Stephen Smith, Sci ’72, is now the namesake of two schools at Queen’s.
Principal Patrick Deane announced Smith’s $100 million donation which will equip Queen’s engineering students with the skills they need to tackle global problems in a long-awaited announcement in Mitchell Hall on Nov. 2. The Faculty has been renamed the Stephen J.R. Smith School of Engineering.
Draped in a gold scarf—the new branding for Queen’s Smith Engineering—Smith sees STEM education as preparing future Canadians to solve the world’s most complex problems.
“In many ways we live in very scary times, far scarier than when I graduated. Climate change is a big issue, and there are lots of other complex problems facing society,” Smith said in an interview with The Journal. “I see STEM education as a way to prepare students of the future with the complex problems we’re facing.”
As the first in his family to attend university, Smith is a strong believer in education. Eight years ago, Smith became the namesake of Queen’s School of Business with a $50 million donation. His donation is the largest made to a Canadian engineering school.
Having pursued engineering at the bequest of his father, Smith believes Queen’s engineers are hard workers and problem solvers. Smith hopes his gift will drive students to enact change.
To students embarking on their educational and professional paths, Smith encourages them to enjoy the process.
“Do something you’re interested in. It’s the journey, not the destination,” Smith said. “And that’s not new advice. When I look back this is the destination, but I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t enjoyed the journey.”
The new learning approach at the Smith School of Engineering is interdisciplinary, centring on solving real-world problems. Queen’s is focusing on the social, multidisciplinary problems of the 21st century.
“It really will look like a different learning experience for students, who instead of getting an idealized problem in first year with no friction, and all these artifical contrainsts, [will get] more realistic, authentic problems to solve in multidisciplinary environments where they can learn not just the technical implications, but the social implications” Dean of the Smith School of Engineering Kevin Deluzio said.
In 2009, Queen’s engineering pioneered a four-year program which provided students with practical experience. For Deluzio, the Engineering Design and Practice Sequence demonstrates how Queen’s can be a national leader in engineering education. He hopes to expand the program.
Part of the transformation includes recruiting students from diverse background to fill Queen’s engineering’s 850 annual spots. In his speech, Deluzio committed to offering future students global learning opportunities.
Principal Deane is excited for the changes students will see in the classroom.
“The money largely will go to hiring new faculty, and providing equipment and other things that are necessary for it. Students will feel a benefit almost immediately,” Deane said in an interview with The Journal.
Students will be at the forefront of building the new approach to engineering education, with the University requesting student input. There will be opportunities for students at all levels, Engineering Society (EngSoc) President Aidan Shimizu told The Journal.
“[The University] has asked for diverse perspectives from different students. From people in leadership positions and the Engineering Society, including design team captains, club captains, myself, my executive, as well as the average Queen’s engineering student,” Shimizu said.
Empathy and care differentiate the current generation of students from their predecessors Shimizu told the crowd. A generation affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the realities of climate change—Shimizu argued his generation’s experiences are fueling their curiosity.
“It’s probably fair to say that we are exam obsessed, but that’s because we want to do it right for all the generations that follow in our footsteps,” Shimizu said. “Because today’s announcement is as much about them as it is about us.”
From Deane’s perspective, Queen’s students’ shared purpose, regardless of faculty, is to have a positive impact on the world, and Smith’s donation brings students’ closer to actualizing that purpose.
“Our goal is very clear,” Deane said. “Queen’s will equip the next generations of students with the knowledge, the skills, and the mindset to drive positive change around the world.”
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