Suzanne Kresta began her term as dean of USask Engineering in January 2018. (Photo: Matt Ramage)

Kresta gratefully reflects on her five-year term as dean

FROM THOROUGH MAGAZINE: USask Engineering dean Suzanne Kresta paused to consider her five-year term as dean.

When I joined the College of Engineering in 2018, one of my first duties was attending the C.J. Mackenzie Gala. I was overwhelmed by the warmth and passion of our community. Now, as I close out my time as your dean, I am gratefully reflecting on the contributions of many people who have helped make the last five years one of the great privileges of my career.

As you know, our annual gala honours the legacy of C.J. Mackenzie, the first dean of our college – a bridge builder, veteran, exceptional mentor, world-class researcher, and national-class leader. At the 2018 gala, we honoured Mike Marsh, a Saskatchewan builder whose career took him to the CEO’s office at SaskPower. This year, we celebrated another Saskatchewan builder: June Verhelst,  a graduate of the college’s Department of Civil Engineering and an engineer who has had a hand in leading dozens of major industrial projects, as senior vice-president, Mining and Energy, at Graham.

In her keynote lecture at the gala, June shared some of her experiences in building capacity – capacity in our economy, capacity for employment, building the talent pool in Graham’s organization and our wider engineering community, and building capacity in our educational systems.

Building capacity is a theme that recurs throughout this issue of Thorough. We tell the stories of several USask Engineers who built their capacity in our college and are now making an impact in Saskatchewan and beyond. Their stories show the value of a USask Engineering degree is indisputable – and that the world needs more USask Engineers.

The university has just launched a major fund-raising campaign, and our college has set goals that will help us create the visionary spaces we need to develop the USask Engineers of tomorrow, engineers the world needs.

Members of Saskatchewan's NDP caucus tour one of the college's chemical engineering labs. (Photo: Donella Hoffman)

Building capacity, specifically in our college, shaped the goals I set when I agreed to serve as dean. The college was ready for a change in culture after many years of instability in the dean’s office. The budget had seen years of decline, followed by a differential cut just before my interview. Funding of student activities significantly lagged other major engineering schools across the country.

Over the last five years, I’m proud of what has been accomplished by the team in the college:

  • We have increased the funding of our student design teams from $22,000 to $117,000 annually, thanks to the hard work of our student leaders who established our student-funded USESF endowment fund. APEGS’s ongoing support of our students through its Student Experience Fund further expands this impact.
  • Thanks to repeated financial modelling of fixed costs and revenue opportunities, persistent advocacy, and the wisdom and leadership of our Provost, Dr. Airini, critical base funding was recently restored to the college.
  • Our college leaders have led searches that have doubled the number of female engineering faculty in our college.
  • We are now the national rockstars of engineering education in Canada, with our RE-ENGINEERED team invited to give keynote lectures and workshops at Waterloo, Queen’s, UBC, McGill, and McMaster. RE-ENGINEERED changes our culture to a community of support and competency-based assessment – ensuring our students learn the critical lessons in each course before they progress. It’s a game-changer and engineering schools across the country are clamouring for us to show them how we did it.
  • We are the first school in the country to provide an Indigenous module specifically designed for first-year engineering students, giving context for reconciliation within the engineering profession. I want to specifically thank Elder Tim Eashappie and his partner Kathy and their family for their tipi teachings and engagement with our students during this module. I have learned so much about teaching – and about life wisdom from Tim and Kathy.
  • Dozens of MLAs, MPs as well as foreign diplomatic corps have visited our college in recent months. As hosts, our graduate students have gained invaluable experience in advocacy and communication and our guests have gained important insights about our research.
  • More than a dozen of our academics have received university-level awards, and our students are recognized with national leadership roles and as Vanier Scholars.

I’d like to acknowledge two groups who keep our Thorough values strong. First, the Engineering Advancement Trust. This group of USask Engineering alumni have raised more than $4 million since the early 1980 – all of it to directly support our students’ learning experiences. Secondly, the Dean’s Advisory Board, whose perspectives, advice, and advocacy are invaluable to my work as your dean.

From creating biodegradeable glitter to heating homes with canola pellets, developing robust power sources for remote communities, and using AI to support medical imaging diagnoses – USask Engineers are working to solve tough problems. We do research the world needs.

The team at USask Engineering is immensely talented and poised to take on bigger and more important challenges. There is a solid foundation here and a vision to capitalize on our strengths.

This college will continue to provide the hard-working, talented graduates and the innovative research needed here in Saskatchewan – and around the world.