Building Upon Alberta’s Foundation For
Science & Engineering Research
By Darrel Danyluk, P.Eng.
I was very pleased to find engineering and science at the front of the
line when the Alberta Legislature opened its spring sitting last month.
The first legislation introduced was a bill to establish the Alberta
Heritage Foundation for Science and Engineering Research (AHFSER). In
presenting Bill 1, Premier Ralph Klein said: "this bill puts in place
a $500-million endowment to enhance science and engineering research in
Alberta. Hopefully, it will keep the brightest and keenest scientific
minds right here in our province."
We had already heard some news about the foundation in a statement released
a few weeks earlier by the Premier and Alberta Innovation and Science
Minister Lorne Taylor. We were told AHFSER is to be modelled on the highly
successful Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR) initiated
20 years ago by the government to encourage medical research and innovation
in our province. AHFMR has been hugely effective in attracting and keeping
world-class medical researchers in Alberta. It also has supported innovation
and creativity leading to new medical and pharmaceutical products and
processes. These quite literally are giving people renewed or extended
life. AHFMR also has aided the formation of new Alberta companies adding
diversity and vitality to our economy. APEGGA members, particularly those
involved in the field of bio-engineering, have contributed to the successes
flowing from AHFMR.
Even in AHFSER’s absence, Alberta’s engineers and geoscientists have
accomplished much through private initiatives and financing, coupled with
support and insight coming from our first-rate universities, the Alberta
Research Council other public research bodies, and endowments.
We sometimes refer to funds that come from "public" sources
as "seed money". I’m not sure that’s the appropriate terminology.
Often the "seeds" are the innovative ideas that emerge from
bright minds, many of which we have in our midst in APEGGA. These "seeds"
then require the nurturing of financial backing to bring notions into
motion as working products or processes.
At times, agencies such as AHFSER are waiting for signs of a critical
mass of private- sector support -- seed money if you will -- before stepping
into the picture and backing an initiative.
In fact, we had had a recent example of just that happening in connection
with two new buildings (the Engineering Teaching and Learning Complex
and the Electrical and Computer Engineering Research Facility) going up
at the University of Alberta. Ground-breaking for these buildings occurred
last month. The new facilities are expected to help the U of A have one
of the largest engineering faculties in the country, and are being financed,
in part, through the province, the university and the Canadian Foundation
for Innovation (CFI). The latter is a not-for-profit organization set
up by the federal government three years ago to strengthen the capacity
for innovation in Canadian universities and research institutions. CFI
does so by providing funds for up to 40 per cent of project costs, if
matching funds are found.
The new construction at the U of A is proceeding in large measure because
of the generosity of private donors, notably that of a former President
of APEGGA, Gerry Maier, P.Eng., and his family. That has been matched
by a grant from TransCanada PipeLines, the firm with which Gerry has a
long association. A further contribution by an anonymous, private donor
helped convince CFI to support the U of A Engineering expansion. Appropriately,
Gerry’s gift is being recognized by naming part of the Engineering Teaching
and Learning Complex in his honour.
Among APEGGA members, Gerry is not alone in extending such generosity.
At the University of Calgary, Ted Rozsa, P.Geol., made a sizable contribution
allowing construction of the Rozsa Centre with its state-of-the-art recital
hall. The U of C also has obtained support to expand its Engineering infrastructure,
as highlighted by the
ground-breaking this month for a new Electrical, Computer and Software
Engineering, and Computer Science Building.
The U of C’s highly effective Associates Program in the Faculty of Engineering,
with which my immediate predecessor as APEGGA President, Dan Motyka, P.Eng.,
has played a pivotal role, has been instrumental in connecting "town
and gown". It has encouraged individual and corporation to give to
the university in the form of time and endowments to support teaching,
research and expanded facilities.
Private Sector Support
Using the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research as a guidelines,
every dollar that foundation invests in research draws $2 to $3 of support
from the private sector.
I see the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Science and Engineering Research
as very much consistent with the recommendations APEGGA made to the 1998
Growth Summit. Creation of the new foundation represents an endorsement
of what engineers and other Alberta scientists already have accomplished
but it also expresses confidence that we can and will contribute more
-- much more. I know we can. The new foundation augurs well for an even
brighter future for engineering and the geosciences in Alberta.