LONDON ONT. – Organizers of Western’s iron ring ceremony were met with ‘heated emotion’ after announcing this year’s event would be held virtually despite the Ontario government lifting COVID-19 restrictions.
This is the third consecutive year Western’s Camp 11 Board Association will hold the ceremony via Zoom.
The Calling of an Engineer ceremony provides graduating engineers with an iron ring to remind them of their obligation to the field. For many students in the department , it’s a day they look forward to from the moment they start their degree.
“This ceremony is meant to be a big deal in your engineering career and instead I’m joining a Zoom call,” said 4th-year civil engineering student Lauren Ing.
Ing was among the hundreds of students who attended Camp 11’s information session on Feb. 17, and says she felt her concerns were not addressed..
“The wardens were so unresponsive to feedback. People were coming up with realistic and creative solutions and it seemed like they just didn’t want to put in the effort to investigate those options,” said Ing.
Fourth-year civil engineering student Darby Little has looked forward to the ceremony since her first year at Western. The ceremony is“just one more thing the pandemic took away,” she said.
“It just feels like a flop, ” said Little. “As a young student, you see upper years getting the ring and taking pictures. It’s something you really want for yourself. For it to just not happen for us… it’s sad.”
Several other universities in Ontario such as Queens and Guelph have planned to return to in-person ceremonies this year.
“Students are all wondering why we have to be online and why we have extra restrictions that other universities within hours of us don’t have,” said Little.
Joshua Callum, a current graduate student at Western, was a part of the first cohort of undergraduate engineers to experience the online ceremony in 2020.
“It’s supposed to be a closed-door event, with all the people that we’ve spent four years with,” said Callum. “ But for myself, I was just in my room in my bed with my girlfriend, and my computer, watching a zoom call.”
Much of the student’s disappointment comes from the secretive nature of the ceremony. Students are almost entirely unaware of what it consists of until they get there – Only engineers who have taken the oath and previously received a ring know what lies behind the closed-door event.
“We don’t even know how different it’s gonna be or how much we’re missing out on because we don’t know what it would have been,” said 5th-year mechanical engineering student Sarah Flatley.
She, along with her classmates, acknowledges the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic but feels the wardens didn’t do enough.
“If they knew it would happen like this, I think they would have planned for it. I just wish it had come with a little bit more planning.”
Doug MacRae, the Chief Warden of Camp 11 said organizers’ hands were tied because the planning process for the ceremony begins in January – when capacity restrictions were still in place.
“The pandemic restrictions in January did not permit an in-person process that would require personal and tactile interactions with the candidates,” said MacRae, who is also director of transportation for the City of London..
He says that the camp has incorporated some changes to improve the process, such as timely receipt of rings and participation of guests, based on the feedback from students.
“The participation of candidates is entirely voluntary and not time restricted,” said Macrae.
“Candidates have the option to wait for an in-person ceremony when that is possible in the future.”
For qualified engineering students who wish to participate, the 64th Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer will take place via Zoom on March 26.