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Planning wraps up under Phase 2 of Concordia’s strategic directions

Faculties, libraries and the School of Graduate Studies present innovative ideas that inspire
June 8, 2016
By Jake Brennan and Karen McCarthy

How can Concordia become a next-generation university?

This was one of the key questions facing the Faculties. Libraries and School of Graduate Studies when they began an extensive planning process last fall, as part of Phase 2 of the strategic directions initiative.

At the May 13 Senate meeting, each faculty dean, along with the dean of the School of Graduate Studies and the university librarian presented a summary of their planning efforts. In addition, Provost fellow Peter Stoett presented a plan for integrating sustainability into the university’s strategic directions.

Faculty of Arts and Science – Thinking Beyond

“We are thinking big,” said André Roy, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS). “We’re a huge and diverse faculty and we asked people who we are, and this starts with our identity.”

The faculty’s vision for its 27 academic units is to “think beyond” in order to “become a uniquely defined powerhouse of interdisciplinary teaching, learning and scholarship in Canada and beyond.”

Roy noted that FAS is a federation of foundational disciplines that generates fundamental knowledge and scholarship. This positions FAS — one of only five combined arts and science faculties in Canada — as a connected hub and an engine for interdisciplinary experimentation.

Realizing the faculty’s vision will involve providing incentives for change, experimenting with pilot projects, leveraging community partnerships and fostering their collaboration, finding alignment with international initiatives and increasing the faculty’s visibility, explained Roy.

There are a number of current and proposed projects that will support the faculty in a journey that is both exciting and inspiring, he said.

These include a mapping project that will seek to understand and leverage what the faculty already does well, the Curriculum Renewal project that will facilitate an in-depth review and revamping of students’ learning experiences, and the Beyond project that involves initiatives like new interdisciplinary program development and expanded international partnerships.

The linchpin for the faculty’s strategic initiatives will be a new PluriStudies Institute, which Roy sees as a platform for theme- or problem-driven inquiry, idea incubation, project coordination and broad interdisciplinary experimentation.

Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science: Inspiring a New Generation

According to Amir Asif, dean of Engineering and Computer Science, the faculty’s strategic plan is rooted in a vision to inspire a new generation of engineers and computer scientists by advancing integrated technologies in a socially responsible manner.

A first area of emphasis for the faculty involves developing innovative multidisciplinary programs in next-generation technologies in concert with industry. This will be supported by transdisciplinary cluster hiring, accelerating curriculum transformation and an emphasis on project-based experiential learning.

Asif cited three examples of recently created programs that fit this mould — the BEng in Aerospace Engineering, the PhD in Software Engineering and the Graduate Certificate in Innovation, Technology and Society, all three of which commence in fall 2016 — in addition to the proposed new department of chemical and materials engineering.

A second area of emphasis is making constellations out of faculty research stars. This entails the creation of new transdisciplinary research centres, building on the creation of seven such faculty centres in 2015-16.

This will facilitate the development of more team-based research grants and will be supported by transdisciplinary faculty hiring in areas like biomedical imaging, synthetic biology, big data analytics and nanoscience/nanotechnology.

A third area of emphasis is elevating the learning experience of students to new heights, said Asif. This goal involves placing particular emphasis on developing new opportunities for hands-on learning inside and outside the curriculum, more industrial placements and increased opportunities for entrepreneurship.

The first-year student experience, advising support, and transitions to university life will also be focal areas for the faculty. By synthesizing curricular, co-curricular and experiential opportunities, the faculty will further enhance students’ learning experiences and educate the next generation of engineering and computer science leaders.

Faculty of Fine Arts – Making things and making things happen

Rebecca Duclos, dean of Fine Arts, said the faculty’s nearly 20 labs, centres and institutes are all about “making things, making things happen and making things happen matter.”

Duclos highlighted a broad array of ideas and initiatives that have arisen out of the fine arts deliberations over the course of the year.

Among the work already in progress, she cited efforts to strengthen and forge alliances with cultural actors in the city and beyond; to grow the newly seeded Institute for Urban Futures, focused on city-based scholarship, urban sustainability and participatory research; and to develop a cross-faculty field school providing opportunities for both local and global, on-location, project-based learning in conjunction with collaborative partners.

Longer-term, Duclos sees opportunities for the faculty to engage with the city and institutional partners to interconnect Concordia and other cultural institutions as part of a “contiguous campus” model. 

Examples of this kind of cooperation include the new project in partnership with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the City of Montreal to renovate Bishop Street between Sherbrooke Street West and De Maisonneuve Boulevard West, with the aim of making it pedestrian-friendly and facilitating outdoor cultural programming.

Other possibilities for tapping Concordia’s potential as a city-embedded university include exploring the possibility to transform street-level spaces on Sainte Catherine Street into rehearsal spaces or multipurpose fabrication labs, as well as working with the city to reanimate underutilized municipal buildings through large-scale art and performance.

Internal to the university, Duclos highlighted a number of projects that would be transformative for fine arts including the creation of a “media bank,” a research repository federating the visual resources of the Moving Image Resource Collection, the Digital Image and Slide Collection and Concordia University performance and installation documentation; the “embedded faculty initiative” which connects fine arts faculty members to various science, social science and engineering research labs across Concordia; and the "Corporea Consortium on Arts and Health” which tracks and unites cross-faculty research on the physical and metaphysical health of individuals in society.

John Molson School of Business – Making Steady Progress

The John Molson School of Business (JMSB) is in its second of a five-year strategic plan that aligns very closely with Concordia’s nine directions, said Stéphane Brutus, the school’s interim dean.

He pointed out that JMSB exists in a very competitive local environment. Of the four largest business schools in Canada, three are in Montreal: JMSB has about 9,000 students, HEC Montréal has about 13,000 and ESG at UQAM has about 15,000.

That said, Brutus sees JMSB as the English-language destination of choice for business students in Montreal and Quebec.

“One clear advantage for JMSB students,” he said, “is that they receive a highly engaging education with extracurricular activities second to none.”

In terms of what’s next, Brutus said JMSB is “becoming a mature business school.”

Key indicators of this shift include expanding the reach and visibility of its executive education offerings, increasing the number of partnerships with other business schools internationally and leveraging its case competition activities — a real competitive advantage for JMSB.

Among the school’s other strategic priorities are pedagogical and curriculum innovation, expansion of co-op programs and building stronger relationships with alumni and the external community.

School of Graduate Studies

Paula Wood-Adams, dean of Graduate Studies, characterized its role as facilitating, supporting and providing opportunities for graduate and postdoctoral education across the university.

One of the school’s spotlight initiatives is a postdoctoral fellows program that will add much-needed support in high-performing research areas.

This initiative is part of an effort to place a much stronger emphasis on graduate education at Concordia. Alongside the postdoctoral program, the school is developing initiatives to build a stronger sense of community among graduate students, boost thesis completion and recognize excellence in graduate student supervision.

In addition, as part of efforts to prepare next-generation, publicly engaged leaders, the school is launching a new series of leadership workshops through GradProSkills, along with a new Public Scholars program.

In the latter, 10 PhD students per year will be selected for fellowships in which they will receive training over one term in communications and media relations, government relations and advancement and donor relations. The 10 fellows will then perform outreach activities for a year to engage communities in Montreal, Canada and beyond.

The creation of a host of new cotutelles, or joint PhD programs, is also a priority.

Concordia Libraries

Guylaine Beaudry, university librarian at Concordia, said her staff have established 20 goals to deliver in the next five years. She added that these are open to extreme collaboration, as innovation is integral to the library system.

Beaudry outlined the four themes underpinning the library’s goals:

  1. Organize for empowerment;
  2. Provide spaces for learning and research;
  3. Transform library services in line with changing needs; and
  4. Position collections at the heart of teaching, learning and research.

Here are the 2016-17 library priorities:

  • Develop and implement structured training and coaching programs for all library staff, and a researcher-in-residence program
  • Complete the transformation of the Webster Library and begin planning the transformation of the Vanier Library, as well as planning for a new fine arts library
  • Deploy a program to foster a culture of experimentation with new technologies;
  • Launch the Concordia University Press
  • Create Saga, an oral history preservation and dissemination platform as part of a new service targeting researchers and graduate students


Ad Hoc Working Group on Sustainability

For Peter Stoett, sustainability is not an add-on idea but one that can and should be integrated across all nine strategic directions.

As the Provost’s fellow for sustainability, he noted that Concordia has collectively defined sustainability as both a process and a mindset that leads to reducing our ecological footprint and enhancing social well-being while maintaining economic viability, and that it should animate our actions both on and off campus.

There are many sustainability initiatives already taking place across campus, said Stoett. Among them are:

  • Developing a sustainability research guide at the library
  • Eco-certification with Hospitality Concordia
  • Integrating urban agriculture with sustainability curricula through the Loyola Campus City Farm School
  • Increasing composting efforts across both campuses
  • Emphasizing our urban sustainability research strengths
  • Working with Future Earth, the Quebec Centre for Biodiversity Science and other valued research partners
  • Developing an online certificate in sustainability studies
  • Creating a campus-wide sustainability policy
  • Aiming for Gold STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System)

The strategic opportunities related to sustainability include the following:

  • New program offerings, such as new majors. For example, the Sustainability Action Fund, which is based on student fee levies, is working on a new specialization in sustainability studies with the Department of Geography and the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability
  • The development of a green revolving fund that could be spent on infrastructure, new curricula, research investments or training people to be the environmental educators of tomorrow
  • The greening of Mackay and the campus core — following the example of the current Bishop Street renovations
  • A climate change action plan that is symbiotic with Montreal’s broader vision and that moves us toward a net-zero emissions campus
  • An audit service for researchers to help ensure that we do not raise our ecological footprint as we increase and amplify our research output


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