by Barbara Black
Senior administrators in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science
must have gone to their annual two-day retreat this week in a mood of
satisfaction. A decade after the 1992 Fabrikant tragedy, the faculty has
been thoroughly renewed, with so many positive changes that its profile
and mood are almost unrecognizable.
One of the most striking examples is the unprecedented number of PhD students.
There are now 250, which is a record for Concordias engineering
school, and this number may reach 300 next year. According to Georgios
Vatistas, Associate Dean (Graduate Programs, Research), this was the happy
result of careful planning and a long-term vision, for which he gives
credit to Dean Nabil Esmail.
He could see the whole picture, Vatistas said enthusiastically.
He could see that the way to rebuild was to enhance our academic
It was a bottom-up process that started with a push to increase undergraduate
enrolment, which has almost doubled over the decade, to 3,799. Not only
did the higher enrolment increase revenue by increasing the per-student
operating grant, but it planted seeds for the future. Vatistas calls this
cohort the incubator; from their ranks will come many of ENCSs
masters students, and ultimately, their doctoral students.
The best U.S. engineering schools are made up of about half undergraduates,
half graduate students, and ENCS is coming close to that ideal, with 37
per cent of its total enrolment in graduate programs, based on a head-count.
Improving the academic profile includes a renewal of the curriculum. Dean
Esmail chose to focus on information technology, a popular choice for
the times and a priority for the Quebec government. IT, including the
first software program of its kind, became an interdisciplinary focal
point around which much of the faculty renewal would be based.
In addition, the influx of new professors served to enrich the curriculum,
particularly at the graduate level. It was very important that the
new hires fit with the blueprint, with the academic vision, Vatistas
recalled. The new people were handpicked by excellent committees,
and the dean insisted that they be both good researchers and good educators.
They didnt have to have a history of NSERC grants, he added, but
they had to have that potential. We knew we would have to help them
in the begnning with start-up grants, and the dean found the money.
New researchers need new equipment, and thats where the plans for
the new high-rise engineering complex come in. Despite the size of the
building 16 storeys there are virtually no undergraduate
classrooms in the building now under construction at Guy and Ste. Catherine
Sts. Instead, it is filled with state-of-the-art research facilities and
spaces for graduate students to meet and work on projects. Undergraduate
classes will be conducted in the renovated Hall Building.
Integrated renewal also included redesigning the academic substructure
chairs and academic advisors who are key to keeping everyone
focused on the same goals.
Vatistas, who had been Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in the early
90s, was brought back to the Faculty as Associate Dean, responsible
for graduate students and research. He undertook a study of the existing
situation for graduate students, and discovered that many of them were
in dire financial straits, having to take outside work that cut into the
quality of their academic work.
Dean Esmail suggested that we top up their income to $17,500 a year,
mainly by providing more financial support to their supervisors
research projects, which would trickle down to them, and make us more
competitive, Vatistas said. He also made personal contact with the
graduate students, to make sure they felt valued and were coping with
their financial constraints.
Among the new faculty, Vatistas said, he and the dean identified leaders,
young professors who show potential as academic administrators.
We have to empower them by giving them the opportunity to make decisions
that conform to the overall vision, Vatistas said. By doing
so, we are starting the process towards the transformation of the culture
inside the Faculty. After all, these are the people that will take the
helm of the Faculty, and it is logical that the transition is as smooth
Some of the senior new faculty members were attracted from other institutions,
Vatistas said with a smile, like Professor Rachida Dssouli, of Electrical
and Computer Engineering, and others like Paula Wood-Adams, of Mechanical
and Industrial Engineering.
Vatistas said that theres also been a seachange in what is expected
of full-time faculty members. They should be teaching the fundamental
courses, he said. I do that myself, partly because its
challenging, and partly because you want them to soar like an eagle, not
peck like a chicken. If you give them a good grounding, some of them will
go on to become graduate students, and the others will be ready to be
among the select few in industry.
We will always need part-time faculty, he added, because they bring the
real-world dimension that students need, but full-time faculty are the
core of the educational process.
We feel we are doing that now producing leaders in the form
of well-rounded, knowledgeable graduates. And part of the reason is the
emphasis we have put on bridges to industry. Innovations like CIADI (the
Concordia Institute for Aerospace Design and Innovation), CIISE (Concor-dia
Institute of Informatio Systems Engineering) and the CRIAQ (Consortium
Research Industrial Aerospace Québec) not only save industry money
by training students in the workplace, but they save the university money
by providing specialized facilities, and give researchers and their graduate
students the chance to work on real R & D projects.
Vatistas added that interdisciplinarity is the key to university education
in this new century. For engineering education at Concordia, the challenge
will be to extend that drive beyond information technology and into the
pure sciences physics, mathematics, chemistry and biology
where it can produce some exciting applications for society at large.