Mohawk dean touts applied research as ‘rich experience’ for students
Mohawk wants to be among the top 10 Canadian colleges for applied research activity by 2021, and it is Gina Funicelli’s job to help them get there.
While the college ranks among Canada’s 20 best in this category, as new dean of applied research — she took over the post in May — Funicelli has big plans for bringing it up to the “next level.”
The Spectator spoke with Funicelli about her path to Mohawk, goals for the college and why these opportunities are important for students.
What brought you to Mohawk?
I started my career in Montreal and spent a long time in industry. I then moved to Nova Scotia and spent another 10 years on a university campus working with industry to commercialize ideas. I became a dean in Alberta three years ago at Lethbridge College, and I really liked the community college environment. It’s much closer to industry; it’s an applied version of research, which means we solve problems through research. So when this opportunity came up here at Mohawk with a college that is far larger and is also in an environment which is economically well positioned to create that impact in a significant way — that was very attractive to me.
What are your goals?
You may have read the statement our president made about us becoming one of the top 10 colleges in the country for applied research in 2021, so that’s definitely part of the vision I endeavour every day to achieve. But it’s so much more than that. For me, working back from a statement like that is really looking at, strategically, what kind of strength areas should we build or create new that serve not only to help the industry and the community but also the students in terms of developing the right skills for them to be successful when they leave and get hired by industry partners. Applied research for me is a significant mechanism to that end. It’s not something on the side, it’s not something that a few people get involved in. My intention is to knit applied research throughout the college activities. Of course, there’s always additional projects that students can get involved in, but if we manage to integrate it in all of the areas of the college it makes it far more accessible.
Which students do you work with in applied research?
One is our digital health centre, where they are developing platforms to make information more accessible to Canadians but also professionals that support the health system. The other area is manufacturing. We have a great lab here with a lot of 3D printing equipment and technology. I think that there’s a lot more that we could be doing there and looking at ways we could grow that sector. The third one is in energy. We have strength areas there in power supply, power access and creating efficiencies around that and also alternative energy, so smartphones and the power related to running a building at our Stoney Creek campus.
What are some examples of the types of projects students might find themselves working on?
We have a wind turbine project, for example, that involves a class of students. Those are really wonderful programs for students. They’re part of the student curriculum, so it’s not something that we necessarily have to create and make optional but they could be a formal part of the learning experience.
Why is applied research so important for students?
I believe that applied research offers a more rich experience for students because it involves real world problem solving, which is what they’re going to be doing when they get hired in the labour force. Some people arguably would say applied research teaches you how to think, not just what to think. It can even lead some students to become entrepreneurs. Also, it gives back. It’s a great way to help community and industry partners overcome challenges.
Industry partners looking to get involved can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Gina Funicelli, dean of applied research at Mohawk College.