Queen’s University unveils $100 million donation to Faculty of Engineering, renames program Smith Engineering

Queen’s University Principal Patrick Deane (centre) is joined by representatives from the university to unveil a $100 million donation from Stephen J. R. Smith (right) for the newly renamed Stephen J.R. Smith Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Queen’s University. Photo by Dylan Chenier/Kingstonist.

Queen’s University has announced a major $100 million donation to its engineering program from Canadian financial services entrepreneur, philanthropist, and Queen’s alumnus Stephen J.R. Smith. The donation marks the largest-ever contribution to an engineering program in Canada, and one of the largest single donations to any university in the country. 

On Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, university officials joined Smith at an event inside Mitchell Hall, as Queen’s officially renamed its engineering faculty the Stephen J.R. Smith Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Queen’s University, or Smith Engineering. With the money from Smith, Queen’s will transform its engineering program, with a renewed focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education, in an effort to better prepare graduates to tackle the world’s leading challenges. 

“It’s such an ambitious and wonderful vision for engineering and STEM education here at Queen’s. It’s students who will feel the greatest impact of this over time, and I’m quite sure they will receive today’s announcement with the same pleasure we all do,” remarked Queen’s University Principal Patrick Deane. “It’s a vote of confidence,” he added, in reference to Smith’s generous and unprecedented contribution. 

Deane addresses the crowd at Mitchell Hall. Photo by Dylan Chenier/Kingstonist.

Deane said, “Mr Smith is an extraordinary friend of the university, and this is a gift that will have a very long-lasting, enduring impact on what we do here.” 

Smith graduated from Queen’s in 1972, earning a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in electrical engineering. After finishing the program, Smith eventually went on to become one of the country’s most successful financial entrepreneurs. As the Chairman and CEO of Smith Financial Corporation, Smith’s range of equity investments includes First National Financial Corporation, Canada Guaranty Mortgage Insurance Corporation, Fairstone Bank of Canada, Peloton Capital Management, and more. 

A successful entrepreneur and philanthropist, Smith has been a long-time supporter of Queen’s University and its various departments. In 2015, Smith donated $50 million to the then Queen’s School of Business, which was renamed the Smith School of Business that same year. According to the university, that donation helped the school advance the reputation of its business program in Canada and around the world. Over the past eight years, the Smith School of Business has attracted top students and faculty and has achieved significant honours, including a top 75 in the Financial Times Global MBA ranking list. 

As for how the contribution today will help the school transform its engineering program, Deane confirmed the money will go toward hiring more faculty, supporting multidisciplinary research, and giving staff and students the resources they need to tackle today’s leading issues. “It’s mostly more faculty and a shift in pedagogy. What it implies is a movement away from a highly technical focus on engineering education, which must always be there, but it broadens that to contextualize that education in a kind of humanistic way. It’s premised on the notion that engineers can address these great global problems,” he noted. 

Dean Kevin Deluzio speaks to the significant contribution from Smith. Photo by Dylan Chenier/Kingstonist

Smith Engineering Dean Kevin Deluzio noted the significance of Smith’s contribution and what it will allow his program to do moving forward. “I see this as the most significant transformation in engineering that’s ever happened at Queen’s, and perhaps in Canada,” he said. As for how the engineering program will move forward in light of this transformation, Deluzio confirmed the program will focus on pressing issues such as climate change and sustainability, with an eye toward more opportunities for multidisciplinary research. 

Contemporary research on engineering education shows students require a combination of technological skills and an understanding of the social implications of their work. According to Deluzio, this mindset is already built into the engineering curriculum at Queen’s, with Smith’s donation allowing the program to expand on those existing efforts. “We do this wonderful course where we have students from mechanical engineering working together with occupational therapy students, designing an assistive device for a member of the community. It’s a perfect example of multidisciplinary learning that has an impact on the community [through] a problem-based design,” he explained. 

“Rather than that being an isolated incident, because of this gift we now have the resources to deliver this kind of experience, at scale,” Deluzio said of the multidisciplinary implications of Smith’s $100 million contribution. 

The excitement from Queen’s faculty and staff was shared by engineering students, including Aidan Shimizu, president of the school’s Engineering Society. Shimizu called the donation “inspiring… especially the fact that Stephen is an engineering alumnus. It’s really just showing us what we can accomplish in life… To know that he was here at one point, in our exact same shoes, is so strong.” 

As someone with a background in engineering who now works in finance, Shimizu noted Smith’s own journey shows students that a wide range of possibilities exist after their time at Queen’s. “Stephen’s working outside of the engineering sphere, and it’s great to see the ability that we have, and the skills that we gain, to be able to go outside of our typical engineering sphere.” 

With Smith’s contribution marking the biggest one-time donation to any university engineering program in Canadian history, the entrepreneur and philanthropist explained what inspired him to provide the engineering program at Queen’s with such a generous gift. “I’ve been very fortunate in my life, and I think it’s really important to give back. I believe in education. I, like most Canadians, had the benefit of a great primary, secondary, and post-secondary education. As a Queen’s grad, I really felt that I wanted to give back to education and I wanted to give back to engineering,” he noted. 

Smith said that an increased focus on STEM education was something he felt encouraged to support at Queen’s. “I see STEM education as a way to address society’s big problems,” he stated. “Engineers, with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, are trying to deal with the problems that are facing society, whether it be climate change or broader ESG [Environmental, Social, and Governance] issues. [This is] something I felt I could advance by advancing education here in the faculty of engineering.” 

Smith referred to a meeting he had with Principal Deane and Dean Deluzio, where the two provided him with a vision for the program’s transformation. “They had a proposal of what they could do to transform education here at Queen’s and the faculty of engineering, [bringing it to] a whole new level. They gave me a proposal; I said, ‘I see that, I support that, let’s go.’” 

Besides his success as a financial entrepreneur, Smith is one of Canada’s leading philanthropists, supporting not only education but also arts and culture. 

Along with the funding and renaming announcement, Queen’s officials unveiled new branding for Smith Engineering, including a new logo, which features three “building blocks” representing the “layered challenges and diverse solutions” engineers encounter on a daily basis.

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