Alumnus-donor gives next gen engineers a boost

Faculty of Engineering
University of Ottawa student Matt Sehri beside a model of an aircraft, holding its wing. University of Ottawa student Sarah Horton sits on a stool, smiling and holding a motor and a curved robotic limb.
The University’s focus on experiential learning is gaining strength. Engineering alumnus John McEntyre’s generous $1.5 million gift will provide mentoring, new technology and equipment for the Project Integration and Team Space.
One man wearing safety goggles is leaning over a vise while a second man works on the tubular body of a car, which is painted with shark’s teeth and an eye. Pliers and screwdrivers are on racks on a back wall of the workshop and a laptop computer is open

By Mike Foster

Among those benefiting from hands-on learning at the University of Ottawa are engineering students pushing the boundaries of bionics, robotics, rocketry and automotive fuel efficiency.

Their prototype projects inspired former electrical engineer John McEntyre to support the Project Integration and Team Space (PITS), a testing facility, with a generous $1.5 million gift. His gift will provide student teams with direct support, mentoring, new technology and equipment.

McEntyre said that after attending a design project exhibition at the Faculty of Engineering last year, he was impressed with projects like an ultra-efficient electric car and a concrete toboggan. The PITS, located next to the Brunsfield Centre at the Lees campus, provides a collaborative space where engineering students learn by doing.

“To me it sounded like a great way to develop students into engineers. These are things we didn’t have when I was a student,” McEntyre said.

After receiving a bachelor’s (’65) and a master’s (’69) in electrical engineering from the University of Ottawa, McEntyre enjoyed a successful career at IBM and Bell Northern Labs. He also wrote operating system and communications software for Honeywell and later joined Nortel Networks.

“When I graduated there was no such thing as computer science. The data processing industry was booming and they hired electrical engineers,” McEntyre said. “I was on the cusp of the evolution of technology in computers. I was there at the cutting edge.”

During his graduate studies, McEntyre  taught several classes at the computing centre. Early in his career, he worked in Iran, at the time of the 1978–79 revolution, followed by jobs in Ottawa, Mississauga and Silicon Valley. Today, McEntyre wants to support future generations of engineers.

“I hope they have as good a ride as I did in seeing the evolution of technology,” McEntyre said. “If I had known back when I graduated where innovation would be today, I never would have believed it. I suspect — and I wish upon this new generation of engineers — that they’ll see the same ride, the same great evolution of technology, to the extent that we’ll see things we hardly dare to dream about today.”

Students like Sarah Horton, captain of the uOttawa bionics team, and Matt Sehri, captain of the SAE Aerospace Club uOttawa, certainly appreciate the support. They are leaders of two of the 11 teams that use the PITS to get ready to test their innovations at pre-professional competitions. At the moment, the PITS serves mainly for storage, and students have to use machines, welding tools and lathes at the nearby Brunsfield Centre, which is shared with other engineering students. The PITS, which has been renamed the John McEntyre Team Space, will be moving to the ground floor of the brand new $115 million STEM Complex in September 2018.

“It can get a bit chaotic, so we’re looking forward to having more space,” said Sehri, who is leading a team building a remote control aircraft.

Horton and her team continue to work on a robotic rehabilitative exoskeleton, designed to help stroke patients gradually recover muscle movement.

The University’s focus on experiential learning is gaining strength. Three recent gifts have added more than $3 million to support hands-on learning.

In addition to McEntyre’s gift, experiential learning has also received $650,000 from Simon Nehme, a computer engineering alumnus and co-founder of Protus IP Solutions, to support three related projects: the Simon Nehme Summer School in Engineering Entrepreneurship, which aims to attract new students into the entrepreneurship ecosystem; the Simon Nehme Design Commons, which will offer pop-up spaces where students can brainstorm ideas; and the STEM Launching Entrepreneurs Program Fund, which supports students who have launched a business. Meanwhile, a $1 million anonymous gift will support a new Ventures Program in Arts and Social Sciences, designed to foster entrepreneurial thinking in the humanities, social sciences and fine arts.

With all this support, uOttawa students have new opportunities to bring their ideas to life.

In 2015, the University of Ottawa launched a major fundraising campaign. Defy the Conventional: The Campaign for uOttawa is raising funds to support priorities in every faculty. The campaign will help uOttawa recruit and retain top talent and enrich the student experience. Donations will also support innovative capital projects.