Dean Ken Coley’s one-year reflection
Western Engineering News | June 18, 2020
It’s hard to believe that I’ve officially reached the one-year mark at Western Engineering. The entire Western community has been incredibly welcoming, and the staff, faculty, students, alumni and external partners have all contributed to making me feel supported in my new role. Although I confess, enough has happened this year that it may be no longer fair to call it new.
In my earlier days as Dean, I made it my mission to get to know as many people as possible. I held weekly lunches with faculty and staff, attended many visits with external partners, and had numerous visits with alumni. To my mind, getting to know the people is the most important pursuit of a new Dean, especially one who joined from outside the University. In all honesty, it hardly feels like work, and I’ve genuinely had a lot of fun throughout the process.
With the good times, however, comes the hard times as well. That statement has been truer this year than any of us would have wished. Our community suffered immense tragedy through the deaths of four Western students who were aboard Ukraine International Flight PS752 – three of whom were Engineering graduate students. I was truly touched by how the Western community came together to mourn and support one another. Those moments will stay with me forever.
Only a couple of months later, we were hit hard with the effects of COVID-19. While this has been a time of frustration and uncertainty for all, I am extremely impressed with the Faculty’s resilience and commitment to band together and get things done. All of our people have worked tirelessly, and I am confident we are in the best shape possible for a strong, albeit different, 2020/21 academic year.
COVID-19 has delayed some of the Faculty’s strategic planning efforts, however, we have not let it stop us. During the month of June, Western Engineering organized a four-part virtual retreat for all faculty and staff to help refine our priorities and plant the seeds of a shared vision. For me, this retreat has been an inspiring activity, and the level of engagement has been higher than I would ever have expected. This is just the start; I will be reaching out over the next year for help in refining a robust strategic plan that will serve us well for the next five to ten years.
Western Engineering has had much to celebrate over the last year. Noteworthy achievements include: the Amit Chakma Engineering Building officially receiving LEED Platinum certification, making it only the third academic building in Canada to achieve that level; the launching of both the WesternWater Centre and the John M. Thompson Centre for Engineering Leadership and Innovation, helping to revolutionize engineering education and research; the recent celebration of the outstanding achievements of several members of our faculty, staff and alumni; and President of Zibi Canada Jeff Westeinde, BESc’89, PEng, and Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor and NSERC/UNENE Senior Industrial Research Chair Jing Jiang both earned 2020 OPEA medals.
We’ve seen several student successes this year, including members of the Western Engineering Toboggan Team (WETT) placing third overall in the 46th annual Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race; Civil and Environmental Engineering PhD candidate Taryn Fournie winning Western's 2020 3MT competition, competing against graduate students across campus; and the Western chapter of Engineers in Action are set to help build their third footbridge in Bolivia as soon as circumstances allow.
I want to also recognize the incredible resilience I’ve seen among our students during these unprecedented times. Teams and clubs found ways to push forward despite cancelled competitions or shows, and students adapted well to the transition to online learning as they finished off their term.
I am excited to announce that we have introduced a new Bachelor of Engineering Science with Co-Op Program, effective September 2020. We feel this will help us to attract the best and the brightest students while encouraging experiential learning during their undergraduate career. Another point of pride for our experiential learning portfolio is that a record number of undergraduate students are participating in a summer research experience, all virtual. I hope to build on this next summer when our laboratory-based research should be back on stream. This year’s success was made possible by the willingness of several of our donors to repurpose their awards to help support these students. Thank you for your generosity.
Looking ahead to the fall term, the health and safety of our campus community is our top priority. Western anticipates that between 25-30 per cent of courses will have an on-campus experience, with physical distancing requirements reducing the capacity on campus. I again express my gratitude to our faculty and staff for their willingness to step up and do what it takes to ensure our students have a high-quality experience.
While my first year with Western Engineering has been one of the most challenging periods of my academic career, the experience has been nothing short of spectacular. The efforts put forth by all faculty, staff, students and alumni have made my first year deeply satisfying and at times exhilarating. I cannot thank you enough for all your continued strength and support.
Dean, Western Engineering