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Dr. Joshua Leon

Dean, Faculty of Engineering


With experience as a professor and administrator at the University of Calgary, as well as Montreal’s École Polytechnique, Dr. Joshua Leon brings a student-centred approach to his role as dean of Dalhousie’s Faculty of Engineering. During his first term, Dr. Leon and Engineering’s Associate Dean Pemberton Cyrus spearheaded a thorough overhaul of engineering curricula, aimed at providing experiential learning that’s more relevant to today’s job market.

Beyond being the sort of dean who will chat with students when he runs into them in the hallways, Dr. Leon also aims to ensure students have opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom. Ultimately, he wants success for his students, whether their careers have them stay in Canada or take them further afield. Either way, he believes, what engineering graduates offer enhances not only the faculty’s reputation, but also Dalhousie’s.

Read Dr. Leon's full profile

In 2005, Dr. Joshua Leon left his position as head of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Calgary to become dean of Dalhousie’s Faculty of Engineering. The native of Charlottetown, P.E.I. was keen to return to the Maritimes, but he also recognized the Faculty’s strong reputation.

He’s not shy about lauding the Faculty’s strengths. “I think we’ve gotten even better – I’d even say we’re the best engineering school in Canada.”

“What makes us stand out is our focus on the practical side of engineering,” he explains. “We prepare students for the work world, wherever that may take them. We also pride ourselves on enabling students to work closely with industry – our programs are very heavily project-oriented.”

Though there had always been a hands-on aspect, Dr. Leon says that a “complete rebuild” of the curriculum three years ago increased the experiential learning component. Input from industry was key to making those changes. “They liked that our students are very hands on, practical people,” he says. “So we looked at how we could reinforce that. It’s now a fairly innovative program.”

Students’ hands-on experience is tallied in a way that appeals to industry. Dr. Leon notes that transcripts now provide “a competencies-based assessment – because we’ve moved to an outcomes-based approach, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the skillset our students have when they graduate.”

“And certainly our alumni are in extremely high demand, because they’re ready to go in and solve problems right on graduation day.”

One of Dr. Leon’s key concerns for the next couple of years is improving the facilities. “We need more space for our students,” he says. Not surprising, given the Faculty’s “tremendous” growth since he arrived: “The student body has grown by about 75 per cent over eight years, while the faculty has grown by 25 per cent in that time.”

Anticipating the need for space, the Innovation in Design in Engineering and Architecture (IDEA) building was proposed several years ago. “Now, we’re growing and in dire need of space.” To that end, Dr. Leon is eliciting external financial support for a new building. “Altogether, we’ve raised roughly $10 million,” he says, indicating the project needs still more funding.

Research is another facet Dr. Leon is keen to build. “Our target is to have 10 research chairs in place by January 2014. We also want to increase external funding by 10 per cent over the next few years.”

And it’s projects with industry that Dr. Leon believes can help boost Dal’s reputation. “We have good relationships with the industrial community. We provide support to about 100 companies in the region – anything from basic research to product development,” he says.

There are several notable examples, including Sunrise Foods, which asked the Faculty for help in developing an automated process for putting the plastic stick in their cheese and cracker packages. “Now they’ve got us working on automating placing the crackers.”

In broad terms, Dr. Leon measures the success of the faculty through “how happy staff and faculty are, and how happy students are in our programs, as well as our research productivity.”

“But the biggest measure is the students’ perception. I’d worry if many came in to complain they weren’t feeling supported.” But it seems there’s little to worry about: “On graduation day, I see a lot of happy students.”

Quick facts

  • Received his bachelor's, master's, and PhD degrees from Dalhousie
  • Research focuses on developing tools and techniques related to the electrical activity of the heart
  • A spinout company from his lab is considered the world leader in GPGPU (general-purpose computing on graphics processing units)