ACCENT: LU reaches for the top
Mary Katherine Keown for The Sudbury Star
Perhaps the seed was planted one night in a five-star dream — an omen for the next five years detailing grandeur of the academic kind. Dominic Giroux, the president and vice-chancellor of Laurentian University, announced in June the board of directors had approved the budget for the school’s five-year strategic plan (2012-17). Developing the plan was a labour of love, which required 12 months and hundreds of stakeholder consultations. Giroux was wary of developing a one-size-fits-all plan, with the committee opted instead for a signature document that is undoubtedly Laurentian.
“Often universities develop very long and extensive strategic plans that convey their commitments to excellence in teaching, research and community engagement, but it’s hard to distinguish their true strategic directions from other universities,” he says. “One of the reasons we’re proud of our strategic plan is that if you remove the words ‘Laurentian University,’ anyone who reads it will recognize Laurentian.”
The plan is ambitious and broad. In just 20 pages it addresses student satisfaction, academic excellence, community engagement and national recognition, a point of which Giroux is especially proud. It plays on the school’s established strengths and takes advantage of its geographic location.
“First and foremost, we want to distinguish Laurentian with its superior student experience, which is why it’s our first strategic goal,” he says. “But we know that we can’t be everything to everyone, so even though we offer a comprehensive range of programs, both in English and in French, we’ve carefully selected 14 undergraduate and five graduate programs where we’re making the additional commitment of investing more money between now and 2017. It absolutely does not mean we’re not supporting the liberal arts and social sciences and so forth, but there are niche programs for which we’re known nationally and we want to build on that track record.”
Designed “outside the box,” Giroux says, the School of Mines emphasizes management, not research, and is aimed at developing and enhancing the skills of the mining industry’s corporate leaders.
The School of Mines
“The School of Mines is an academic centre within the university, which is integrated in its existing structure, focusing on engineering, mineral exploration and related disciplines,” says Francois Caron, an associate professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry, and the interim director of the School of Mines.
“It serves as a centre that will help align our offerings in the different disciplines with a mining focus … There is no specific degree that belongs to the School of Mines, but options within existing degrees constitute a strong part of the mission.”
As an inter-disciplinary institute with options for undergraduates, graduate students and mid-career professionals, Caron says he believes the School of Mines will promote innovation within the mining industry, and will support research by engaging academics and linking universities to industry experts.
It will offer mining-related degrees, professional and executive-level courses, short courses, workshops and certificates. There is a lot of support for the school and a $20-million endowment fund has already been created to sustain it.
“It’s a new concept that we’re really excited about because it will allow Laurentian to really be responsive to the needs of the mineral exploration and mining industry,” Giroux says. “It will really consolidate Laurentian’s position as the go-to university in Canada for mining and mineral exploration.”
Dick DeStefano, executive director of the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association, collaborated in conceptualizing the School of Mines.
“Establishing a School of Mines had been on my mind for a number of years while we built the mining supply cluster in Sudbury,” DeStefano says. “But I had a specific idea, which would enhance the value of the cluster and was based on an autonomous body located on the Laurentian campus — separate and distinct from the engineering program — that would be international in scope and provide a centre of excellence for mining supply owners and executives.”
Giroux and DeStefano have global aspirations for the school, and DeStefano is optimistic it will launch in 2013. A recruitment committee is currently in place and the project has been given the green light by Laurentian faculty and industry representatives.
“I have a vision the School of Mines management program will create synergies and expertise that will improve the capabilities of corporate leaders worldwide, and especially in Northern Ontario,” DeStefano says. “We have competent people running companies that need new ideas on management techniques and new operational ideas that will grow their businesses and expand their horizons. This will place the Sudbury cluster where it belongs internationally — as the centre of excellence in all things mining.”
As founding director of Laurentian’s new architecture school (known as LAL), Terrance Galvin is excited to be building the vision from the ground up. He is smitten with the new strategic plan, and its emphasis on student satisfaction, First Nations participation and community engagement.
“(It’s) all about being downtown and revitalizing downtown,” Galvin says. “Being connected to the community, allowing the community to come into the building for all kinds of events — these are all mandates of the school.”
LAL is only the 12th architecture school in Canada — the fifth in Ontario — and only the third in the country to offer students a co-op education. By taking school out of the classroom, LAL be integrated into the larger urban and rural fabrics of northern Ontario, while exposing students to real-world situations. It is a “school for the region,” Galvin says.
“Student engagement and student satisfaction are linked to community responsiveness,” he points out, referencing two of the strategic plan’s over-arching goals. “If you’re a student going through this program, doing field work will be part of your formative experience. Being out in the community, it’s a different kind of learning than just reading about the place.”
The school includes a round room, a circular gathering space symbolizing flow, which is an important aspect of many First Nations cultures. Galvin places great importance on mainstreaming Indigenous cultures. He has been working with the native student services office on campus to publicize the school to potential students and says LAL’s approach is unique among architecture schools in Canada.
“We want to put as much emphasis as we can in getting the word out to aboriginal communities that the school and the curriculum are really designed to address their culture and to address Aboriginal issues,” he says. “The aboriginal component is very under-developed in Canadian schools. I have very little experience with ever having taught students coming from aboriginal communities and it’s a definite goal of the school to make it a place for them and to teach through an aboriginal perspective.”
Galvin plans to hire aboriginal faculty for next September. There will be an elder-in-residence, as well as courses designed to be holistic and inclusive of First Nations’ perspectives.
“The first history course I made up is called Sacred Geography, so it’s not just a Western-centric or Euro-centric approach to architecture,” he says. “We have to be very intentional to make the cultures inclusive. That’s likely the biggest challenge, and the thing about which I’m most excited. When we make it work, everybody in the country will see it as a different model.”
Galvin points out many aspects of the curriculum — including electives, work placements and design studios — will be available in either French or English.
While the first cohort of 70 students does not arrive until 2013, LAL is already in a solid financial position, a testament to the support behind it. Nearly $500,000 has been invested in an endowment fund that can be used for scholarships. This includes $100,000 the Laurentian University alumni association donated in April, as well as $50,000 Downtown Sudbury recently donated. Blaine Nicholls, a local architect and his family recently donated $100,000 to the school.
Galvin plans to use the money for entrance scholarships, as well as ongoing financial support (the program requires six years of study to complete). “Most of the people who have donated have left it quite open as to how the school wants to use (the money) and I haven’t hidden the fact that I’ve been saying aboriginal students and needy students are the priority,” Galvin says. “We want to invest the money and then pay those students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to come here.”
He hopes increased financial support means more First Nations students will consider architecture as a viable profession.
Galvin sees LAL as a cultural pillar of the community — beyond the downtown core — with lecture series, exhibitions and student works on display. He hopes regional theatre groups, arts groups and musicians will rent the lecture hall, which seats about 180 people. During the summer, when there are no classes, Galvin plans to use the space by organizing urban camps (think Sudaca in the city) and portfolio workshops for aspiring architects and designers.
International accreditation for the business school
One of the flagship goals of the strategic plan is the international accreditation of the faculty of management.
“It’s one of our programs that’s been fast-growing over the past few years,” Giroux says.
Only 19 universities in Canada, and 4% of business schools, globally, are accredited. It is an elite club.
“Between now and 2017, we’ll invest $4.1 million to hire 12 new faculty in the faculty of management,” Giroux says. “We want our graduates from the business school to have the added value of graduating from one of the 4% of business schools in the world that have that accreditation.”
Increased research funding
The strategic plan also emphasizes academic research. The university has secured $30 million annually in external funding for research, including $400,000 pegged for the social sciences and humanities. While the number seems small — only 1.33% of total research dollars — it represents an increase of $85,000 from 2011 and with fewer students enrolling in the humanities and social sciences, the proportion of research funding remains high.
“One of the reasons that Laurentian has been quite successful in securing externally sponsored research income, to the point that every year we’re number one, two or three amongst Canada’s primarily undergraduate schools, is that we’ve been selective in trying to focus on areas of research excellence,” Giroux says. “In the strategic plan, we have named nine areas where we’re committed to investing more in research.”
These areas include rural and northern children’s health; stressed watershed systems; mining innovation and exploration; multi-cultural sport and physical activity; genomics and bioinformatics; particle astrophysics; environment, culture and values; applied evolutionary ecology; and nanotechnology. The Vale Living with Lakes Centre is just one example of research dollars at work. It forms the cornerstone of Laurentian’s freshwater research and Giroux believes it will bring international recognition to the university.
Challenges with implementation
With growth comes challenges, and with 1,100 additional students projected over the next five years, comes the need for housing. Carol McAulay, vice-president of administration, says new on-campus facilities will alleviate some of the demand, but admits there could be an overflow. The New Residence building (which held its grand opening Thursday) offers space to upper-year students and, along with four other buildings and those at the three federated universities (University of Sudbury, Thorneloe and Huntington), Laurentian can accommodate about 1,600 students on campus.
“We guarantee a place in residence for first-year students; those returning in second, third and fourth year often want to live on campus throughout their studies,” McAulay writes. “Last year, Laurentian had 700 places for returning students, but 850- 900 applications. With the opening of the New Residence, we believe we’re very close to satisfying all demand.”
Laurentian has chosen not to build a residence downtown. McAulay sees it as an excellent opportunity for the private sector.
“Many people have already approached the school to ask what kind of housing would be suitable, or to let the school know that a downtown building is being converted to student-apartment living quarters,” she writes. “This is part of the rationale, and part of the benefit, of building (the school of architecture) in the very heart of the downtown.”
McAulay says the university has initiated discussions with Sudbury Transit to provide a shuttle service for architecture students, who will be required to take electives at the Ramsey Lake Road campus.
Modest tuition fee increases will be necessary to cover some of the costs of implementing the strategic plan, but Giroux argues the projected 4% annual increase is competitive across schools in Ontario. For the upcoming year, the average undergraduate program, including tuition and ancillary fees, will cost $6,575. Giroux maintains that Laurentian still has the most affordable tuition fees for all schools in its class.
Increased enrollment, with its infusion of $22 million into the local economy (a calculation based on 1,100 students), is good news for Sudbury.
“The simplest observation is that two students count as one full-time job, with a total direct spending of around $40,000,” says David Robinson, an economics professor at Laurentian University and director of the Institute for Northern Ontario Research and Development. “That was the calculation used for the architecture school, for example.”
Galvin believes the downtown core will see new businesses blooming over the next few years to meet the needs of students.
“It’s a ripple effect,” he says. “There’ll be spinoffs, and services that aren’t there now. For instance, I haven’t seen a bicycle repair shop within a six-or eight-block radius, but that’s the kind of service I think would obviously develop, if you’re going to have 400 students.”
DeStefano also believes in the ripple effect.
“The cluster will grow, and our city will expand and (become) recognized as one of the key cities in the world for its mining acumen and leadership,” he says.
Debbi Nicholson, president and CEO of the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, agrees the strategic plan will be a boost to the city’s economy.
“Laurentian is a valued stakeholder in this community and the achievement of its strategic goals will reinforce its role as an economic driver,” she says.
As Giroux’s ‘season of ideas’ comes to a close — a season during which the strategic plan was planted, born and took shape — the dream comes to life.
Plan at a glance
By 2017 administrators are aiming:
• To be among the top 25% of universities in Canada in terms of student satisfaction and engagement; president Dominic Giroux says initiatives outlined in the plan include study-abroad options, co-op programming and internships, and the opportunity for students to volunteer in the community;
• To be among the top 10 Canadian universities offering primarily undergraduate education; Maclean’s magazine in 2011 ranked Laurentian 11th across Canada, up three spots from its 14th-place finish in 2010;
• To be the university of choice for students and faculty from Canada and abroad; Laurentian currently has sizeable numbers of students from China, Saudia Arabia and Brazil, and about 100 students from India spent the summer semester studying in Sudbury;
• To engage the communities of Sudbury and Barrie in ways that are mutually beneficial;
• To be recognized for the university’s organizational excellence.
For more information, view Laurentian University’s strategic plan online at www.laurentian.ca.