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Tuesday, May 21, 2002

  • Employers read about asbestos job
  • E-mail as a tool in teaching
  • Notes on a sunny spring day
Chris Redmond

Waterloo County quilt festival

'UW co-op students are recognized for their technical expertise, academic backgrounds, advanced problem solving abilities, communication skills, flexibility, adaptability and enthusiasm," says a front-page story in the UW Recruiter newsletter, published by UW's co-op and career services department for current and potential co-op employers. "Using the skills acquired from both academic terms at UW and diverse work terms, these students are providing employers with a highly-skilled, energetic and adaptable pool of employees. The skill base that UW students acquire prepares them to meet the demands of the most challenging work environments." Here's the rest of the story, written by Lindsey Love Forester, who was a co-op student with CECS last term.

Employers read about asbestos job

Matt Moore, 2A chemical engineering, spent his second work term at Imperial Oil (IOL) as a part of the asbestos team in the employee health and safety department. The team consisted of his supervisor Jim Millen and Tom Allingham, Imperial Oil Sarnia's asbestos expert. Matt spent his first weeks at Imperial Oil reading everything from company procedures to legislation, and learning how to use "TIGER," a computer program used for [Hard hat and pipes] absolutely everything at Imperial Oil. Since Matt's background is in chemical engineering, he needed to borrow his supervisor's old economics textbooks to prepare himself to work on an important study on the economical factors of asbestos removal.

During the work term, Matt (pictured) was able to make a significant contribution to the improvement of the asbestos management program at the IOL plant in Sarnia. Matt's responsibilities included conducting and supporting asbestos surveys, addressing and resolving asbestos-related issues, and improving asbestos information management. According to his supervisor, Jim Millen, the work that Matt performed at IOL was similar to that done by a new-hire, a junior industrial hygienist or an environmental engineer. He taught his supervisors to use a new maintenance information system that better managed their asbestos work, and wrote an informal report that compared fourteen possible emergency procedures for asbestos workers during a toxic vapor release. Millen was extremely pleased with the contributions that Matt made to the project. He claims that hiring a junior engineering student has exceeded his expectations. Millen says, "Matt was as effective as some recent graduates I've worked with. Co-op students like Matt are able to make a valuable contribution by working effectively with others and applying their computer, technical, and problem-solving skills."

Sometimes co-op students aren't always treated as an equal part of the team. Not at IOL, according to Matt. "I definitely felt like an equal. I think that some of the people who I encountered were surprised that a co-op student was essentially functioning as their equal on some projects." Knowing that his contributions were actually making a difference and being able to see results from his work were among the most rewarding aspects of his job. Working at IOL was certainly not a routine job. On a day-to-day basis, Matt could never predict what he'd be working on; "Something interesting, challenging, and new seemed to come up every day." Matt enjoyed the diversity of his work term. "In the same day I'd be working on three to four completely different projects, from writing a report to field work to meetings to reading and doing research." He even spent time in the manufacturing plant going up towers, and being able to get a close-up view of heat exchangers, reactors, and lots of other machinery.

In the four months with IOL, Matt was able to apply a good mix of engineering, economics, government legislation, and practical field applications. Although he may only have been on his second work term, this junior student has made an impact on his supervisor and many others at IOL, and not to mention helped to make the plant a safer place for fellow employees.

[Three in the canoe]

Been a bit damp lately: "Enjoy canoe and kayak trips around picturesque Lake Chemstores!" says the note from Scott Nicoll, of UW's chemistry department, accompanying this photo taken on Thursday. "Tours start every fifteen minutes after the loading dock floods."

E-mail as a tool in teaching

Writing good electronic mail is a vital skill for teachers these days, a noontime audience of teaching assistants was told last week in a workshop sponsored by the teaching resources and continuing education office.

The session on "Effective Electronic Communication" was led by Cara DeHaan, graduate student in English and "TA developer" for TRACE, as part of its series aimed at helping to make better university-level teachers.

DeHaan said she's a great believer in e-communication -- but "I don't go quite so far as to embrace my computer with the hearts coming from my head. There are some reasons to be cautious." For example, she reminded her audience, it's notoriously easy to misunderstand e-mail messages, because they're missing the "interpersonal cues" of body language and tone of voice that people tend to rely on. "Your words can often come off very differently than if you'd said exactly the same thing in person."

The session didn't discuss the sophisticated software that's now available for e-teaching, but concentrated on the humble e-mail and how best to use it to give students information, answer questions and help run a class -- just the sort of thing teaching assistants have to do. Members of the audience were adding comments from their own experience, as when one TA said from bitter experience that an instructor should never put "please" in a sentence announcing the due date of an assignment. "Please," he said, "is a built-in extension!"

DeHaan raised some general comments about e-mail and the use of newsgroups, talked about "effective" writing in that context, and wound up with thoughts about making e-mail "more efficient". In the efficiency category, for instance, she advised people to "take off the beep" and "don't check your messages every ten minutes" -- let them accumulate for a while. There was lively group discussion about how quickly students deserve to get an answer to e-mailed questions. Promise a reply within 24 hours, one participant said, and others seemed to agree.

The speed of e-mail is one of its advantages, DeHaan reminded her listeners, but at the same time it can provide "time for reflection" because a reply doesn't have to come instantaneously.

"It forces you to be very specific, careful about what you say," she noted, adding that e-mail is "public" (because it can easily be sent to others, either on purpose or accidentally) and "permanent".

"Even though it's with a keyboard, it's still human communication," DeHaan reminded her listeners. Be a little sensitive, she suggested: for example, "don't send a one-line e-mail saying sorry, you failed the course."

Among other points made during the 90-minute session:

TRACE has a tip sheet on "Netiquette and Effective Electronic Communication" available on its web site (and in print from the TRACE office in the Math and Computer building). Another sheet, on e-mail "time-savers", will be available shortly, DeHaan said.

[Trinity stamp]

Stamp issued by Canada Post at the end of April to mark the 150th anniversary of U of T's Trinity College

News from the University of Toronto

Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities about to open

Lawsuit over clinical appointment is settled

Retired women faculty settle pension dispute

Students vote down Varsity Stadium redevelopment

Notes on a sunny spring day

UW's senate will hold its monthly meeting tonight starting at 4:30 in Needles Hall room 3001. Among the agenda items are new diploma programs in Business Information Technology and Information System Assurance -- both in the school of accountancy -- and requirements for a new course-work Master of Applied Environmental Studies degree.

The "Know Your Workplace" series continues today with a noontime session on staff recruitment, promotion and transfer. People who would like to sign up for the session can do that through the human resources web site. Today's session will be repeated tomorrow morning at 9:00. Both sessions are in Davis Centre room 1302.

The career development workshop series also continues. There are two sessions today -- "Career Research Package" at 10:30, and "What Is Enterprise Co-op?" at 5:30. Tomorrow there are three workshops, on interview skills ("the basics" and "preparing for questions") and "UW Innovate: Your Business Start-up Plans". Information about all these workshops is available from the career resource centre on the first floor of Needles Hall.

The department of English invites "everyone at the university (and anyone else you care to bring)" to a free concert tonight in the Humanities Theatre. Billed as "An Evening of Tunes", it is, says English professor Neil Randall, "three separate concerts, each one featuring a department member (graduate student or faculty member) who has committed to music as a career or a significant sideline". Here's the lineup, with the name of the performing department member in parentheses: 7:00, Moon in Pisces (Melanie Douglas) -- female alternative duo, original songs 8:00, Phond (Glenn Stillar) -- alternative rock trio, original songs. 9:00, Octopop (Chris Robinson) -- 80s cover band. Says Randall: "Come on out and have a listen. Once again, it's free."

The Graduate Student Association has its annual Golf Classic coming up next week (Wednesday, May 29). The price -- $30 for GSA members, $35 for others -- includes green fees and a dinner buffet, and the registration deadline is tomorrow. More information is available at the Grad House.

The UW bookstore is hosting an "Ask the Expert" session with David Hobson during the noon hour tomorrow (Wednesday). Hobson is the gardening columnist for the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, the Cambridge Reporter and the Guelph Mercury. In 1995 his garden won the Waterloo Horticultural Society award for "Best Garden"; it was featured on the local Big Sisters Charity Garden Tour in 1996 and again in 2000. At tomorrow's event he will be fielding questions from audience members about their gardens, and afterwards he'll be available to sign copies ofSoiled Reputations and Diary of a Mad Gardener. Both titles will be available at the store. Anyone interested in attending the noon time talk is asked to RSVP Susan Parsons at the bookstore (s3parson@rs1) today.

There will be much talk about new businesses tomorrow, as UW Innovate offers a session that's "an introduction to start-up issues, focusing on new venture incorporation and legal issues". A lawyer will be present to answer questions, as will Kathi Smith, manager of the Business Enterprise Centre that's housed at Kitchener city hall. The event is open to all faculty, students and alumni, says Renee Tremblay at the UW Innovate office. It will run from 5:30 to 6:30 tomorrow in Environmental Studies I room 350.

And . . . another UW agency is shifting to summer hours. The Computing Help and Information Place, located in Math and Computer room 1052, will close at 4:30 p.m. from now through the end of August. Summer hours are thus 8:00 to 4:30, Monday to Friday.



May 21, 1996: Computer animation genius (and Waterloo graduate) William Reeves speaks in the Theatre of the Arts, three days before receiving the J. W. Graham Medal in Computing and Innovation from UW.

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