Boosting enrolment won’t dilute quality, says engineering dean

Daniel MacEachern
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Memorial University’s dean of engineering says the school’s plan to double faculty and boost enrolment by 2020 won’t dilute the quality of graduates.

Greg Naterer, dean of Memorial University’s faculty of engineering and applied science, speaks to the Rotary Club of St. John’s at the Sheraton on Thursday afternoon.
— Photo by Daniel MacEachern/The Telegram

Greg Naterer outlined the faculty’s plan, which was first reported by The Telegram in October 2012, to the Rotary Club of St. John’s luncheon at the Sheraton on Thursday. He called it the “Our Double Vision is 2020” plan.

“What we’ll be able to do is provide additional seats in the faculty, whereas now we have caps on our programs. A lot of very good students are turned away,” said Naterer. “By increasing the caps in our programs, we’ll allow more of our students in the province who want to study engineering to be able to stay and do that.

By the year 2020, the plan hopes to, among other things:

— Add more than 40 new faculty positions, to an eventual complement of 100 positions;

— Increase intake of 300 undergraduates per year to 425;

— Go from 155 graduates per year to 250 graduates (an increase of about five per cent per year);

— Increase research funding from $16 million per year to $26 million per year.

Naterer said the plan is a response to the shortage of locally produced engineers for the work going on in Newfoundland and Labrador — he estimates close to two-thirds of the work here is being done by engineers from outside the province. Last year, Naterer told The Telegram it was more than half.

“There’s major mega-projects going on within the province — Muskrat Falls, Hebron, among others — and there’s a lot of engineers that are needed for those,” he said. “Right now the capacity in the province for engineering, whether it’s companies in mechanical engineering, or electrical, it’s just really not able to keep pace with the rapid growth of the economy of the province, with the mega-projects that are going on, and as a result it’s a shortage of capacity.”

In order to not flood the job market, especially after the projects start to wind down, Naterer said the school will focus on areas of “strategic strength” for the province, like ocean technology and offshore oil and gas.

“We believe that that economy will only get bigger and stronger, and there will be more need and more engineers,” he said.

Opening up the school to more students won’t mean sacrificing high standards, said Naterer, who said the grade average of new engineering students is currently about 88 per cent.

“We just believe that we can allow more outstanding students who weren’t accepted because we don’t have enough capacity, allow those students to get into an engineering program,” he said.

As for who will pick up the tab for the faculty’s expansion — both in students and staff as well as any resulting building space needed — the dean said it would come from a variety of sources, public and private.

“I’m going to be active in fundraising,” he said, adding that oil companies in the province can expect a call. “In many ways, we’re responding to their needs. So I think the short answer is yes. We’ll be going to our partners and saying look, we have this growth plan that has been broadly and widely supported. I order for us to be able to graduate more engineers and to grow our capacity, we’re going to need the space, and how can we work on this together as true partners?”

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel

Organizations: The Telegram, Sheraton, Double Vision

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Hebron

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