Of all the work that’s been accomplished since you arrived in 2018, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the renewal and sense of hope in the college. We’ve had incredible support from the community and the university as we’ve tackled some important tasks – rebuilding core functional roles in the college, building endowed chairs, and implementing our vision for the future. Our leadership teams have really delivered - and I am inspired every day by the way everyone is aligned and working together to achieve great things.
What is the biggest thing on the horizon this year?
We’re launching our completely renewed first-year program this fall; we call it RE-ENGINEERED. Our Engineering Advancement Trust alumni and longtime supporters of the college, Ron and Jane Graham, have been unwavering in their support of the vision for this program. As a result, we have something very exciting to share – and based on our enrolment numbers, others are excited about it, too. You can read more about RE-ENGINEERED in this issue of Thorough. I am inspired by our first-year design team’s rigour and creativity – and excited to welcome our first cohort of students to this new way of learning. It won’t be less demanding or less transformative. It is focused and efficient like a great engineering design.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an immense impact on our lives since March 2020. As you’ve led USask Engineering’s response, what has been most meaningful to you as a leader?
This year has given me a renewed appreciation for the privilege and excitement of our campus learning community. Being surrounded by bright minds of all ages, never knowing what surprise will delight us in a conversation in The Bowl or on the way to our next class or meeting . . . these are some of our fondest images of campus.
The things we have missed the most are working shoulder-to-shoulder and face-to-face, mentoring students, building peer-to-peer discussions and teams, and bringing theory to life in our labs. We’ve come a long way and learned a lot about the advantages of recorded lectures and remote delivery and collaborations. We want to capture those lessons for some of our courses as we build the future in new ways. We love having access to all of our alumni for on-line events, and seeing some faces that could not otherwise join us. These moments have provided really special joys with a kind of intimacy that makes up for some of what we have lost.
A year ago, I don’t think any of us anticipated that our campus would remain closed for a full year. The rapid pivot and adaptation of our entire operation proved the incredible commitment our faculty have to learning. In a very literal sense, even a pandemic could stop the drive to teach our young engineers – and their drive to learn. Our 2020 grads completed the final weeks of their degrees and the class of 2021 have continued with their studies online for a full academic year. Faculty continued their research throughout the shutdown, with labs reopening in June 2020, and our staff pivoted their support of the college in some really remarkable ways. Throughout the entire year, the cheerfulness, resilience, and energy of our staff, faculty and students have buoyed our entire community.
In spite of the dramatically increased workloads people have shouldered to shift to remote operation, people in the college have also stepped up to contribute to the COVID response in very meaningful ways. One of the most exciting for me has been the multi-faceted collaborative support we were able to provide to RMD Engineering as they worked to innovate and transcend many obstacles to deliver a remarkable ventilator prototype, ready for validation in six very intense weeks. Five professional colleges were connected to the project, with the College of Engineering making key contributions - and you can read about all of it in the "USask Engineering answers the call" story. I could not be more proud of our alumni, our staff, our students, and our provincial government. The project really exemplifies what I love the most about Saskatchewan - deep commitment to community, innovation that makes sense, and the ability to transcend disciplinary boundaries to find solutions. While we worked first to serve our rural and remote communities, the result is outstanding technology that stands with the world’s best - and truly is engineering the world needs.
Where are you leading the college next?
We have a great team and we need to keep our focus laser sharp as we move through this decade. Our building requires renovation and modernization and we are continuing to build momentum and visibility for this project, which will encompass critical renovations and strategic renewal, as we look towards bigger and better things in the future. Our faculty complement and undergraduate programs are continually being renewed and we are entering an accreditation review this fall after a one-year delay due to the pandemic. Our strategic plan will deliver on our economic promise to this province and our students. The steady growth of our co-op program demonstrates a strong partnership with industry in creating economic opportunity for the future.
Throughout this issue you’ll read about many incredible accomplishments over the last three years, from public engagement to more than doubling our research funding in key areas to recruiting outstanding young faculty and recognizing the stellar careers of other faculty members. You can expect much more activity over the next two years! Stay tuned!