Dean Chambers remembers what it was like to be an undergraduate preparing for a career. “I was lucky to get some great summer jobs,” he recalls. “It really helped me hit the ground running.”
He graduated in 1978 with his degree in chemical engineering and management — and went on to a 35-year career as a senior executive in the chemical, mining and metals industries.
Now a corporate director and consultant, Chambers decided he wanted to give students a leg-up on their own future careers. “I’m a big believer in experiential learning,” he says. He’s also a believer in providing undergraduates with hands-on industry experience.
In early 2016, he created the Chambers Experiential Learning and Discovery Fund. Each summer since, the fund has provided an engineering undergraduate with a paid summer research placement that includes an industry component. “The idea is to help promising students develop career-ready skills,” says Chambers.
To date, four undergraduates — and four faculty members — have benefited.
This year’s faculty supervisor was Todd Hoare, a professor in the department of chemical engineering and Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Engineered Smart Materials.
“This research opportunity is quite competitive,” says Hoare, who received his PhD from Mac in 2006 and came on faculty in 2008. “It’s unique because it combines rigorous academic research with some great industry experience.” Hoare notes the Chambers research placement is a good fit for his lab, which frequently collaborates with industrial partners.
This year’s student was Chloe Dawson, now entering her fourth year in chemical engineering and bioengineering.
Dawson was supervised by post-doctoral fellows in Hoare’s lab — and by Kenneth Ng, an R&D scientist with Suncor Energy Inc. The four-month project tested new technology that could improve plant health in the fight against microbial pests.
Dawson presented their findings every month to stakeholders at Suncor and McMaster. She credits the experience with giving her the opportunity to be “in rooms full of brilliant people,” she says. In turn, this has encouraged her to think of her own aspirations. “I want to be one of those people!”
Her supervisor Ng commends Dawson for rising to the challenge. “She’s an excellent student, with the right kind of mind for research — a questioning attitude,” says Ng, who completed his BSc from Mac in 2008 and went on to a PhD at the University of Toronto.
Ng also commends Chambers for funding a research placement with both an academic and an industry component. “It’s a two-way street,” says Ng. “It’s important for Suncor to have a connection to academia in support of our agroscience team.”
“We are tremendously grateful to Dean for his leadership and his generous support,” says Ishwar Puri, dean of the Faculty of Engineering. Puri notes that a major focus of The Pivot — the Faculty’s new initiative to transform the undergraduate experience — is a commitment to providing students with more real-world experience. “Thanks to Dean for taking the lead to create this invaluable research experience.”
Chambers has also provided major support to the Gerald Hatch Centre for Engineering Experiential Learning. With his wife, Carol-Lynn, he funded the Chambers Academic Grant and they are annual supporters of the Chem-E-Car student club. In 2017, Chambers was named one of Mac Engineering’s Top 150 Alumni.
But back to this summer’s research project. Chambers asks Dawson and Ng: “What’s next?”
While the project was of necessity only four months long, Ng is confident the research is well underway. “Chloe was able to take the project much farther than expected,” he says.
As for Dawson, the summer placement has opened her eyes to “the combined mind-power” generated when academic researchers collaborate with industry professionals.
“I’m so grateful for this amazing experience,” she says. “This was an awesome summer job.”