Dean opens door of discovery to aspiring engineer

It’s not often the dean of engineering receives hand-written letters, let alone one printed in pencil describing robots that catch and clean up after litterbugs.

Dean Mehrdad Saif was pleasantly surprised when he received a letter from Masha Dmitrenko, a Grade 4 student at John Campbell Public School. Dmitrenko wanted to know what she should do to become an engineer.

“What is the hardest part of engineering? What is the coolest part of engineering? I always wanted be an engineer. I have a question: can you make art robots?” the eight-year-old asked in her letter.

She went on to describe three robots she would like to build to “help the Earth by cleaning the garbage that is on the ground.” Their names are Spy, GPO and Helper.

Dr. Saif sent a letter back and invited Dmitrenko and her parents to tour the Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation on June 21.

“She was so excited. She was almost crying she was so happy,” said Irina Soukhanova, Dmitrenko’s mom. “They read the dean’s response in front of her class.”

Dmitrenko crossed off the days on the calendar pinned to the back of her bedroom door in anticipation of the tour. Although she prefers to wear shorts or pants, Soukhanova said her daughter picked out a special dress for the occasion and was ready bright and early, hours before they needed to leave the house.

During the tour, Dmitrenko impressed engineering faculty, staff and students as she rattled off Newton's third law, explained how steel is produced and described photosynthesis.

“I can tell one day you will be a very bright engineer,” Saif told her after she showed him some of her homemade robots. “If you can dream it, you can build it.”

She visited the structures, robotics and mechanical labs. She saw the rooftop patio where rain water is collected and reused in the building and learned about the air-filtering bio wall.

“I could live here,” she said as she made Lego wind turbines with members of the Engineering Student Society and Women in Engineering club.

Soukhanova said her house is filled with the projects her daughter builds with materials from around the house.

Dmitrenko said she wants to be an engineer “because you get to build stuff like robots. And sometimes they help the Earth and sometimes they help people, like blind people.”

See more images from her visit on the Windsor Engineering page on Facebook.