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July 04, 2022

Alec Krawciw sits on a catamaran that is floating in the water.

Receiving the Governor General’s Silver Medal at UVic’s 2022 spring convocation means Alec Krawciw had the highest academic standing of any student graduating from UVic with a bachelor’s degree.

Somehow, along with achieving a remarkable 95 per cent average grade, the mechanical engineering grad also found time to lead a student engineering team, earn a minor in software engineering, and volunteer in the community.

How did he do it?

“I get asked that question pretty often,” admits Krawciw. Having a great group of friends made going to classes fun and kept him motivated. He says it also helped to have started university confident in his choice of engineering.

Interest in robotics is sparked

Krawciw’s path to engineering became clear in high school, where he developed a keen interest in robotics as part of an extremely ambitious team that competed internationally three times.

Arriving at UVic, he was intent on being part of a student team that would allow him to further explore his passion, and joined UVic AERO, which focuses on designing and building unmanned aerial systems.

“Probably not many people come to their first day of engineering planning to join a student team and trying to figure out which one will be the best fit for their interests,” said Krawciw. “I checked out a lot of teams and really liked the people I met at UVic AERO – I felt that I could make a big contribution.”

By 2019, Krawciw was leading the AERO team. At the same time, and throughout his degree, he volunteered with FIRST Tech Challenge, a global robotics community that advances STEM education among youth.

Krawciw’s long and abiding interest in autonomous systems motivated him to teach himself about various engineering approaches before stepping foot in a classroom.

“It’s my favourite way to learn about something: by experimenting with an idea first, and then learning about it formally afterwards,” he says.

However, that is not always enough. “Learning in a classroom environment is crucial. I’ve enjoyed how many opportunities I’ve had to be exposed to new information that I would have never connected to my own.”

Co-ops enhance in-class learning

Four co-op terms further enriched his skillset and knowledge.

First, he was a summer camp leader at UVic’s Science Venture, where he led some popular and “zany” robotics activities. Next, he worked at the National Research Council’s observatory in Saanich on a project that involved using sensors to detect how the atmosphere distorts the image observed by a telescope. Later, he performed experiments at a Burnaby company that is researching how to create electrical energy from fusion reactions.

His final co-op took place at local firm Gregory C. Marshall Naval Architect, where he was asked to design and build a 20-foot prototype electric hydro-foiling catamaran from scratch.

“The company wanted to get a sense of the challenges and opportunities of getting a hydro-foiling boat working, especially in terms of the control system,” says Krawciw. “I’ll never forget the exhilaration of flying over Prospect Lake during testing.”

The co-op helped give direction to his studies, leading to both an honours thesis that focused on the autonomous docking of a boat and a team capstone project called GLIDE. The Gyro-Levelled Inertial Dog Experience is an automatically stabilizing dog bed designed to prevent seasickness among dogs onboard yachts.

The future includes robotics

This fall, Krawciw is moving to Toronto to pursue a Master of Applied Science in Aerospace Engineering, where he looks forward to discovering more about using artificial intelligence for robotics navigation and perception. He says he’d love to eventually work on the “space” side of aerospace, but is also interested in areas such as autonomous vehicles.

At a reception held by the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science following convocation on June 16, Krawciw was presented with two additional awards: the Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering Medal and the Engineers and Geoscientists of BC Gold Medal Award.

“Through all his endeavours, Alec has demonstrated extraordinary determination, hard work and talent,” Mina Hoorfar, dean of the faculty, said at convocation. “I know this will continue during this next phase of his journey.”

Related story: Huge number turn out for Spring 2022 convocation.