What's New On Campus: SAIT

Resurrection of the Games

25, Apr, 2017

What’s New on Campus?

Technology Alberta subscribers and regular readers know how proud ASET is of its strong relationships with the province’s educational institutions, particularly NAIT, Red Deer College (RDC), SAIT, and Lethbridge College (LC). Our Programs & Services staff frequently present on professional ethics to students, and ASET representatives sit on numerous program industry advisory committees. This partnership goes back to the Association’s earliest days, and is expected only to grow as we move ever closer to the universal certification of Alberta’s engineering and geoscience technology professionals.

Our annual Back to School articles have become very popular, and last fall we received a number of comments from certified technologists who were impressed by the seven capstone projects featured in the September issue. So much so, in fact, that ASET has created the Capstone Project of the Year Award, honouring the best of the best in end-of-program student initiatives. On April 1, 2017, at the AGM in Calgary, we will formally announce the inaugural recipient of this prize and believe it will become a coveted recognition of academic achievement, representing a significant addition to the curriculum vitae of any young professional.

We’re always fascinated by how much is going on at any one time on the campuses of our major educational partners and have decided that once a year simply doesn’t do them justice. The following article is a quick look at just some of what’s setting apart Alberta’s excellent technical educators.


Resurrection of the Games

For many years, the International Society of Automation (ISA) facilitated a North America-wide event called the ISA Student Games, which pitted Instrumentation engineering and engineering technology program students against each other in a head-to-head competition. The problem was that Canadian polytechnics, specifically, SAIT, NAIT, or BCIT, kept winning. The last Canadian participation in the event occurred in 2000. This didn’t sit well with SAIT Instrumentation Engineering Technology (IIET) instructor, Mark Tarrant.

"I’m a huge believer in STEM studies and I think the student games are an example of the passion faculty and students bring to the field of instrumentation.”

So Tarrant set about resurrecting the games, a multistep process—but then, who loves project management more than experienced engineering technologists?

The first challenge was rebuilding the ISA Calgary SAIT chapter, which had lapsed despite a charter dating back to 1981. In 2012, Tarrant challenged his students to elect a board that would convene and run meetings in full accordance with parliamentary procedures as detailed in Roberts Rules of Order. And to make sure this wasn’t a one-off, he had the foresight to build in a succession plan: A seven-member senior executive of second-years is constantly shadowed by seven first-year counterparts. That September, the new Board first discussed the concept of rebooting the Games, and the following spring eight SASK Polytechnic students travelled from Moose Jaw to join in a mixed-team friendly competition.

The event has grown steadily since then, with the March 2016 edition attracting 60 participants from 11 schools from across North America. In order to avoid the dominance challenges that plagued, and ultimately doomed, the earlier iteration of the Games, students are divided into 12 mixed teams, each of which includes one SAIT student to remove any “home ice” advantage.

Because the students don’t know each other prior to being placed in their groups, they learn the value of teamwork while growing their network of contacts. Over the three days of competition and socialising, they become quite close and the winners achieve a real sense of accomplishment after completing their four instrumentation/automation tasks from among categories such as:

  • DCS programming scenarios;
  • Online flow measurement;
  • Valve/positioner assembly and calibration;
  • Process load response; and,
  • Instrumentation calibration and measurement.

The competitors work hard and are judged on the success or failure of their results, with points deducted for having to seek outside help. This effectively pushes them to the limit of their knowledge and abilities while teaching them to rely on themselves and trust their teammates.

What’s remarkable is that this event mixes and matches students regardless of the type of programs in which they’re enrolled. Thus, last year, chemical engineering students from three universities were on a level playing field with instrumentation students from eight polytechnics/ colleges. As Tarrant puts it, “If the technicians are blue collar, and the Bachelor of Science folks are white collar, then the technologists are certainly the ‘baby blue collar-types’ who can exist and excel in all three levels of academic and practical hierarchies.” He’s committed to continuing to grow the Games, targeting a 30% year-over-year increase in participation. So far, he remains on track, as the table below demonstrates:

It’s telling that all the 2016 participating institutions will return, and that students from Asia, South America, and the Southern U.S. have signed on, as well. Obviously this was a void just waiting to be filled.

Such success in five short years deserves to be recognised, so we’ll leave the last word to Tarrant. “It’s my hope to grow the games by the usual 30% again next year to reach a goal of 16 visiting institutes. That would constitute real success—that and increased industry sponsorship to make sure we’re in the black. Budgets DON’T balance themselves! The students raise much of the cost of this event through a SAIT-managed crowd-funding app but they need support. So please, keep this on your radar going forward.” 

SASK Polytechnic, Moose Jaw, SK X X
Red River College, Winnipeg, MB X X
Lambton College, Sarnia, ON X X
Bellingham Technical College, Bellingham, WA X X
Francis Tuttle Technology Center, Oklahoma City, OK X X
University of Calgary X X
McMaster University X X
University of Alberta X X
Campinas ISA Section, Sao Paulo Brazil   X
Bangalore ISA Section, Bangalore, India   X
Houston ISA Section, Houston, Texas   X

To view the original article, CLICK HERE to visit the Winter 2017 Issue of Technology Alberta.