Mo­hawk dean touts ap­plied re­search as ‘rich ex­pe­ri­ence’ for stu­dents

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - NATALIE PAD­DON npad­don@thes­pec.com 905-526-2420 | @NatatTheSpec

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 idea­works@mo­hawk­col­lege.ca.

This in­ter­view has been edited and con­densed.

Gina Fu­ni­celli, dean of ap­plied re­search at Mo­hawk Col­lege.

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