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Michele Oliver

A Conversation with Michele

What is your current job? Please list the title and briefly describe

I’m a Professor in the School of Engineering at the University of Guelph. I teach a second year class to Mechanical and Biomedical engineering students in Mechanics of Materials and a third year class in Engineering Biomechanics. I also teach a Research Methods in Bioengineering class to graduate students. Much of my research involves studying the biomechanics of heavy mobile machine operation so I try to understand and improve how the machine affects the operator who is driving it. My research is also developing devices to help reduce vibration exposure in mobile machine operators to help prevent them from developing low back and neck injuries. Using University of Guelph’s two new state of the art driving simulators, in collaboration with Psychology and Computer Science colleagues, we’re starting to develop and test new in-vehicle devices to make driving safer and to reduce the risk of developing repetitive strain injuries in the back, neck and upper limbs. A final research area is in collaboration with School of Engineering Colleagues which seeks to assess and develop new wrist braces for treatment and prevention of hand and wrist repetitive strain injuries. Broadly stated, all of my research involves the development of devices to prevent or reduce the severity of repetitive strain injuries.

What made you want to pursue a career in engineering?

My grandfather was a stationary engineer but I came into engineering quite accidently. After finishing a Master’s degree in exercise physiology, I was faced with a ‘what’s next’ dilemma. Thankfully, an Engineering colleague of my husband encouraged me to apply to mechanical engineering and it seemed like a good fit. Instead of doing an undergraduate degree, I completed approximately a year and half of undergraduate engineering qualifying courses in preparation for a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering. In order to qualify to become a professional engineer, I then continued to pick up extra undergraduate engineering courses while I was in both my Master’s and Ph.D. programs.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

Finding solutions to problems and questions that no was has ever come up with before. From a teaching perspective, I really love when the light bulb goes on over top of a student’s head after I’ve tried to explain some complex topic to them.

How do you celebrate National Engineering Month?

By spending it with our third year Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering students in the undergraduate Biomechanics laboratory. I ask my undergraduate biomechanics students to ask a biomechanics question of their own choosing, design an experiment to answer it, choose which instrumentation and variables they should use, collect and analyze the data and then discuss their results in the form of a class presentation and journal article report. For most, it’s the first time they’ve been given such an open-ended project and I always find the diversity and quality of the projects quite astounding.

What advice do you have for young women who hope to pursue a career in your field?

Believe in yourself and seek out mentors that can help you get where you want to go. Don’t be afraid to take a hand up from someone because someday you will be passing the favor along and helping someone else. Take advantage of summer research position opportunities to see if you like research.

Michele’s BiographyMichele is a professional engineer with a multidisciplinary background with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Kinesiology, and Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering. Michele is a former Canadian National swimming team member who continues to compete at the Masters level. She is a Professor in the School of Engineering and her research area is in Occupational Biomechanics and Ergonomics. She is a former holder of an NSERC University Faculty Award as well as an Ontario Early Researcher Award and an NSERC Accelerator Supplement. She has been awarded a Guelph-Wellington Woman of Distinction Award in the Science, Technology and Research Category and was member of the team of professors and staff teaching second year engineering students who won a University of Guelph Provost’s Award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

Through outreach and professional development activities, research, partnerships, thought leadership and online initiatives, we work with industry and academia to educate on the value of diversity for innovation, to inspire women to thrive and to celebrate the contributions of women in science and engineering.
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