The Big Idea: Educate Citizen Scholars To Transform Our World

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Beyond the attributes that graduates obtain from their programs of study, the job ready skills typically reported to be of greatest importance for employers include a fresh graduate’s ability to work in a team, leadership, capability to define and solve a problem, written and verbal communication, initiative, flexibility and adaptability, creativity, strategic planning, ability to take and assess risks, and interpersonal sensitivity.

Recognizing the need to better prepare graduates to meet these employer expectations, the McMaster University Faculty of Engineering has initiated several programs.

One of these programs is MacChangers. This program, which is open to all McMaster students whether they study in a branch of engineering or not, provides students with the opportunity to work outside of the classroom in interdisciplinary teams that solve real problems.

MacChangers teams use a human-centered design thinking approach to produce innovative solutions for real challenges, e.g., the transport infrastructure in a city, or clean water in nearby rural communities. MacChangers solutions integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technologies, and the win-win requirements for social, political and business success.

MacChangers students are required to think globally and big, yet develop local solutions. The focus of team-based solutions is to improve the lives of the people we live with and the communities that we serve. Hence, by incorporating systems thinking explicitly and implicitly through an interdisciplinary approach, students learn outside of traditional disciplinary silos. They are able to consider the big picture while identifying a specific problem and advocating for a local solution.

These students are therefore immersed in authentic learning experiences that mimic the real workplace. Their learning is closely aligned with employer expectations that graduates work in teams consisting of members who bring diverse perspectives both due to their interdisciplinary education and their backgrounds, e.g., related to race, ethnicity, gender choice and sexual orientation.

Our MacChangers approach encourages students to fail fast. Students are mentored by facilitators, as well as area experts from McMaster and the community. As teams test their ideas by discussing these with experts and the ultimate users, they are able to determine at a very early stage whether their ideas have value or will likely fail. This real life fail-fast approach allows students to cut their losses if their ideas cannot be realized in practice so that they can quickly pivot to try something else.

MacChangers students learn how to learn independently. Through a process of inquiry-based learning, a form of active learning, students pose questions, problems or scenarios rather than simply being presented with established facts or a linear and deterministic path to knowledge. Hence, MacChangers allows students to ask questions that drive a research-oriented thinking towards solutions.

We are excited about MacChangers and how it has been embraced by  students from within the Faculty of Engineering and outside of it. Clearly, the skills that students obtain from the program will make for better employment prospects for them.

A university degree is simply a ticket that allows graduates to apply for jobs. MacChangers enhances graduates’ employment prospects because of their active experiential learning based on design-thinking, systems thinking and an entrepreneurial fail-fast innovation approach.

Not only does MacChangers make for better co-op students, as graduates MacChangers students are more competitive job applicants.

A proper education requires students to be able to understand and develop Big Ideas. We’re doing our best to foster this at McMaster Engineering.


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