A beloved former dean whose dynamic leadership was the driving force behind the construction of Engineering 7 will be recognized with the designation of the building’s IDEAs Clinic in her honour.

At an event today celebrating the legacy of Pearl Sullivan, the space will be named the Pearl Sullivan Engineering IDEAs Clinic to commemorate the accomplishments of the eighth dean of Waterloo Engineering and the first woman to hold the post who died after a long cancer battle almost two years ago.

With Pearl at the helm from July 2012 to December 2019, the Faculty reimagined engineering education and research with revolutionary spaces and transformative programs.

Passionate about supporting students, she focused on ensuring they had a full understanding of engineering principles as well as the tools and facilities required to succeed.  

Achieved ambitious goals

In 2015, Pearl launched the Faculty’s Educating the Engineer of the Future Campaign and worked tirelessly to achieve its ambitious objectives of building Engineering 7 and providing students with enhanced experiences to help them pursue their goals.

In addition to lecture halls, study areas and the Waterloo RoboHub, Engineering 7, which opened in October 2018, includes the innovative two-floor Pearl Sullivan Engineering IDEAs Clinic. 

Created for hands-on design challenges and activities to help teach theoretical concepts, the IDEAs Clinic was inspired by Pearl’s need for students to learn the fundamentals of engineering taught in previous decades.

“The digital generation we teach now has no idea what to do when they open the hood of a car. Most can’t even change an air filter,” she told the audience at her 2017 dean’s reunion lecture. “We’ve got to get our students back to the basics of engineering.”

The IDEAs Clinic hosts many activities including two-day Design Days events for all 14 undergraduate programs at Waterloo Engineering, giving over 2,000 students hands-on learning experiences each year.

Modelled on the concept of a hackathon, Design Days provide students challenging open-ended problems to solve. To be successful, students must define the problem, then develop, build and validate a solution to it.

‘Resilient in her belief of doing what is right’ 

The Sullivan family is honoured Waterloo Engineering is celebrating Pearl's legacy and designating the IDEAs Clinic in her name.

“Pearl was incredibly passionate about the University of Waterloo and its Engineering program,” said Pearl’s husband Tom Sullivan, a Waterloo civil and environmental engineering project manager. “She was resilient in her belief of doing what is right and now we have a place where the next generation of engineers will be inspired to discover new breakthroughs and reminded of her unstoppable spirit.”

‘An incredibly special person’

Pearl’s three children, Michael, Veronica and Christina, said their mother’s top priority throughout her career was the improvement of the education and experience for Waterloo students and was excited about the opportunities Engineering 7 provided to them and faculty members.

Pearl SullivanPearl Sullivan's legacy is honoured with the naming of the IDEAs Clinic – The Pearl Sullivan IDEAs Clinic.

“Mom was an incredibly special person and it’s amazing to see the positive impact she had on so many people’s lives,” they said. “It is inspiring to be reminded of the passion and dedication she brought to the Faculty of Engineering.” 

Pearl’s contributions to Waterloo Engineering will be recognized at today’s event by speakers including Mary Wells, current dean of engineering, Sanjeev Bedi, a Waterloo mechanical and mechatronics engineering professor and founder of the IDEAs Clinic, Christina Sullivan and several others.

In honour of Pearl Sullivan’s legacy, we invite you to support the Clinic and help us in naming it – The Pearl Sullivan IDEAs Clinic.

Capturing the Faculty’s oral history

As well as the Pearl Sullivan Engineering IDEAs Clinic, Pearl’s memory will live on as part of Waterloo Engineering’s Heritage Project, led by Wells.

“I was extremely fortunate to know Pearl as a trailblazing woman in engineering, a mentor and a good friend,” said Wells. “My close interactions with Pearl made me realize we need to share Waterloo Engineering’s 65-year history in a meaningful way by capturing the wisdom of many who helped build our Faculty and international reputation over the years.”

An audio clip of highlights from an interview conducted with Pearl in 2015 is the first of a collection of recordings made with former deans, faculty members and others who share their Waterloo Engineering experiences and perspectives. Pearl’s full-length interview will be available on the University archive’s site early next year.

Watch for more interviews to be added to Waterloo Engineering’s Heritage Project site in the months ahead.

In this podcast, Mary Wells, dean of engineering, and Jay Shah, alum and entrepreneur, share personal memories of Pearl Sullivan and discuss her many contributions to engineering education at Waterloo.