March/April 2011

Celebrating the past, planning for the future

Industry and McGill mining engineering collaborate to launch $10 million revitalization strategy

By Heather Ednie

This year will mark the 140th anniversary of McGill University’s mining engineering department – the oldest in North America. The anniversary celebration will serve as a launching pad for a revitalization strategy for the department – one built on a $10 million fundraising campaign that aims to put McGill back at the top as the leading mining engineering department in the country.

‘’The Faculty of Engineering is proud of the contributions we’ve made to Canada’s mining industry, but we’re determined to evolve with the times to ensure that we strengthen our leadership role in mining engineering,” said Christophe Pierre, dean of the Faculty of Engineering at McGill. “The renewal underway in our mining program will build on that 140-year-old tradition of excellence to ensure that we continue to address industry needs and meet societal goals.’’

McGill mining engineering shares a strong Industry Advisory Board (IAB) with École Polytechnique’s mining department (the two schools offer a joint co-op undergraduate program in mining). The board, led by Jean Desrosiers, vice-president of mine operations at Xstrata Zinc Canada, supports the implementation of the five-year strategic plan for the department. A steering committee has been formed to assist the McGill faculty and management to develop and implement the plan and fundraising campaign.

“My goal is to build a strategic plan that will balance and align the interest of all stakeholders,” said Michael Avedesian, senior associate and advisor to the dean of engineering, who has assumed the mandate to drive McGill mining’s revitalization strategy. The plan is comprised of four main pillars: increase teaching staff and create new chairs in mining; integrate mineral processing and sustainable mine development in the teaching curriculum and research; increase engineering undergraduate student enrolment; and cultivate industry partnerships to support co-op programs.

“The students we produce and the contributions they have made to industry carry our department’s reputation,” said Ferri Hassani, a professor in the Department of Mining and Materials Engineering, who has been with the department for 27 years. “Our relationship with industry is strong – it goes far beyond our collaborations on research. We listen to their needs and provide graduates with that knowledge base and experience.”

McGill mining’s revitalization strategy is being formulated with industry at the table. Desrosiers said that his involvement on the IAB is intended to ensure that the resources needed to deliver on his company’s projects and operations will be there – that new graduates will come on board and learn through their jobs and eventually lead the operations in five to ten years.

“We need to ensure the program is aligned with our needs,” said Desrosiers. As an industry, mining is facing major growth in the long-term, and the success of mining engineering departments is necessary to meet the human resource demands and all that they entail. “We want to ensure strong, long-term partnerships with the schools,” Desrosiers added. “We need the right tools in place and we need McGill to succeed. But the reality is that our schools today need investment from the private sector to help replace what the government is not able to fund.”

As the anniversary celebrations get into full swing, Stephen Yue, chair of the mining and materials engineering department at McGill, outlined three key deliverables to be achieved by end of the year. “Hire a new faculty member, increase the number and quality of our co-op placements by 10 per cent, and, with the help and support of the IAB and steering committee, raise $10 million,” he said. “If we achieve these three goals this year, we will have succeeded.”

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