From campus to consumer: rewarding ideas with winning potential


$2-million gift from William Seath supports university-industry collaboration and entrepreneurship

As one of the world’s great research-intensive universities, McGill serves as an important incubator of innovation. But as is the case with many post-secondary institutions, limited resources have sometimes hampered the University’s ability to take new technologies and discoveries from the lab to the commercial market.

A $2-million endowed gift from graduate William Seath, BEng’52, will now allow McGill’s Faculty of Engineering to place greater emphasis on the “development” aspect of research and development, and take far-reaching initiatives to foster deeper knowledge, encourage entrepreneurial start-ups, increase industry partnerships, and advance the Quebec and Canadian economies.

The new William and Rhea Seath Awards in Engineering Innovation will support and recognize annually two outstanding individuals in the Faculty of Engineering ─ either undergraduate students, graduate students or professors ─ who are conducting groundbreaking research with the potential for entrepreneurship.

Another portion of the gift will be used to support a full-time Industrial Research Development and Engagement Officer in the Faculty of Engineering. This new position will form the basis of the new Innovations Catalyst in Engineering hub, which will promote the commercialization of cutting-edge research; forge stronger bonds with industry; administer the William and Rhea Seath Awards and mentor students; generate industrial research contracts for McGill; and help researchers develop new spin-off companies based on their intellectual work.

“I wanted my gift to benefit not only McGill, but also industry and the economy,” says Seath. “It is my hope that this support will provide the University with the resources to spark new discoveries and then apply this knowledge in concrete ways, rather than simply doing science for the sake of science.”

The much-needed philanthropic injection comes just weeks after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged to make innovation a key element in the upcoming federal budget. The country is currently a “D” performer and ranks 14th among 17 OECD member nations when it comes to innovation, according to studies conducted by the Conference Board of Canada.

Professor Andrew Kirk, Interim Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, says the gift will spark a culture change that is critically important to McGill’s future. “It will enable us to be proactive in establishing industry-university partnerships; assist in generating revenue and encourage and nurture innovation among students and professors alike. It will also serve students as a path for employment and, most importantly, spark a culture change that is critically important to McGill Engineering’s future.”

An aviation engineer by trade, Seath spent his entire 39-year career with Pratt & Whitney Canada, the country’s largest designer and manufacturer of gas turbine engines. He retired as vice-president in 1991 and currently lives in Kingston, Ont. His wife, Rhea, passed away in 2006 and the initiatives are meant in part as a tribute to her.

Seath’s reason for choosing to invest in McGill is simple: “Without my McGill engineering degree, I don’t know what I would have done with my life,” he says.

McGill Principal and Vice-Chancellor Heather Munroe-Blum praised Seath for his unwavering dedication to his alma mater. “McGill is fortunate to have donors like William Seath who possess the foresight to encourage and empower our students and professors to drive research, discovery and commercialization,” she says. “His visionary investment will ensure that our University can further work with industry to eliminate barriers to successful knowledge exchange and ensure that innovation is promoted, for the benefit of all Quebecers and Canadians.”

This latest gift adds to the momentum of Campaign McGill: History in the Making, which is raising the funds needed to attract and retain top students and faculty, increase access to quality education, and ensure that McGill remains one of the world’s great research-intensive and student-centred universities.

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