Remembering Dr. Donald R. Woods
29 April 2013

It is with profound sadness and sorrow that we announce of the sudden passing of Don Woods, Professor Emeritus, Department of Chemical Engineering on Friday, April 26, 2013.

Don came to McMaster in 1964 and retired in 2000. His work in developing innovative teaching methods, particularly focused on problem-based learning, is known and recognized nationally and internationally. He was the recipient of many teaching awards, at McMaster and elsewhere. For those who didn’t know Don, he was one of the significant builders of this Faculty; current McMaster’s faculty, staff and students are beneficiaries of his contributions to engineering education. I had the privilege of knowing Don from the beginning of his time at McMaster and feel honored to have had him as a colleague.

Several months ago Don was selected to be the recipient of the Faculty of Engineering Teaching Excellence Award at the Applause and Accolades celebration which will be held on May 8. Sadly, this award will be presented posthumously but it will be our privilege to honour him and his memory on that occasion.

Don leaves behind his best friend and beloved wife of 52 years, Diane, and his children - Russell Glen (predeceased), Suzanna Lynn Peters (Denis Dallaire), and Cynthia Jane Veals (Scott). His five all-star grandsons will miss Poppa: Caleb, Marcus and Andrew Veals and Nicholas and Benjamin Peters. In addition to his academic pursuits, he was also an artist, banjo player, square dancer, builder, author, genealogist, and great reader.

Donations in memory of Don may be made to St. James United Church, Christian Children’s Fund of Canada or to a charity of your choice. To leave a written message of condolence, go to this link:

Dr. Donald Woods

Condolences Received from Chemical Engineering Chairs, Colleagues and Friends on the news of Don Woods sudden passing


The whole chemical engineering community is mourning the passing away of Don Woods. Don has been a source of inspiration not only for chemical engineering professors but to educators in a wide range of disciplines across universities worldwide using his pionneering problem based solving ideas, concepts and techniques. With warm regards,

Michel Prof. Michel Perrier, ing., Ph.D., MACG, D.h.c. Directeur Département de génie chimique École Polytechnique


This is very sad news. Don was such a wonderful, positive and enthusiastic person, and made such an impact in engineering education.

Please extend our deepest sympathies to his family, and to his colleagues and friends, on behalf of the Chemical Engineering department at Queen's.Don was an alumnus of Queen's, and I can still remember him bounding - yes, bounding - up the stairs for his 50th reunion in 2007. One of Don's classmates was the first woman to graduate in chemical engineering from Queen's. One of the primary instructors at that time had been quite sexist and unwelcoming to her, and Don was still seething about it 50 years later. Don cared very much about engineering, education and people.

A wonderful man.

James McLellan
Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Academic Director, Queen's Innovation Connector


So sad to hear about Don's sudden passing. Canada lost a pioneer and an innovator in education methods. There are very few who have contributed so much to Chemical engineering education. I have very nice memory of Don when he visited our Department several years ago. I always enjoy reading/referring his books on design and rule of thumbs. It is a great loss for all but above all for his family. My sincere condolences to Don's family. Regards Peter

Peter Engelzos, UBC


I am very sad to her of Don's passing. He was a great man, a great mentor and among, if not the, greatest engineering educator in Canada. Please pass our condolences to his family. On behalf of University of Calgary's Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering.

Best regards,

U.T. U. Sundararaj, Professor and Head Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering University of Calgary


Very sad news indeed. He was the Chemical Engineering educator par excellence not only in Canada but worldwide. My condolences to you, your Department and his family.

Dimitrios Berk, McGill University


As you can see from the note from the Chair of McMaster Chem Eng, below, Professor Don Woods passed away this past weekend. As many of you know, Don was a Chemical Engineering Professor at McMaster who had a significant impact on engineering education. Though I didn't know him well, I knew of him by reputation and by a few memorable talks I saw and through the work of others who worked with Don (e.g. Kim Woodhouse, now Dean at Queens). I still recall Don giving a seminar in our Department many (likely more than 15) years ago about problem-based learning. Many years before that he had taken his sabbatical and spent it like a student, attending classes in the chem eng curriculum. What a radical idea! One of his discoveries was that, though we frequently herald problem solving as a key skill that our students learn, he found that we don't in fact teach it. This lead him to be a pioneer in problem-based learning as a way of teaching engineering. In my likely overly simplistic view, it's about putting the problem first, then having students discover (with 'coaching') what principles, information, etc. you need to solve it. That's as opposed to the more conventional approach where we teach principles and then give out problems that require the principles we just taught. Our conventional approach likely allows us to cover more material but at the expense of depth and what 'sticks' (i.e. becomes more intuitive) long term (less=more). Don's findings led to significant changes in the curriculum at McMaster, with several problem-based courses. His papers, presentations and people he interacted with also impacted the engineering community well beyond McMaster. For my part, though I still teach mostly in the conventional way, I do use a problem-based approach (my version of it anyway) as well. Don also spoke of the importance of taking short 'breaks' from lecture about every 15 or 20 minutes to keep students engaged and he used this to great effect in his own talk...something I also try to use. His approach is also an inspiration to the potential great value of labs where we also actively think and do...and hence much value in the Unit Ops Renovation as part of our Advancement campaign. A great Canadian Engineering educator who will be missed.

Grant Allen, University of Toronto


I considered Don a true friend , We worked off and on together for 20+ years. To my surprise Don attended my Fathers Visitation a few years ago and he talked to my Sons and Daughter. When Don left, my kids came to me and said he knew what sports they were involved in and their work. They said “what a real nice guy” and that I was lucky to work with such people. He was the spokes person for my departmental retirement and wow he certainly gave me a send off. It was an honour and privileged to say we knew him. Val, Gord, Wayne, Maxine and Neil

Gordon Slater, Port Dover, Ontario