A Second Try at Retirement for BTech Prof

December 10, 2010

He first retired in 2004 after teaching at Mohawk College for 35 years.  But, very shortly after, he was called back to create a program for the rapidly growing field of process automation.  That effort would become one of the founding pieces of the new Bachelor of Technology (BTech) degree program launched by McMaster University and Mohawk College.

Now, at the age of 69, Ishwar Singh is set to retire a second time.  He is counting down his final days as associate director of Four-Year Bachelor of Technology Programs and chair, Process Automation, for the McMaster-Mohawk Bachelor of Technology Partnership this month.

“We’re all very grateful to you for staying around to show what the Bachelor of Technology program could give us,” said Tho Pham, a fourth-year BTech process automation student speaking on behalf of his fellow students.  “Ishwar has a way of pushing you beyond what you think you can do.”

Tho was speaking at a surprise retirement party organized for Prof. Singh by faculty, staff and students of the BTech program on December 7 at the University Club at McMaster.

“Ishwar was a standout in getting BTech up and running,” said David Wilkinson, dean, Faculty of Engineering at McMaster.  “He developed a good relationship with McMaster and helped to marry the best of what a university brings and a college brings into the program.  We owe him a debt of gratitude.”

After earning his B.Sc. and M.Sc in chemistry from Punjab University in India, and a Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii, Prof. Singh started his career at McMaster as a post-doctoral fellow in 1969.  He accepted a position as professor of chemical and environmental technology at Mohawk College later that year.

As the years progressed, Prof. Singh accepted greater responsibility at Mohawk.  In 1979 he was appointed coordinator of the Department of Chemistry for a three year term.  In 1984 he was named program manager, Engineering Technology, Continuing Education & Business Development, a post he held until 2002.  From 1987 to 2001, he added coordinator, Chemical and Environmental Technology to his responsibilities.  In 2001, he was appointed chair of both the Department of Electrotechnology and the Department of Chemical & Environmental Technology, which he held until his retirement in 2004.

In 2005, Prof. Singh was asked if he would continue establishing a new industrial process automation centre for Mohawk and work on a new joint project with McMaster. This led to discussions, initiated by Cheryl Jensen, current Academic Vice-President at Mohawk College, and Mo Elbestawi, now Vice-President of Research at McMaster, about the possibility of a dual degree / diploma program that would teach students through a combination of theory and hands-on experience.

McMaster was running a very successful Bachelor of Technology degree program in manufacturing at the time that allowed working technologists to come back to school and earn a university degree.  The Faculty of Engineering was interested in expanding the program to other fields as well as to graduating high-school students.

Art Heidebrecht, professor emeritus of civil engineering, past dean of Engineering, and former Provost at McMaster, was also coaxed out of retirement to help develop the new BTech program.  The two veterans worked together to lead the new initiative through their respective institutions.  The program was officially launched in 2006.

Today, in only four years, the BTech program boasts over 800 students, equally divided between the four-year undergraduate program and the degree-completion program for technologists and international professionals.


Ben Oliver
Ishwar Singh. (Photo: Jennifer Lucking)

“He was like a star quarterback,” said Alan Murray, executive director of the McMaster-Mohawk Bachelor of Technology Partnership.  “He could call plays, run with the ball, and make passes.  He moved the ball down the field to set us up for success.”

The first BTech intake of undergraduate students, through the process automation program, will be finishing this December and convocating in Spring, 2011.

“This is an outstanding group of students,” said Prof. Murray.  “Ishwar has helped guide a group of students who will go on to succeed and build their careers and become leaders in their own right.”

Specific achievements Prof. Singh was noted for was the establishment of the process automation program; assisting with the creation of the automotive and vehicle technology and the biotechnology streams; recruiting and training new faculty members; and, setting up the labs and moving BTech into the new Engineering Technology Building.

“I have many fond memories of us working together to get the program going,” recalled Prof. Heidebrecht in a video appearance, gracefully avoiding mention of the many hours the two toiled with their colleagues and staff to develop course curriculums, establish teaching facilities, and map out funding sources.

Staff also expressed their appreciation of being able to work with Prof. Singh.  Grace Ferracuti, program administrator of the four-year program, authored a thoughtful and moving poem about Prof. Singh which she recited at the retirement party.

When it was his turn to speak, Prof. Singh began by acknowledging his students.

“The fourth-year students have been a gift to me,” he said.  “They have provided leadership and patience.  They will be wonderful employees and leaders in process automation, and in life.”

He also acknowledged his colleagues and staff in the BTech program, at Mohawk and at McMaster.

“Whatever we have accomplished, we have accomplished as a team,” he said.

Prof. Singh will not fully retire, however.  He has agreed to act in an advisory capacity to the BTech program one or two days a week as it adjusts to not having him aboard full-time.

And Prof. Singh has plans to pick up on a few hobbies put on hold the last few hectic years, such as reading, walking and music.  He also has volunteered as a judge in local science fairs, with the United Way, and with UNICEF. 

“Ishwar will be remembered as a leader, a teacher, a doer, and a problem-solver, but most of all as a person,” said Prof. Murray.  “He truly represents what is meant by a scholar and a gentleman.”

It is only fitting that the last word goes to Prof. Singh who summarized his more than 40 year career in Hamilton this way:

“I started my career at McMaster and then moved to a position with Mohawk.  I am so happy to be ending my career with the joint McMaster-Mohawk program.”

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