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Jin Lee

Big Ideas: Investing in the FutureJune 5, 2018

macLAB Fund Supports Leading-Edge Facilities

About 20 years ago, Janet Loebach had a $4 million idea.

Of course at the time, it looked more like a $50 idea. As in, collect $50 a year from each engineering student to build a fund aimed at maintaining the faculty’s undergraduate labs, computers and equipment.

Loebach, a Civil Engineering and Society alumna ('97), had heard about another university setting up an endowment fund, and thought it was a good plan.

So as MES president in 1997, she decided to champion the idea of the McMaster Laboratory Advancement Benefaction Endowment Fund – or what has become known as the macLAB Fund.

It was a vision that engineering students supported overwhelmingly in a student referendum.

“I think we all recognized the difficulty in keeping lab facilities up-to-date, but also how valuable it was to have exposure to the latest in methods and techniques,” Loebach says.

Two decades later, the impact of the voluntary $50 annual contribution is undeniable. The balance in the macLAB fund sits at about $4.2 million. Interest earned on that money has paid for more than $1 million in investments in engineering labs and equipment through the years.


Every year the endowment committee – made up of students, faculty, staff and alumni – reviews funding requests and hands out grants to support a wide range of projects across the departments.

Recent years have seen annual disbursements of about $100,000, with money used to pay for everything from computers, mounting presses and milling machines, to spectrophotometers, 3D printers and oscilloscopes.

Loebach, who went on to earn a master’s and PhD in environmental design and now works as a consultant in southwestern Ontario, is pleasantly astonished by the impact her idea has had on the university.

“It’s a little surreal to see how much it has grown and how much money has been dispersed,” she admits.

She lays much of the credit for the triumph of her vision at the feet of student leaders and faculty proponents, who nurtured the macLAB fund during its vulnerable early years after she and her team had graduated and left McMaster.

“I’m so pleased that everyone saw the value and was willing to put their money toward making it a success,” she says modestly.

It was a big idea that imagined what could happen if everyone made a small donation. And in honour of that vision, Loebach sends her alumni contribution to the macLAB fund each year.