New Thompson Fellows help to reshape how we engineer the future

Left to right: Richard McDonald and Pat Horgan

Western Engineering News | January 31, 2019

The next generation of engineers requires not only the technical skillsets of their predecessors, but a broad set of additional skills necessary to navigate a complex world with expanding demands on the profession.

The John M. Thompson Chair in Engineering Leadership and Innovation, established through a generous $3-million gift from John M. and Melinda Thompson in 2013, works to address the expanding demands of today’s engineers and has transformed the overall Western Engineering student experience.

The inaugural Thompson Chair, held by Western Engineering and Ivey Business School professor Darren Meister, created a bridge that linked Western Engineering and Ivey by developing a Certificate in Engineering Leadership and Innovation.

In September 2018, the Certificate program grew into the Centre of Engineering Leadership and Innovation (CELI), building on years of success, and driving aspects of talent recruitment, curriculum development and student programming.

To aid in the Centre’s development and program integration, Meister recently appointed two inaugural Thompson Fellows – Pat Horgan, HBA’82, former VP Operations and Innovation at IBM; and Richard McDonald, UofT BSc’81, former IBM Distinguished Engineer.

“Pat and Richard bring a wealth of experience back to Western,” said Meister. “I am confident that their contributions will help CELI strengthen its role in shaping the future of engineering in Canada. Through the relationship with Ivey and the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership, Richard and Pat will move the needle on the debate about what leadership looks like in the age of AI.”

The Fellows will participate in numerous CELI initiatives with a focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI), such as giving presentations to faculty and students, assisting with case competitions and writing a white paper addressing opportunities to collaborate with engineering and business across campus.

“The demand for AI skills in the marketplace is exploding through industry and will eventually redefine all jobs,” said Horgan. “Canadian industries need people who can apply AI and are skilled in multiple disciplines including engineering, computer science, data science and business.”

“Western is well positioned to collaborate across campus to produce those skills,” adds McDonald. “We’re delighted to be here to help define the direction for Western.”

Gerard Seijts, Ivey Business School professor and Executive Director of the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership, is confident that Horgan and McDonald will help to open up dialogue and push boundaries.

“It is more important than ever that we develop leadership skills in the learners with whom we interact,” said Seijts. “We need to continue to teach our students those skills and capabilities that transcend industries, such as critical thinking, managing complexity and uncertainty, managing team potential, cross-disciplinary collaboration, grit, resiliency, listening, curiosity, and communicating persuasively among others.”

Establishing context is crucial in teaching as well, adds Seijts. There is still lots of work to be done in emerging fields such as AI, 5G networks and the advancement of autonomous vehicles. 

“As [distinguished scholar] Cathy Davidson once said, ‘Universities need to understand they are preparing students for a digital age, and not in the world of the Model T and the telegraph.’”