Building up for hi-tech

Building up for hi-tech McGill University

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McGill Reporter
October 19, 2000 - Volume 33 Number 04
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 33: 2000-2001 > October 19, 2000 > Building up for hi-tech

Building up for hi-tech

Surging demand for information technology professionals across North America is about to get some welcome relief from McGill. The University has announced it will soon build a new facility to help boost student enrolment in several IT and engineering disciplines.

At a press conference yesterday, Principal Bernard Shapiro revealed that alumnus Lorne M. Trottier is contributing $5 million in personal funds to spearhead the construction of a new $17 million facility on University Street that will be named the Lorne M. Trottier Building.

If McGill raises another $7 million in community and industry donations, Trottier has pledged to follow-up his gift with another $5 million towards the building that will bear his name.

"By making this personal gift," said Shapiro, "Lorne Trottier is helping McGill fulfil its obligation to be at the forefront of knowledge.

A two-time McGill engineering graduate himself (B.Eng. '70, M.Eng. '73), Trottier is co-founder of Matrox Electronic Systems Ltd. and president of Matrox Graphics Inc., a privately held Montreal-based graphic chip designer and imaging hardware and software manufacturer that employs 1,200 people around the world and recorded $900 million in sales last year.

The 52-year-old is also on the board of Technovision, a consortium of Quebec's industries which last year voiced alarm over the need for Quebec to train more specialists to staff the economy's expanding IT sector.

Those professional ties, said Trottier, were what persuaded him to dig so deeply into his own pockets to help his alma mater. As president of Matrox, for instance, he's seen first-hand how the lack of qualified IT specialists has limited his company's growth. And as a member of McGill's Engineering Faculty Advisory Board, Trottier has "watched with dismay as the faculty has gone through budget cuts and loss of staff even as demand for new engineers has been accelerating."

Currently, according to the provincial government's conservative estimates, McGill is under-spaced by 20 percent for its computer and other engineering programs. That lack of space, said Dean of Engineering John Gruzleski, has only worsened with the new economy's urgent need for more tech-savvy engineers.

"Because of our lack of space, right now, it's tougher to get accepted in computer engineering than it is in medicine," he said, adding that the program requires an 88 percent admittance average, while many medical programs request an average of about 86 percent. "That cuts off many qualified students."

Last spring, for instance, Gruzleski pointed out, 496 people were vying for 85 places in computer engineering. "We were forced to refuse over 400 applicants, the large majority of whom could most likely succeed in the program if we were able to admit them," Gruzleski said.

Construction of the Trottier Building, he added, "will allow us to double our number of computer engineering [and other IT] students."

Other hot McGill programs that stand to increase their student numbers because of the new building include electrical engineering, computer science and telecommunications.

What's more, since the Trottier Building's core vocation will be as a teaching facility, the added space will permit McGill to launch new degree programs in microelectronics engineering and in software engineering.

The building will be constructed on the north-east side of the University's downtown campus and will feature six floors of advanced teaching laboratories and interactive learning rooms. It will also house new experimental spaces with teaching and research applications for disciplines including pharmacology, medicine and aerospace science.

Since the Trottier building will be at the heart of McGill's newly christened Tech-Square, administrators expect it will encourage a cross-fertilization between several high-tech programs. The Tech-Square encompasses the Rutherford Physics Building, the Wong Building, a materials science and engineering centre, the new facilities dedicated to the Montreal Genome Centre and the newly created McGill Bioinformatics Centre, announced last spring.

Dean of Science Alan Shaver said the Trottier Building will allow McGill to delve deeper in IT applications and contribute to Canada's global competitiveness in the sector. Shaver also hopes, "that Lorne Trottier's gift will set an example for leaders of business, government and academia to follow suit."

Trottier, too, hopes his gift will inspire others to follow his lead and contribute the remaining funds need to complete his the building. To the many Canadians who have made fortunes from booming IT stocks, he said, "it is time that more of us return our debt to society by investing some of our gains in science, technology and education."

The following is supplemental information and statistics on IT professionals provided by the Software Human Resources Council (SHRC) and Technovision: IT hardware and software engineers are the skilled practitioners who design, build, operate and maintain: aircraft guidance systems, satellite and cable broadcasting networks, supercomputers, telecommunications networks, medical diagnostic and information systems, e-commerce systems and multimedia or entertainment products.

  • It is estimated that the supply of university-trained IT professionals is short by 30 percent in Montreal;
  • Across Canada, the current shortfall of IT specialists is close to 50,000 positions;
  • The Canadian shortage is forecast to balloon to 500,000 positions by 2010;
  • It is predicted that the European Union will also face a vacuum of IT professionals by 2004: about 200,000 positions;
  • Core IT professions include: computer engineering, computer science, telecommunications, software engineering, micro-electronics, bio-informatics and nanotechnology.

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