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It's quite a leap from being Mayor of Baie d'Urfé to helping the world's poor fight pollution and disease, but McGill alumnus Lars Firing has followed that road with his support for work underway in the McGill Faculty of Engineering.
The Lars and Alberta Firing Graduate Fellowships in Engineering, named for Mr. Firing and his late wife, will support interdisciplinary teaching and research that will impact the poorest citizens of the developing world— informing everything from the search for new bio-responsive drugs to finding cost-effective ways to clean contaminated eco-systems to developing plant-based fuels.
Mr. Firing, himself an Engineering grad (BEng. 1950 and Dip. Mgmt. 1955), has given McGill $500,000—and pledged $500,000 more in the form of a bequest—to help equip a new generation of socially conscious engineers dedicated to improving living and working conditions in poor nations around the globe.
"Technology will never solve all of mankind's problems, and it's clear that some western technologies don't address the reality of life in the Global South," he said, "but many technological advances are helpful for developing countries because they can often mean the difference between life and death."
Engineering Dean Christophe Pierre shares Mr. Firing's concern about the need for selectivity and good judgment in choosing which technologies work best in developing countries, but is optimistic that the Firing Fellowships will help his faculty recruit and educate top-calibre students who are willing to focus their research on solving problems that slow social and economic growth in poorer nations.
"Governments, the private sector and non-governmental organizations all need engineering professionals to provide things like water purification, cheap energy and affordable housing for the world's poor," said Dean Pierre. "We will provide our Firing Fellows with a value-added dimension that they likely will not find at other engineering schools."
For example, the Firing Fellowships could help poorer nations use locally available products to manufacture vaccines and medications at levels and rates more comparable to those in North America.
The first Firing Fellowship will be awarded in September 2007. The recipient will receive approximately $25,000 over two years.
Currently residing in Vineland, Ont., the Montreal-born Mr. Firing formed Firing Industries Ltd. in 1973 to engineer and market chemical and food processing equipment for Canadian industry, before becoming active in municipal politics on Montreal's West Island.