In just a few short weeks, the Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation will open its doors to a new crop of first-year students. When they graduate four years from now—if Mehrdad Saif has his way—they’ll be as well-versed in sculpture, classical music and business acumen as they are in designing bridges, automobiles and electronic devices.
“My hope is for a well-rounded graduate with leadership and entrepreneurial abilities, with an appreciation for the arts and the kind of critical thinking skills they’ll need to be successful,” says Dr. Saif, dean of the Faculty of Engineering.
The new CEI, a $112 million 300,000 square-foot facility, is nearing completion; large parts of it will be handed over to the University for occupancy by September 17. Saif believes the building was designed in such a way that it will facilitate the fulfilment of his vision for a new kind of graduate. A critical component of that vision depends on encouraging increased collaboration on research and design projects among students and faculty from various departments, who until now, have been somewhat compartmentalized, he says.
“Our current space (in Essex Hall) does nothing to prevent the silos that have been created,” says Saif. “The whole point was to remove barriers and have people from different disciplines interacting with one another.”
The faculty is currently home to four separate engineering departments—Civil and Environmental; Industrial; Electrical and Computer; Mechanical, Automotive and Materials—and while they will remain the same, Saif will encourage increased partnerships among them. However, with wide open spaces that offer more opportunities for social interaction among students, more graduate student meeting spaces, and glass-walled learning labs, the new CEI will naturally encourage those interactions, Saif says.
“We’re following model of successful businesses like Facebook, Microsoft or Google,” he says. “The spaces designed for comfort, but also to stimulate creative thinking and collaboration. The space itself plays a major role.”
Saif’s vision also depends on increased collaboration with researchers across campus.
“I don’t want it to be just an engineering building,” he says. “I want to see people in there from business and the arts, examining issues regarding technology, the environment, and sustainability. We should incorporate liberal arts curriculum, and offer technology courses to students in business, and in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. We have to offer innovative programs that meet the needs of both the students and the businesses that will potentially hire them some day. We can’t just offer vanilla flavoured programs. If we really want to attract new students we need to offer unique new programs. We need to carve our niche.”
Saif will appear today on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that focuses on the work of University of Windsor researchers and airs every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on CJAM 99.1 FM.