In The Media

The Art of Communication

By Manpreet Deol • Schulich Leader at University of Calgary
Summer 2019

Over the years, my relationship with my younger brother has shown me that communication is essential yet undervalued. His cognitive disability has prompted me to view communication from a critical lens – how can we relay information to those around us so that they will understand what we are trying to say?

For me, this prompt has two distinct sides: the first relates to the giver and the second to the receiver of information. The giver must have the skills to breakdown their message into deliverable language. The giver must then choose a language that the receiver understands. This language could potentially be composed of words, body language, hand gestures, or music. Within each of these forms of language, vernacular and diction also become increasingly important based on the receiver’s strengths.

Now this might seem like an overly-analytical and formulaic approach (classic for an engineering student) but I wholeheartedly believe paying attention to how we relay information makes individuals from all backgrounds and abilities feel included.

I took these ideas into my first startup which sought ways to make social media platforms more inclusive for individuals with special needs to have a normalized experience in our digitized society. Further intrigued with communication in the context of my own postsecondary experience, earlier this year, I applied to compete in the Schulich Engineering Competition (SEC) in the Engineering Communications stream.

SEC is mimicked on the Canadian Engineering Competition (CEC), which is an annual competition supported by the Canadian Federation of Engineering Students (CFES) that attracts 150 of Canada’s most promising undergraduate engineering students to participate in one of eight predetermined categories. These competitions range from programming to mechanical design to debate. To qualify for the event, competitors must advance from intra-university competitions and achieve top place in a regional competition (Western Canada, Ontario, Quebec, or Atlantic).

After placing at the Schulich Engineering Competition in November, I advanced to the Western Engineering Competition (WEC) in Winnipeg in January. Upon winning WEC, I advanced to CEC, as Western Canada’s representative.

What excites me most is the category that I competed in; the intent of Engineering Communications is to describe a technical engineering subject in layman’s terms. While communicating with individuals with special needs poses unique considerations, I have found that interacting with engineers also elicits a set of challenges. From the classroom to my internship at Garmin, there have been many times where technical ideas get lost in translation. Miscommunication leads to unproductivity, a loss of morale, and team disinterest.

The topic I presented on was Artificial Neural Networks as an example of nature-inspired innovation. This topic combined my interest in tech and entrepreneurship to do social good. As CEC was located in Waterloo, arguably one of North America’s most enterprising cities, I chalk this opportunity up to serendipity!

Whether conveying information in ways that my brother can understand, or finding creative techniques to explain technical engineering topics like Artificial Neural Networks, the art of communication is one that I am continuously polishing.