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Dawn MacIsaac’s roundabout path to software engineering

Author: Dawn MacIsaac’s roundabout path to software engineering

Posted on Sep 15, 2022

Category: Inspiring Stories , UNB Fredericton , Computer Science , Engineering

Dawn MacIsaac (MScE’99, PhD’04) has a bit of a unique perspective at UNB.

As a professor jointly appointed with the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Computer Science, she teaches in and leads one of the few software engineering programs in Canada that blends computer science learning with engineering. Dawn was the lead in bringing the unique program into fruition at UNB in 2001 – making it one of the first in Canada and the only one of its kind (still) in Atlantic Canada.

Dawn’s passion for engineering and software is evident when she talks with students, but her path to get to this point wasn’t a straight one.

After growing up in Toronto, Dawn did an undergraduate degree at McMaster University in kinesiology and science. She planned on going to graduate school, but applied to teacher’s college as a backup. When she was accepted to teacher’s college at Queens – during a time when it was next to impossible to be accepted to one of those programs – she decided to go. “I got the bug to teach, and I ended up teaching high school physics and loving it.”

After a few years though, as she was convincing her students to take engineering, she convinced herself to do the same. She returned to McMaster to do an undergraduate degree in engineering and became interested in biomedical as a specialty. “I had gone on a vacation with a friend to the Maritimes and we were able to get a tour of the UNB biomed facility from a friend of a friend. As soon as I saw it, I was hooked.”

She indeed came to Fredericton for a masters in electrical and computer engineering (biomedical) and immediately loved it. “I had such great supervisors that I stayed for a PhD as well, and by that time, I had fallen in love with Fredericton. Dr. Jane Fritz was hiring someone to build and lead a software engineering program at that time. I had always loved software, so I came on board and began putting together from scratch the first software engineering program at UNB.

The program offers students a chance to learn and benefit from both the Faculty of Computer Science and the Faculty of Engineering. “They can use either the engineering co-op or the computer science co-op, they get the use of the resources from both faculties, and they get exposure to perspectives from both computer scientists in respect to software engineering and engineers in respect to software engineering.”

Dawn says that the program’s unique and close partnership with computer science is one of its greatest strengths. Students would probably tell you that one of the other of the program’s strengths is Dawn herself. Her enthusiasm for programming rubs off, and her teacher training helps her build successful pathways through her courses. “Because this is a small and unique program, I’ve had to go to bat for my students over the years. They know that I’m their advocate and will always support them.”

Dawn has been with the program now for over 20 years, minus three years when she was seconded as coordinator of teaching & learning services in the Center for Enhanced Teaching and Learning at UNB Fredericton. In addition to teaching software engineering courses, she teaches in the electrical engineering department and supervises four graduate students doing biomedical and software engineering research. Her own research interests are primarily in biosignal processing and health information systems.

Although the software engineering program is now at capacity at 45 students/year, she says she’d still like to see more women in the field. “Women don’t think like men, and their different viewpoints add to the field. I’d like to do more to get young girls and women interested in software.”

With her own unique story and experience, she might just succeed.