and LinkedIn, you’ve probably overdosed on articles headlined, “How to be more like Steve Jobs”, “Gandhi’s five tricks to success”, or “What Sir John A. Macdonald ate for breakfast.”
But to those at U of T’s Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead), the key to becoming a great leader isn’t copying others; it’s understanding yourself.
This is one of many lessons taught through ILead’s unique programs, which won the prestigious national Alan Blizzard Award for Collaborative Teaching earlier this week. The institute was recognized for integrating innovative leadership education into the U of T Engineering student experience.
Through several curricular and co-curricular programs, ILead provides new opportunities for engineering students to practice leadership skills – including teamwork, self-awareness and emotional intelligence – in a living laboratory both inside and outside the classroom.
“ILead plays an important role in preparing our students for leadership throughout their entire careers,” said Dean Cristina Amon. “This award signals the significance of the team’s work in fostering the next generation of influential engineers. My heartiest congratulations to the ILead team, and thank you to the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education for granting them this award.”
What does leadership have to do with engineering?
This is a question that ILead’s faculty, staff and leadership practitioners hear all the time.
“Employers tell us leadership skills are necessary for their companies to thrive, and we all know that teams that function effectively are more fun and more successful,” said ILead’s founding director, Professor Doug Reeve, who was joined by colleagues Professor Greg Evans (ChemE), Annie Simpson (ILead), Professor Robin Sacks (ILead), Dr. David Colcleugh (ChemE 5T9, MASc 6T0, PhD 6T2), Estelle Oliva-Fisher (ILead), Dr. Cindy Rottmann (ILead), Professor Alison McGuigan (IBBME), Patricia Sheridan (MechE 0T9, MASc 1T1, PhD candidate in Engineering Leadership), Cecilia Konney (ChemE), Deborah Peart (EngSci), Kristina Minnella, Brian Tran (ILead), Amy Huynh (ILead), Nick Evans (ILead) and Wayne Stark (ILead) in receiving the Alan Blizzard Award.
“At ILead,” Reeve continued, “our collaboration is enriched by the diversity of perspectives on the team: the social scientists inform us about humanist ideas and ideals, the educators teach us about teaching and learning, and the engineers insist on systems, frameworks, analysis and data.”
Successful engineers need more than just technical proficiency
The Institute’s message is that technical proficiency is no longer enough for today’s engineers. Engineering is, after all, about building systems and processes that have human impact. Engineers need to develop critical interpersonal skills, and learn how to self-reflect to leverage their unique strengths.
The ILead team wants leadership learning to be a universal experience for students – and a hallmark of a U of T graduate. Since its birth fours years ago, the Institute has grown to offer enrichment opportunities through experiential courses, seminars, certificate programs and retreats.
In September, U of T Engineering will offer a new academic certificate in engineering leadership, coinciding with the growth spurt of leadership courses in the Faculty.
“We want students to articulate their individual passion and channel it into creating something great,” said Annie Simpson, ILead’s assistant director. “As teachers of collaborative teamwork, this award validates the fact that we make every effort to practice what we preach, that we truly believe that this material has impact.”
Many students who have participated in ILead’s programs have won Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Awards upon graduating from U of T – and have gone on to launch careers in diverse fields such as international development, venture capitalism and advanced research, in addition to traditional engineering career paths.
Reinventing the undergraduate experience
In his installation address in November 2013, U of T President Meric Gertler challenged the University to re-examine and perhaps reinvent undergraduate education. This was a call that ILead continues to answer by aiming to reach more students each year with new, innovative programs that teach leadership skills, whatever the participant’s career trajectory might be.
In so doing, ILead aims to strike a balance between the demand for career-readiness and the University’s broader social mission to educate the next generation of responsible citizens.
From the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STHLE), the Alan Blizzard Award for Collaborative Teaching recognizes groups or projects that exemplify collaboration in university teaching that enhances student learning. Only one award is given out each year.
This is the third time U of T has won the Alan Blizzard Award. Previous wins include the Faculty of Medicine’s Communication & Cultural Competence Website team in 2010 and the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering’s Engineering Strategies and Practice team for their project ‘Team Teaching a Service Learning Course for a Large Class’ in 2007.
The award will be presented at the STHLE Annual Conference Awards Reception on June 18 in Kingston, Ontario. The team will present their paper, “Curricular and Co-Curricular Leadership Learning for Engineering Students,” at the Alan Blizzard Plenary on June 19.