Engineering gets a boost at McMaster

Training, educating and preparing engineers who have had real-world experience in developing innovative research will be the main focus of a new facility being built at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. with help from Xerox Canada Ltd.

On Wednesday, as part of the 30th anniversary celebration of the Xerox Research Centre of Canada, the Mississauga, Ont.-based document company announced a cash infusion of $1 million to McMaster toward the construction of a new Centre of Innovation and Entrepreneurship within the School for Engineering practice at the university.

The funding, which is a joint donation from Xerox Canada and The Xerox Foundation, will establish the Xerox Centre for Engineering Entrepreneurship and Innovation, to be run by about 15 to 20 faculty members from McMaster and eventually house about 100 to 120 students in the program, said Peter George, president of McMaster University.

“We will be trying to train a graduate engineer at the master and doctoral level who will be grounded in the challenges of the engineering practice,” George said.

George explained that traditionally the engineering program has been primarily research-based. The type of graduate going through the new program at the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation will be one with experience in industry and one who “knows what the real challenges and problems facing non-commercial innovation are, and has come back bringing some practice knowledge,” George said.

When a student or graduate returns to the world of business, George continued, he or she will have more of a practical, advanced education around meeting the challenges of innovation and entrepreneurship. George said entrepreneurship can be a skill taught in the classroom and is not necessarily an ability or aptitude that certain people are born with.

The key, he said, is in the teacher. As long as those who are teaching have been involved in the industry and have really coped well and made a mark in addressing issues of entrepreneurship and innovation, then such things as learning how to become an entrepreneur can be attainable skills.

“These faculty members are in a better position to teach…combining academic strength and scholarly excellence with real life experience and we think the synergy between those two elements in a faculty members background, will be really powerful adjuncts for education excellence and tremendous educational opportunities,” he explained.

Part of the plan is to eventually build a new building to house the school for engineering practice to be located close to the existing engineering complex, but the university is currently waiting for a government funding review.

George said that government should be more supportive of joint partnerships between corporate Canada and universities, but he added that at the same time businesses and universities have now been able to partner with increased government support.

“Key investments like the Xerox investment can help leverage government support and other private sector support and allocation of university resources….three way partnership is much stronger than government going it alone or business and university trying to go alone,” George said.

Doug Lord, chairman, president and CEO at Xerox Canada, said the new partnership is a spawning ground for the next generation of researchers, explaining that the close proximity of universities such as McMaster to Xerox is fertile ground for the company.

Xerox Canada employs 52 McMaster graduates, 12 of whom are located at the Mississauga-based facility.

The event also brought together politicians from three levels of government, but Hazel McCallion, mayor of the City of Mississauga, was the only politician who was around when Xerox Canada first opened its doors in Mississauga.

“It’s so important that universities start working very closely with decision-makers,” McCallion said. “Quite honestly, the future will be based on the research we do.”

Xerox Canada, which mainly focuses on researching surrounding imaging materials, built the research and development lab in Mississauga in 1974 and has since added on to the facility with a development centre.

At the core of its research engine is a culture based on growing scientific minds, said Rafik Loutfy, corporate vice-president, Xerox Research & Technology. Of the 150 employees at the facility, 110 are scientists and engineers. Over the years, Loutfy explained, there have been over 700 students through the Xerox doors in Mississauga.

“This is a net brain gain to Canada,” he said.

Trying to give a sense of the innovation happening at the facility, Loutfy said of the 701 patents Xerox filed in the U.S. in 2002, 71 of them were from the Canadian facility. “Every single product of Xerox is a result of work done here in Canada,” he added.

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