Transforming our Faculty step by step

Spring 2010
Ryan C

MEDA recipient Ryan Cunningham, from the Department of Mining and Materials Engineering.

Major changes are underway at McGill Engineering that are giving a new look and feel to the 79-year-old Faculty.

A $25-million refit to the Macdonald Engineering Building (See FACULTY FACELIFT in this issue) and the presence of greater numbers of top-calibre graduate students are providing the Faculty with important tools to tackle new research challenges and move in new directions.

The changes are both real and symbolic, says Dean Christophe Pierre. Recently appointed to a second five-year term, Professor Pierre says the changes reflect a University priority expressed in 2005 to revitalize the Faculty of Engineering to ensure that it competes on an equal footing with other elite engineering schools.

One of the benchmarks set at that time was a dramatic increase in graduate enrolment, and the Faculty’s success in this area has been dramatic.

New PhD enrolments, for example, are up 115% over 2006 levels. Annual targets for new doctoral students were set at 100, 125 and 150 during the past three years, and each of these goals was surpassed. Coupled with equally impressive jumps in master’s degree registrations, graduate enrolment eventually topped the1,000-mark this past fall, and the figure for the academic term just ending was 1,060, split almost evenly between doctoral and master’s students.

Boosting numbers and quality

“The 1,000-mark was a major milestone,” says Associate Dean, Graduate Education and Research, Andrew Kirk, who emphasizes that the push for more students is not a quantity-over-quality equation. “It’s important to note that the gain in numbers has been achieved without any reduction in student quality. In fact, on average, the entering grades of our graduate students have increased slightly.”

Professor Kirk says outstanding students are important because they enrich the Faculty in multiple ways.

Ramona Vintila 2

Gifted PhD students such as Ramona Vintila enhance teaching and research and increase the pool of highly-skilled professionals available to work in the private sector.

They play a critically important role in research; their presence is a major incentive in recruiting world-class professors and they improve the overall quality of both graduate and undergraduate education. Holders of advanced degrees are also an essential source of highly qualified personnel for government and the private sector, both in Canada and abroad.

One of the key reasons for our Faculty’s recruitment and retention success was a 2006 decision to significantly revamp the financial support offered to doctoral students.

Unique funding package

Top applicants now receive financial incentives that are equivalent to those provided by other elite schools.

The funds – called McGill Engineering Doctoral Awards (MEDA) – provide recipients with $22,000 per annum for three years. The money comes from a mix of sources, including alumni donations, professors’ research grants, the Faculty and the University.

Engineering is the only Faculty at McGill to offer this type of support package. The 75 new MEDA awards allotted to students this year alone will cost nearly $5-million between 2010 and 2013.

Without the awards, Professor Kirk says top applicants would inevitably enrol elsewhere. “McGill’s reputation is a major drawing card, but many of these students have families to support. Others simply have no time to work at part-time jobs if they are contributing to world-quality research efforts. They cannot study here without realistic financial support.”

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