Engineering students get $61 million investment

HALIFAX – Dalhousie University says its engineering students will have a leg up in an increasingly competitive job market, thanks to a multi-million dollar donation from certain industry players.

The Halifax-based school on Thursday announced that it had secured a donation of hardware and computer assisted design, engineering and manufacturing (CAD, CAE and CAM) software worth approximately $61 million – the largest in-kind donation ever given to a Canadian school.

The gift comes courtesy of Partners for the Advancement of CAD/CAM/CAE Education (PACE), a group comprised of tech-minded companies such as Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS), General Motors Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

The school will recieve a number of Sun workstations, as well as software for drafting, 3D modeling and dynamic analysis.

According to Lisa Hunt, a graduate student with Dalhousie’s faculty of engineering, the equipment could help the school’s pupils source jobs at the end of their terms. There was a time when an undergraduate degree in engineering offered “a walk-on job,” she said, but “competition is getting so steep, you need something to set you apart.”

Hunt pointed out that experience with advanced design tools would put Dalhousie’s students above the crowd. But PACE representatives said the donation speaks to their own companies’ futures as well as students’.

“This is a critical investment,” said Michael Grimaldi, president of GM Canada. He said GM, particularly in this country, is interested in seeding the job market with CAD-savvy engineers. The company is poised to produce the Chevrolet Equinox in the coming years, the first car to go from design to manufacturing using Canadian know-how alone.

According to Fraser Nicholson, president of EDS’ Atlantic Canada division, his company is planning on expanding in the future. “We know the region needs more investment in education and training,” he said, pointing out that Dalhousie graduates with certain skills would make recruitment a simple proposition for the company.

Ismet Ugursal, a professor of engineering at the university, said economic realities come to bear on Dalhousie, factors that make the PACE donation important for the school.

“One copy of the 3D modeling suite is worth about $900,000. Name me one school that has $61 million in loose change lying around. It’s categorically impossible.”

Ugursal said some of the school’s first-year students were using the drafting software this term, but the majority of the class won’t get a crack at CAD and CAM equipment until 2003.