[Pierre Lassonde] Mining entrepreneur’s university donation digging for ‘renaissance engineers’ – by James Bradshaw (Globe and Mail – November 1, 2011)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

“Canada’s natural resource is not our oil, it’s not
our minerals, it’s not our forests: It’s our young
people … If you try to compete against China on wages,
you’re gonna be a poor country. You’ve got to compete
on brains.” (Mining Entrepeneur – Pierre Lassonde)

When mining entrepreneur Pierre Lassonde announces a $25-million gift to York University on Tuesday, he’s hoping it will do more than build a new engineering school – he wants to help groom a generation of “renaissance engineers.”

It’s a term he credits to his late wife, who saw the engineer of the future not just as a problem solver or functionary builder, but a sort of modern Michelangelo – expert and agile in more than one discipline, but also eager to consider and communicate how engineering relates to matters of sustainability, health, safety and civil society.

“You are an engineer, but at the same time you are an artist and you have to be able to tell the world how what you’re doing is going to benefit the world,” Mr. Lassonde said, leaning across a boardroom table at the Toronto offices of the mining and energy royalty company Franco Nevada, where he is chairman.

Mr. Lassonde, 64, never studied at York but was swayed by Seymour Schulich, his long-time business partner and Franco Nevada co-founder, whose generosity has helped push York’s business school to prominence, and who recently promised a $100-million scholarship endowment for 20 universities in Canada and Israel.

“We made our money together, and here we’re going to go down in history together, I think, by creating something very special in engineering, entrepreneurship and business,” Mr. Lassonde said.

York has wanted a full-scale engineering school since 1963, yet still has only about 300 students in specialized programs such as geomatics engineering. Now it is spending $100-million, including Mr. Lassonde’s money and $50-million from the province, on a new faculty and building expected to hold 2,000 students by 2020.

Mr. Lassonde is hoping that York engineering will grow to be a leader in interdisciplinary learning and industry partnerships.

“I wouldn’t accept being second to anybody, and this is our aspiration,” said York president Mamdouh Shoukri, a former engineering dean.

Mr. Lassonde said he would hate to see graduates trained the way he was 40 years ago at École Polytechnique in Montreal, with a narrow focus on sciences and little or no exposure to business and economics, social and environmental concerns, or soft skills.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/giving/giving-news/mining-entrepreneurs-university-donation-digging-for-renaissance-engineers/article2220443/