Canadian Consulting Engineer

Time to Teach

When Paul Cripwell, P.Eng. talks about "lightening up," he means it literally. As the engineer in residence at A.Y. Jackson Secondary School in Kanata, Ontario, he has students build structures such a...

August 1, 2001   By Sophie Keisel

When Paul Cripwell, P.Eng. talks about “lightening up,” he means it literally. As the engineer in residence at A.Y. Jackson Secondary School in Kanata, Ontario, he has students build structures such as cantilevers out of very light wood. They take appropriate precautions (crash mats on the floor of the school’s two-storey atrium), and proceed to bring weights from the gym to hang from their creations. “We started off at 480 pounds,” Cripwell says. “We ran out of weights, and the structures still weren’t breaking. We’re trying to lighten up the program — we’ve got it down to 300 pounds now.”

Testing to complete destruction is undoubtedly a good way to get the attention of high school students who, Cripwell admits, are very difficult to impress. “It’s hard to get a reaction from them,” he says, adding that when he does, he really feels like he’s making progress. Of course, it’s difficult not to react when there are bits of wood flying everywhere, especially if you know you’re going to have to pick them all up to do some forensic engineering.

Professional Engineers Ontario’s Engineer in Residence program is designed to bring “real-world experience to the teaching of science, technology and mathematics,” according to the information on the soon-to-be-formally-launched web site, eir.ca. The engineer serves as a positive role model, motivating students to pursue education and careers in science, technology and math. The program matches a volunteer engineer with an elementary or high school in his or her area.

Cripwell says that with 100 schools interested, volunteers are sorely needed. “This requires a certain kind of engineer,” he says, explaining that they have to have time, the right personality and an ability to deal with kids. Originally a transportation engineer with the federal and later the Saskatchewan governments, he now heads J.P. Cripwell Associates, which specializes in “knowledge management and information engineering.”

One of the things that motivated Cripwell to volunteer in the program was watching his children’s math and science teachers, whose educational backgrounds were often not in those subjects, and wondering how they could teach something they hadn’t studied in depth.

Vida Stripinis, P.Eng. had a similar experience as she followed her sons’ studies at Camilla Senior Public School in Mississauga. “I was finding that in the primary grades teachers didn’t have much background in math, science and technology,” says the mother of three, who runs Vida Stripinis and Associates, an environmental consulting firm. Stripinis is hoping to become more involved with the curriculum on a school-wide basis, rather than just working with her contact teacher. “One of the problems I was running into was how to get involved in a staff consultant role. I was finding it hard to get them to call on me,” she says.

“It’s almost like trying to market myself to them,” Cripwell agrees. “It’s a huge effort.” But he doesn’t blame the teachers, noting that they have no time in or outside the curriculum, and they are really worried about instituting the new Grade 11 courses. “I have to respect their world and work in it.” He finds that he’s only on the periphery with the science and math teachers, but is “really in” with the design and technical staff, whose subjects and teaching style tend to be more practical and hands-on.

He has definitely become an invaluable resource in one area, however. “I’ve acquired a bit of a reputation,” he says, “Now I get asked all the hard computer questions.”


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