In 2019, an innovative engineering project brought together U of R engineering students, their mentors, professional engineering associations, employees of several community-minded companies, and residents of Star Blanket Cree Nation.

The University of Regina and local firm MacPherson Engineering have enjoyed a 25-year relationship that has seen the two parties collaborate in numerous ways. Together, the partners have developed unique engineering curriculums and embarked on award-winning community projects. The firm has a long history of providing Co-op placements and innovative engineering solutions, mentoring students and hiring U of R graduates.

The strong working relationship between the University and MacPherson Engineering dates back to the company’s incorporation in 1996. In fact, the company’s first project with the University took place that same year. Since then, notes company president Murdoch MacPherson, numerous U of R students have completed Co-op placements with the company, along with summer students from various technical and degree programs. “Presently, 35 per cent of our team started out with MacPherson Engineering as students,” he notes.

Two engineers with MacPherson – Jared Larson and Brad Lulik BASc’16, MASc’20 – have been heavily involved, serving as teaching assistants in engineering labs and as mentors to teams of fourth-year students completing their projects. Larson, a MacPherson Engineering partner specializing in HVAC engineering (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), and Lulik first met at a Regina Engineering Students’ Society mixer, when Lulik was in the second year of his industrial systems engineering undergraduate program.

In recognition of the company’s $15,000 donation toward the College Avenue Campus Renewal project, the University named the mechanical room and several fan rooms in the College Building in the company’s honour. “We appreciated that,” MacPherson says, “but it is the donation of our time and knowledge – particularly to the engineering program – that we are especially proud of.”

University of Regina Engineering graduate Brad Lulik.
University of Regina Engineering graduate Brad Lulik.

In other professions such as medicine, explains Dr. Esam Hussein, dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, students interact with professionals in the field. “We try to do this in engineering, especially through the capstone projects: design projects intended to give students a taste of what real engineering is.”

Larson would later mentor Lulik and other members of a fourth-year student team on their capstone project (a culminating assignment at the end of the academic program) in 2016. The team worked on an energy assessment of the building that houses the Little Souls Daycare in Regina, a non-profit organization with limited financial resources. The project went on to win a global design competition sponsored by ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers, a volunteer-run international organization that promotes standards and best practices for the engineering profession.

Dr. Esam Hussein, dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.
Dr. Esam Hussein, dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

Fourth-year students present their capstone projects to their family, friends and peers on Project Day, one of the highlights of the school year. Because of public health restrictions, Project Day 2020 and 2021 were presented virtually over several days.

At the time Larson was mentoring the student team, he was also serving as student activities chair for the Regina chapter of ASHRAE. The organization was looking for ways to make closer connections with the University of Regina and encouraging the development of a full HVAC course at the University.

Lulik and Larson both agree that working with students is rewarding and a good investment of their time. Lulik recalls how, as a student, he was grateful when members of industry shared their time with him.

As a first step, in 2013, Larson was invited to speak to an engineering class, with a similar invitation extended the following year. The interest shown by students led to a decision to develop a full course. At that point Larson recruited Lulik to provide industry input to help faculty members develop the course. Larson describes the course as a joint venture, with faculty handling the lectures while Lulik and other practising professionals serve as teaching assistants and help students with lab work.

“We designed the course to leave the door open for industry participation, including U of R alumni and representatives from ASHRAE,” says Larson. “We think the HVAC course gives our students a leg up on grads from other universities.”

Lulik and Larson both agree that working with students is rewarding and a good investment of their time. Lulik recalls how, as a student, he was grateful when members of industry shared their time with him. “I understood they were busy,” he says, “but somehow they found time to offer advice and point me in the right direction.”

Lulik is also a vocal champion for the student teams he mentors. Two teams received grants from ASHRAE and APEGS (Association of Professional Engineers & Geoscientists of Saskatchewan) to help them build their own lab apparatus as part of their projects. One of those teams won a Global Excellence Award at an ASHRAE conference in 2020. Currently, he adds, another team has received a grant from ASHRAE to help them design and build a refrigeration system that was part of their capstone project this year.

MacPherson Engineering’s Jared Larson is a teaching assistant in engineering labs and mentors fourth-year U of R engineering students.
MacPherson Engineering’s Jared Larson is a teaching assistant in engineering labs and mentors fourth-year U of R engineering students.

Lulik’s and Larson’s experience and expertise were crucial to the Blanket of Warmth for Our Nations Homes project, an initiative designed to improve housing conditions on the Star Blanket Cree Nation. The project’s beginnings came when Aura Lee MacPherson (Murdoch’s wife), then the office manager for MacPherson Engineering, worked with Wendell Starblanket of the First Nation to organize a ceremony at the Treaty 4 Governance Centre in Fort Qu’Appelle.

A chance remark by Starblanket about mould, high humidity and poor air quality in the basement of his home on the First Nation caught her attention. At his invitation, the MacPhersons visited Starblanket’s home and assessed the conditions in the basement. They recognized that the patented hybrid passive heating technology developed by a Canadian company called RadiantLink had the potential to improve those conditions.

RadiantLink is a heat transfer system that uses a coil attached to the furnace to heat a food-grade glycol mixture that is pumped through plastic tubing attached to wall panels and then covered with drywall. The system turns the walls into passive heat sources.

The MacPhersons realized that the variety of tasks involved in the project would require recruiting other participants. Aura Lee, a strong believer in the United Nations’ 17 goals for sustainable development, including the need to develop partnerships to achieve those goals, set to work finding partners. She began cold-calling potential sponsors and suppliers for the project. “In my heart I was thinking ‘Do not make me tell Wendell this cannot happen,’” she recalls.“To my sheer amazement not one person said ‘No’ to the project.”

The 2018 partnership with the Star Blanket Cree Nation, MacPherson Engineering and Uponor – the panels and tubing supplier – installed the system in Starblanket’s home in just one day. While the Starblankets could feel the improvements in the basement, the next step was to measure what differences passive heating had made to health, safety and comfort. Since Aura Lee MacPherson sees the University of Regina as “craving problems to solve”, she approached the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science for help.

U of R Engineering students install RadiantLink, a heat transfer system, into a home on the Star Blanket Cree Nation. (Photo courtesy of Aura Lee MacPherson.)
U of R Engineering students install RadiantLink, a heat transfer system, into a home on the Star Blanket Cree Nation. (Photo courtesy of Aura Lee MacPherson.)

Professor Amr Henni, who was teaching a U of R capstone project course at the time, proposed a project to his students that would involve measuring the conditions in Starblanket’s basement over the winter and comparing them to those in a similar home nearby without the passive radiant heating system.

A team composed of Kennedy Dollard BASc’19, Anton Movchan BASc’19 and Jeremy Shiplack BASc’19 took on the project.

At the beginning of the heating season in October, the team, with Lulik’s guidance, installed data loggers and sensors in two basements to: a) monitor temperatures and humidity and b) measure natural gas and electricity consumption. Cables were installed from a data collection point inside to a fixture outside the homes so that the students could download the data every few weeks without having to enter the homes. In February 2019, the team began preparing their Capstone presentation. They found that the basement with the radiant heating system was 3.5˚ C warmer than the basement without the system, and surface humidity reached a high of 41 per cent in Starblanket’s basement, compared with levels as high as 55 per cent in the other home. The lower humidity meant mould would be less likely to form in the space with radiant heating. They also found that the radiant heating system did not increase natural gas consumption, but instead reduced electricity consumption by almost $900 a year, since space heaters were no longer needed in the basement.

“The best part of the entire project,” Dollard says, “was seeing something you designed go in and make a difference. When I was choosing a field of study, I wanted to choose something that would help people – that would have an impact.

As the second part of their project, the team also performed energy modelling in a similar home and prepared schematics and sizing requirements for a second installation. By making some simple changes, such as replacing copper fittings with PVC piping, they trimmed 30 per cent from the cost of materials for the second installation. “Brad (Lulik) made sure we had all the elements documented; that we had a well-rounded project,” Dollard observes. “We could not have done it without his guidance.”

Larson says when the team made their Project Day presentation, he could see and feel the pride they had in the work they had done, knowing that the project made a positive difference. The student team then presented a written proposal for a second project at Star Blanket. With a $5,000 grant from APEGS and monetary and in-kind support from MacPherson Engineering, Uponor, Fries Tallman Lumber and Anaquod Plumbing and Heating, the second installation was completed in June 2019.

The members of the student team assisted with the installation, a postscript to the completion of their graduating year. While the work was underway, a community lunch was held on the First Nation, where people could learn more about the installation, assist with the work or visit with others. In a video produced afterwards, Chief Michael Starr said the project was about connecting, partnering and making each other feel welcome.

Chief Michael Starr of the Star Blanket Cree Nation, Aura Lee and Murdo (Murdoch) MacPherson. (Photo courtesy of Aura Lee MacPherson.)
Chief Michael Starr of the Star Blanket Cree Nation, Aura Lee and Murdo (Murdoch) MacPherson. (Photo courtesy of Aura Lee MacPherson.)

“The best part of the entire project,” Dollard says, “was seeing something you designed go in and make a difference. When I was choosing a field of study, I wanted to choose something that would help people – that would have an impact. I think there has been a shift in the last 10 years within the profession, with more emphasis on how engineering can serve people.”

The Blanket of Warmth project created another development opportunity, where representatives from the University and MacPherson Engineering travelled to Chief Payepot School north of Regina to host an engineering workshop, discuss the applied sciences and share the story of the work done at Star Blanket with the students there. While the workshop was an optional activity for her, Dollard says it was important for her to be there. It is important to have role models who are a reflection of yourself, she says, and having visible female role models in a field dominated by men was pivotal in her decision to pursue engineering.

Dean Hussein says the Star Blanket project is the one that is closest to his heart, because it shows young people what engineering is about, while solving a real problem affecting people’s everyday lives. “We may not always notice it in operation, but our quality of life depends on it, for example, in the water, heat and power we rely on,” he says.

Soon after the project was completed, the United Nations Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development in Saskatchewan recognized the project at its award ceremony for sustainability initiatives. The project is also earning accolades from the industry. The team was honoured to receive the APEGS 2021 Exceptional Engineering/Geoscience Project Award at the organization’s annual recognition event on April 30 and Sustainable Architecture & Buildings magazine selected the project for a 2021 Canadian Green Building Award.

“The best part of the entire project,” Dollard says, “was seeing something you designed go in and make a difference. When I was choosing a field of study, I wanted to choose something that would help people – that would have an impact. I think there has been a shift in the last 10 years within the profession, with more emphasis on how engineering can serve people.”

MacPherson Engineering is currently working with Henni and four capstone students on a continuation of the project, wrapping the plastic tubing around the windows in a renovated home and collecting the data over the winter months. “The results look promising,” says Aura Lee MacPherson, “and we expect to soon know if this should be added to the Blanket of Warmth for Our Nations Homes. We continue to improve the system and look for grants to improve homes with poor air quality on Star Blanket Cree Nation.”

About the Author

Bill Armstrong is a Regina freelance writer and amateur photographer with a strong interest in Saskatchewan history.

WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 5061 [post_author] => 12 [post_date] => 2021-05-27 12:29:51 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-05-27 18:29:51 [post_content] =>

Standing outside a warehouse in the industrial area of Regina, you can hear the thunk, thunk, thunk of golf balls ricocheting off wooden gutters. Once inside, you'll see almost a dozen mini-golf courses, each with its own theme - everything from Carnival Crazy to Saloon Old West to Tropical Adventure. What you won't see, however, is a single player. Putters are controlled by robots operated in real time by people all over North America, who are playing through an app on their mobile devices.

OneShot Golf was created by University of Regina graduates Andrew Burant BA'14, BAdmin'14, Tim Borgares BSc'12 and Ryan Donohue BSc'18. The trio met years ago while working on another mobile app, GasBuddy. At the time, it was one of the only reputable startup
tech companies in Regina. It was also among the first consumer crowdsourcing platforms in the world, predating Wikipedia. OneShot Golf's chief technical officer Tim Borgares. He says that the U of R is well represented in the company. In addition to the three principals, OneShot Golf employs graduate Denis Leanca BSc'20 and, at the time of writing, had four U of R co-op students and interns working for the firm. OneShot Golf's chief technical officer Tim Borgares. He says that the U of R is well represented in the company. In addition to the three principals, OneShot Golf employs graduate Denis Leanca BSc'20 and, at the time of writing, had four U of R co-op students and interns working for the firm.

After GasBuddy was successfully sold, the graduates moved on to other projects. Borgares and GasBuddy co-founder Dustin Coupal began working on an agricultural technology project that would allow people to operate farm machinery remotely. There was a snag, though. "We found that none of the video you expect to be live - YouTube Live or Twitch, for example - is truly real-time live. It is multiple seconds delayed," says Borgares. "When you're turning a combine in a field, you need it to be 100 per cent in real time, so when you press right, it goes right immediately. That wasn't really possible."

The team started developing technology to solve that problem. They realized that this novel approach could be used in the gaming and e-sports industry, and OneShot Golf and its "connected reality" technology was born. "This technology lets anybody with a mobile phone connect to and control robotics completely in real time," says Borgares. "I'm not aware of any other platform like this. It's about connecting people, connecting robotics and creating empowering experiences."

The mini-golf app allows friends to play competitively against one another and win prizes. Many can't believe the courses they're seeing on their phones are real, so OneShot Golf employs "hosts" who sit on the course and encourage players. "It's hard to argue that Emma (one of the hosts) isn't real," laughs Borgares. The app was launched across North America in January 2021 and averages about 15,000 putts a day. It has received overwhelmingly positive reviews.

Ryan Donohue works on the mobile app and internal management dashboard for the company. Ryan Donohue works on the mobile app and internal management dashboard for the company.

Why mini golf? The goal was creating a competitive sporting experience that stands out from the myriad virtual mini-golf games in the marketplace. "We wanted to create an experience, especially during the pandemic, that resonated with people who can't get out there and play real golf," recounts Borgares. "Here in Saskatchewan, what would you rather be doing in the dead of winter than going outside and golfing?"

Burant serves as project manager and robotics administrator, Borgares is a co-founder and chief technical officer, and Donohue works on the mobile app and internal management dashboard. They all say their U of R experience prepared them for success in operating their own startup. Borgares and Donohue are graduates of the computer science program, while Burant has degrees in arts and business administration.

Donohue says, "University prepared me to work on a team and also as an individual. As a team, you can bounce ideas off one another and work it out together, but sometimes you have to work through it yourself and make your own decisions."

 "It helped me think critically and approach problem solving in a different way," Burant notes. "It teaches you to look at the big picture and focus on what's important. It's important to have those foundational skills and that background to decide how to approach problems."

 "In the startup world, you end up wearing a lot of different hats and doing a lot of different things," Borgares adds. "In my experience at the U of R, I learned about various parts of technology and aspects in the computer science realm. The breadth of knowledge you gain is useful when you go into the startup world. When something needs to get done, you just have to do it, because no one is going to do it for you."

Andrew Burant serves as project manager and robotics administrator for OneShot Golf. Andrew Burant serves as project manager and robotics administrator for OneShot Golf. Donohue says that his time at the U of R also taught him time management and prioritization. "Often in startups,
stuff flies in from different directions at any given time. It was the same thing at school - you have a bunch of finals and assignments coming in. You need to understand how to prioritize when time is not an infinite resource."

OneShot Golf is the first product the team has released in the marketplace. They plan to build on its success and expand to more users and places. "What we're building is a new and powerful technology that we hope to integrate into other industries and really drive a lot of connection and change," says Borgares.

Another computer science graduate who has co-founded a successful startup is Jordan Howlett BSc'13, MSc'14. He's the engineering manager for Bunch, an app that allows people to video chat with friends while playing mobile games. It's similar to being at a local area network (LAN) party or a Nintendo round with friends on the same couch, but you can access it anytime, anywhere, on your smartphone.

Jordan Howlett earned his master's degree from the U of R in 2013. He is one of the co-founders and engineering manager for Bunch, an app that allows people to video chat with friends while playing mobile games. The company has grown into a 30-person operation with offices in Waterloo, Toronto, Vancouver, New York and San Francisco. Jordan Howlett earned his master's degree from the U of R in 2013. He is one of the co-founders and engineering manager for Bunch, an app that allows people to video chat with friends while playing mobile games. The company has grown into a 30-person operation with offices in Waterloo, Toronto, Vancouver, New York and San Francisco.

Bunch began three years ago as an app that allowed users to play games while video chatting. The developers originally focused on creating their own games for the app. "Later in the project, we realized that people already have games they love to play, and we could make their experience better," Howlett says. Bunch began focusing on linking their chat app with third-party games such as Minecraft, Fortnite, Call of Duty and Roblox. "We try to support any multiplayer game. It's about creating a real-time experience with your friends. We want people to have a shared experience and laugh over it."

 Due to the challenges of social isolation, Bunch was rapidly adopted around the world in mid-March 2020. It soon made the top 20 social apps lists in 17 countries, the top 100 social apps lists in 35 countries and the top 100 free apps lists in the entire Apple App Store.

While thousands were using the app in February 2020, by March, people were opening Bunch millions of times a month, spending over a million minutes a day on the app.

With the coronavirus redefining how people socialize, Bunch is becoming more and more relevant. "Even though we've been working on this product for a couple of years, it was pretty much built for the pandemic," says Howlett. "Everyone was trapped at home, they couldn't see their friends, they couldn't do anything. We were able to provide something fun for them to do with their friends while they were at home."

He welcomed the extra work that the spike in traffic brought, given that he was also stuck at home. "With all this traffic, technical problems were starting to happen. It was something to take my mind off things - I could dive into work and have some fun digging into problems." More than a year into the pandemic, traffic on the app remains constant. "People are sticking around because they have found a place where they like to hang out with their friends."

What started as a partnership among three people has grown into a 30-person operation with offices in Waterloo, Toronto, Vancouver, New York and San Francisco. "It's gratifying to have a team around you who are excited to work on this. They're really smart, and they're making me smarter," remarks Howlett. "It's also really fun to see so many people using this product."

Bunch's revenues currently come from venture capitalists. The company plans to monetize the free app, offering users opportunities to enhance their experience by customizing their games and unlocking exclusive "skins." A skin is an item that players can acquire in games to change the appearance of their avatar, the character on the screen that represents the player.

Howlett didn't originally intend to go into computer science; he started his academic career at the U of R in business administration. He took a computer science class in his first year and was hooked. "I enjoyed solving problems and finding out how things worked. Seeing that you could build anything you wanted really appealed to me." He gives credit to inspiring professors who got him excited about extracurricular projects, where he learned about new technologies. "I learned more than just building technology; I learned what's needed to take something to market, to build something that solves problems."

Dr. David Gerhard, head of the Department of Computer Science, isn't surprised to hear about how well Howlett, Borgares and Donohue are doing. "I hear about the success of graduates like this often, because there are a lot of opportunities in computer science. It's not just to work at a desk job doing IT, but also to branch out on your own and do a small business startup company," he says. "If you have a new idea, computers are the way to make that idea a reality. If you have a computer science degree, you have the power to do that yourself without relying on anyone else. You can take an idea, make it real and sell it for money."

Gerhard notes that most jobs today involve computing in some way. Some have a little bit of computing that most people can do, but others are aimed at people who can write code and develop computer systems. "The computer science program is very good at preparing people for the job market, offering a variety of experiences and access to co-op programs where people can get job experiences during their degree. It sets you up to be able to work in the information market that is the future of most work."

The Department of Computer Science goes to great lengths to ensure that students have a valuable learning experience. Gerhard meets regularly with industry representatives to ensure the programs offered are relevant to the kinds of jobs available in the market and brings back alumni to do presentations on their careers. "The computer science curricula is a two-level approach," he says. There are fundamentals that rarely change, such as basic programming, computer architecture and basic theory, but there is also the application of these basic principles and theories. Our professors update their courses regularly to take advantage of new technologies, as well as new applications of these technologies."

The department is in the process of adapting some of its programs into new opportunities for students. It just launched a data science master's degree program, and the first cohort will be accepted in September 2021. 

Dr. David Gerhard, head of the U of R's Department of Computer Science, says he often hears about the success stories of graduates, like the four profiled in this story. Dr. David Gerhard, head of the U of R's Department of Computer Science, says he often hears about the success stories of graduates, like the four profiled in this story.

"We're always looking to where the industry is going and what computing looks like in the next generation and the generation after that," says Gerhard. "We have to balance that with the fundamentals of understanding algorithmic thinking and computational process. We don't want to change everything we do all the time. We want to make sure that, as new opportunities and technologies become available, we are giving students the foundational knowledge to approach ways of doing things."

The Department of Computer Science goes to great lengths to ensure that students have a valuable learning experience. Gerhard meets regularly with industry representatives to ensure the programs offered are relevant to the kinds of jobs available in the market and brings back alumni to do presentations on their careers. "The computer science curricula is a two-level approach," he says. There are fundamentals that rarely change, such as basic programming, computer architecture and basic theory, but there is also the application of these basic principles and theories. Our professors update their courses regularly to take advantage of new technologies, as well as new applications of these technologies."

Gerhard asserts you can find computer science graduates working everywhere - for oil companies, with school boards and as sculptors. "Every industry needs computer scientists." He goes on to say that every workforce needs at least three computer science jobs: one for data security, one for commerce and one for data analytics. "These are three completely different things that computer science does that makes it possible for a customer to approach you to buy a product, to protect your IT infrastructure from invasive actions by bad actors, and to leverage data in your organization to solve new and interesting problems."

Enrollment in the program has grown exponentially over the past five years. There are currently more than 1,000 declared computer science majors at the U of R, but the industry is still asking for more graduates. "There still aren't enough computer science grads to do all of the computer science jobs that are in the workforce today. The opportunities are also growing exponentially," says Gerhard.

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[post_title] => Spot Light on Kelsey (O’Byrne) Zipchen BEd’10, BA’17 [post_excerpt] => Kelsey (O’Byrne) Zipchen BEd’10, BA’17 has a unique job. She’s a teacher on film and television sets across Canada, tutoring young actors who are missing school. Zipchen taught in Regina and Saskatoon before her husband, actor and host Tanner Zipchen, found work in Toronto. While spending time with him on location, she learned about on-set teaching. She went on to earn a California Certified Studio Teacher designation in an intense four-year journey that included a course in child welfare and labour laws, more than a dozen state and subject exams, and additional university classes through UCLA. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 5144-2 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-06-02 10:54:07 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-06-02 16:54:07 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.degreesmagazine.ca/?p=5144 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )