Businessman Stephen Smith donates $100-million to completely transform engineering education at Queen’s University

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Businessman Stephen Smith donates $100-million to completely transform engineering education at Queen’s University

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Toronto-based mostly entrepreneur Stephen Smith poses for a photograph in Toronto on, Wednesday Oct. 25, 2023. (Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail)Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Two many years in the past, financial companies billionaire Stephen Smith quietly approached Queen’s University’s engineering school with an offer you to donate $50-million, a present aimed at superior planning graduates to fix society’s most advanced problems.

Inside of months, Queen’s dean of engineering, Kevin Deluzio, came back again with a blueprint for a new curriculum, with extra faculty and engineering to attract major expertise, a new emphasis on interdisciplinary study and a beefed-up, year-prolonged internship method. Just one capture: The update would charge twice what Mr. Smith proposed providing. The pitch worked.

On Thursday, Mr. Smith introduced the biggest pledge at any time built to a domestic engineering college, a $100-million reward developed to boost his alma mater to the prime ranks of worldwide applications. Just eight decades ago, the 72-calendar year-old entrepreneur gave $50-million to what’s now the Kingston university’s Smith College of Company.

“Right now, we train engineers how to create a bridge,” Mr. Smith explained in an job interview. “We need to have to instruct them to believe about how that bridge impacts a local community, how it impacts the setting. That is a new strategy to studying.”

Queen’s accepts 850 engineering pupils each and every year, and it is among the the country’s most competitive applications. “This gift gives us the means to reimagine the complete engineering expertise,” Mr. Deluzio reported in an job interview. “It’s about transforming how we teach, so our graduates can change the world they dwell in.”

Throughout Canada, a handful of big donors this sort of as Mr. Smith are encouraging universities offer with a fiscal crunch. Government funding is mainly frozen, and the selection of graduates supplying back to their schools is dropping.

Because 2019, the amount of donors to postsecondary institutions fell by 4 for every cent, in accordance to a analyze posted in March by the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Instruction. Significantly less than 1 for each cent of all donors – 2,044 people and businesses – accounted for 84 per cent of new gifts.

For universities and colleges, the good news is that quite a few of these new donations were being large – 343 donors contributed $1-million or more. The CCAE study demonstrates the full amount of money of donor funding jumped to $1.5-billion last 12 months from $1.18-billion in 2019.

Mr. Smith’s family members – he and his wife, Diane Blake, have three grownup small children – resolved to make universities and colleges their philanthropic concentrate a lot more than a decade in the past, in portion simply because they saw a long-term lack of government funding for postsecondary education. Mr. Smith reported: “An expense in schooling is an expense in Canada’s foreseeable future.”

“My objective is to assist Queen’s build the country’s best engineering college – a person that is identified as among the ideal in the world,” explained Mr. Smith, who gained an electrical engineering degree from the faculty in 1972. His donation also reflects the executive’s fulfillment with his prior reward to the small business application, which he stated “has surpassed my superior anticipations.”

Wanda Costen, dean of Queen’s company university, stated cash from Mr. Smith and other donors authorized the university to retain the services of and retain investigation-concentrated school and grow to be an educational chief in the most competitive markets, including artificial intelligence and economic technologies.

“Because of Stephen’s assistance, Queen’s was a chief in fintech by becoming the initially in Canada to handle a hole in fintech education,” she reported. “Stephen’s gift remodeled the organization school.”

Mr. Smith’s donations to Queen’s are among the the major ever manufactured to a domestic university, as business owners maximize the dimensions of their presents to construct globally competitive establishments.

To day, the major donation was manufactured by James Temerty, founder of environmentally friendly energy pioneer Northland Power Inc., who gave $250-million to the College of Toronto in 2020 to fund the health care faculty that now bears his identify. The preceding yr, Onex Corp. founder Gerry Schwartz and Indigo Books and Tunes Inc. chief government officer Heather Reisman gave $100-million to U of T.

Other key donors consist of BlackBerry Ltd. co-founder Mike Lazaridis, who gave $123-million to the University of Waterloo, and Laidlaw Inc. founder Michael DeGroote, who gifted $105-million to McMaster University’s medical university. To cap a career in the oil patch, Geoffrey Cumming gave $100-million to the College of Calgary.

In return for his presents, Mr. Smith will have his name on both equally the engineering and small business faculties at Queen’s. A generation back again, business owners could rely on looking at their identify on a campus making after donating $20-million.

Mr. Smith’s wealth arrives from a profession of backing companies that lend to purchasers who, for 1 motive or a different, really don’t borrow from the huge banking companies. After a unsuccessful enterprise in real estate – the government talks brazenly about his battle with melancholy right after the business’s collapse – he designed stakes in two community providers. He owns an $800-million stake in mortgage loan company Initial Countrywide Money Corp. and a $440-million posture in EQB Inc., mother or father to Equitable Financial institution, the country’s eight biggest loan provider.

He is also a big shareholder in the privately held Canada Warranty Mortgage Insurance policy Co., one particular of the country’s most significant home finance loan insurers, and in two non-prime loan companies, Fairstone Bank of Canada and House Capital Group Inc., acquired previously this yr for $1.7-billion.

“Down the street, I expect to make a different considerable present. I have no idea what it will be,” Mr. Smith mentioned.