Sept/Oct 2009

Giving back to secure a strong future

Robert Buchan’s historic donation to his alma mater will help preserve and propagate knowledge in Canada’s mining industry

By M. Paduada

The department of mining engineering at Queen’s University has been renamed the Buchan Department of Mining, in recognition of a historic $10 million donation by Robert Buchan, university alumnus, philanthropist and former CEO of Kinross Gold Corporation. Buchan’s generous gift was announced by principal and vice-chancellor of Queen’s University, Tom Williams, during a press conference at the Toronto Stock Exchange on July 14, 2009.

“This gift will provide for both the department’s long-term and short-term needs,” said Williams in his announcement. “An $8 million endowment will be created to fund academic and staff positions, and a $2 million fund will allow for immediate expenditures on student-focused programs and curriculum development, course materials and distance-learning infrastructure.”

This largest single donation ever to mining education in Canada is intended to maintain this country’s leadership in mineral extraction. “We are the leader and we intend to stay that way,” says Buchan. “I think we’ve got the best mining department in the country. We can have the most innovative mining education in the world.”

Laeeque Daneshmend, head of the department of mining engineering, adds, “we must offer the most up-to-date and relevant programs, taught in state-of-the-art facilities, by talented faculty with first-hand experience in industry.”

Buchan agrees with Daneshmend and believes that Canadian mining engineers will need to meet challenges with a heightened awareness of current social and environmental realities, if they are to lead the world. “The world that we live in today is materially different from the world I started out in,” said Buchan in a speech. “The need for corporate responsibility, while never far from us in the past, is right in the forefront today. It is really important that our engineering students are taught the need for awareness of what the communities’ needs are.”

When asked if corporate social responsibility (CSR) is necessary, Buchan had no doubt. “110 per cent,” he said. “We’ve got no choice. And I don’t say that in a negative sense. It is a reality. Like rock mechanics and ventilation, you have no choice. Those are all part of the new world. It should always be integral.”

To help Canada’s mining industry cope with social, environmental and economic challenges, the new Buchan Department of Mining will introduce professional master’s programs in mineral resources management and applied sustainability. “One of the programs that Bob’s very generous gift is going to help us support is a master’s in applied sustainability, which is going to have an internship,” explains Kim Woodhouse, dean of applied sciences. “Those internships are either to be in developing countries or in Canada where we have significant challenges within the Aboriginal community.”

They will also help keep existing courses up-to-date and to bring relevant experience into the lecture halls. “In the past two to three years, we recognized the need to integrate issues such as CSR and sustainability, and to enhance the mineral economics content,” Daneshmend acknowledges. “There are challenges there, because if you’re talking about practitioners who’ve actually lived and experienced this, they are few and far between, and they’re in high demand. One of our challenges has been in giving students exposure to people who actually have some depth of understanding that they can pass on to our graduating students.”

Fortunately, many mining engineering students, through their undergraduate internships and from attending technical sessions at CIM conferences, already grasp the importance of these aspects. “Our graduates know that their reputations and their career paths will depend on their adherence to the highest professional and personal standards of conduct,” says Daneshmend.

Jessa Vatcher, a Queen’s graduate student who also completed her undergraduate mining engineering degree there, shares Daneshmend’s views. “A lot of the sustainability issues mentioned here were brought up at the CIM [Toronto 2009] conference. I found a lot of the information on Aboriginal outreach very interesting. It is stuff we’re starting to get exposure to, but we could always use more.”

Maintaining connections with alumni to tap into real-world experience and for donations is one of the constant challenges a university faces. Robert Buchan, who has an M.Sc. in mining engineering from Queen’s University, explains why it was important for him to give back. “One of my favourite phrases is one from Ghana, which translates to, ‘when an old man dies, a library burns down.’ That’s what we need to stop happening. People with a lot of experience, myself included, need to pass on their experience through mentorship programs and guest lecturing.”

The key, as Kim Woodhouse explains, is appealing to the alumni’s passion. “They want to give where their passion lies. So, I think it’s important for universities to provide alumni something that will meet their passions.” Indeed, Bob Buchan confirmed in his speech that passion will move Canadian mining education forward. “It’s something I feel quite passionate about, and Laeeque, thankfully, agrees with me. We’re going to aquire a real understanding of the cultural needs of the communities we move into and incorporate it into the education of the students. So, I’m very pleased to be able to help fund that today. As a new immigrant I came to Canada with $100. I’m delighted to give back 40 years later.”

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