Governor General David Johnston stressed the value of student co-op programs and the building of trusting relationships between industry and universities in his visit to Dalhousie Wednesday, April 22.
The Queen’s representative in Canada made his remarks at a round-table discussion about how industry and universities can work together to foster a vibrant culture of innovation. Held at the Steele Ocean Sciences Building, the event brought together leaders from the government, military, university and private sector communities of Halifax.
“Our goal is to learn how we can unlock Halifax’s potential and create a great innovation ecosystem,” said Dalhousie president Richard Florizone.
The Governor General is uniquely qualified to speak to the issue. He is a former president of the University of Waterloo, an institution that has played an essential role in the success of the Waterloo Region Innovation Ecosystem. This thriving entrepreneurial environment includes companies such as Blackberry and OpenText.
The benefits of co-op
In his opening remarks and in the panel discussion that followed, the Governor General frequently emphasized how co-op opportunities allow students to gain valuable practical experience while helping them — and universities — build strong relationships with the business community.
“The growth of co-op programs is one of the most important developments in post-secondary education,” His Excellency said in his opening remarks. “If I was starting a university right now, every student would have a practical work experience in their program.”
He added that industry-university partnership requires “tight collaboration between people united for a common cause. You find common objectives and establish trust.”
The panel discussion, led by Vice-president Research Martha Crago, was based on four core questions. Among them was a query about how Dalhousie and other institutions can expand co-op and offer more practical experience to students.
“We need to focus on interdisciplinary opportunities,” suggested Braden Murphy, president of Atlantic Motor Labs and a graduate of Dalhousie’s mechanical engineering program. “Anything the university can do to expand co-op is beneficial to students and to the region.”
Opportunities to lead
Prior to the discussion, the Governor General received a tour of the CERC Ocean Laboratory from Doug Wallace, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Ocean Science and Technology. The tour was a fitting precursor to a conversation that returned often to the subject of oceans, as several members pointed to the sea as a potential core around which an innovation ecosystem could be built in Halifax.
“We have the expertise and the geographic proximity to the ocean, but what’s key for us is to define our vision,” said Wallace.
John Risley, president of Clearwater Fine Foods, Inc., echoed Wallace in his comments.
“Dal is already in a world-class position in ocean sciences, which is not to say we should be complacent.”
The Governor General acknowledged the strong prospects for ocean-based innovation, but added that Dalhousie and Nova Scotia could also take a leadership role in education, the military and research into aging, while maintaining its strength in educating professionals in fields like medicine and law.
Breaking down barriers
In response to a question about the barriers preventing partnerships between industry and Dalhousie, His Excellency advised the university to reach out to alumni who can make the benefits of collaboration clear to all parties. “Alumni are your greatest ambassadors.”
Other members of the panel pointed to the need to minimize bureaucracy in order to clear the path between university-based entrepreneurs and industry partners. The Governor General credited the University of Waterloo’s intellectual property policy, which allows faculty and students to retain ownership of their research, for removing one such roadblock to innovation in the Waterloo region. Dalhousie has an identical policy on intellectual property.
Dr. Florizone concluded the discussion on an optimistic note, citing the leadership of the panelists as one key reason to believe that Halifax can build a successful innovation ecosystem – and that Dalhousie can take on a central role.
“We know what knowledge can do,” he said. “There’s so much more we can do, but looking around this table, I know we can do it.”
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