Skip to main content

Next generation – it’s an attitude of openness

Concordia considers much more than technological change in its approach to the future of higher education
April 27, 2017
By James Gibbons

Concordia President Alan Shepard recently visited alumni in Canada, the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates. Looking ahead to the coming decade and beyond, Shepard explained his vision of the future of education and of talent. Those who attended the reunions heard him describe Concordia as “Canada’s next-generation university.” 

Concordia President Alan Shepard Concordia President Alan Shepard

What does “next generation” mean? 

“When we say next generation, that means trying to align the quality of teaching and learning opportunities to larger trends and the grand challenges facing society,” Shepard explains. “Concordia’s very DNA is next generation. Today we are thinking about the future and how to best serve educational needs in a changing world.” 

In the present-day education framework, “next generation” may evoke 18- to 21-year olds entering university classrooms for the first time. They’re making their way from high school or CEGEPs to begin a new journey at places such as Concordia. Within the broader public consciousness, it may conjure the exponential rate of increase, proliferation and capability of digital power.

Graham Carr, Concordia’s provost and vice-president of Academic Affairs, says there’s more to being next generation than entering classes or new iDevices. Yet technology certainly does plays its part. “It’s true that there are transformative, highly accelerated shifts associated with the post-digital revolution,” Carr says. “These include the development of artificial intelligence and robotics”.

Graham Carr Graham Carr, Concordia’s provost and vice-president of Academic Affairs

Concordia’s own Centre for Applied Synthetic Biology serves as an example of how the university is up to speed in that regard. Recently, professors David Kwan and Steve Shih received $250,000 to add robotics that automate part of their research workflow. The professors are developing cancer-fighting drugs. 

Yet “next-gen” goes further. “That kind of research is really in the frontal lobes,” says Carr, referring to areas within the pure sciences that, in some cases, sound like works of science fiction. Next generation is an attitude that can be applied much more broadly and with greater implications. 

“If you look at the humanities and arts, part of it involves a capacity and responsiveness to change,” he says. “For example — how do we deal with the diversity of information we receive that is of extremely mixed quality, whether it’s from investigative reporting, Twitter or elsewhere?” 

Responding to change is one thing. As Carr describes it, the tuned-in nature of being next-generation involves all kinds of considerations — and, ideally, experimentations.

Participation between disciplines

Rebecca Duclos Rebecca Duclos, dean of Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts

Rebecca Duclos, dean of Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts, underscores the next-generation characteristic of bringing those from different areas of study and expertise together. “We can’t think about innovation and change if we’re only thinking about technology. Arts and culture are pathways to speculation and new narratives about more radical futures,” says Duclos. 

Enter the STEM to STEAM movement. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, representing areas often associated with the post-digital revolution. The “A” reminds us of the critical significance of the arts to these applied fields. 

“There are three qualities in the arts and humanities that are essential to scientific progress,” says Duclos. The first is improvisation — finding on-the-spot solutions — a trait found in the performing arts. Another is intuition, which involves a well-honed sense of oneself and of a situation at hand. And the last is iteration. Scientists repeat experiments to validate their results. Within the arts, iteration is about pushing the limits a bit further each time. 

Duclos mentions that Concordia’s nine strategic directions encapsulate the larger picture of what it means to be next generation. Of those institutional orientations — Go Beyond — is an area where the arts have a natural advantage. “I think STEAM is attractive to people because it’s inclusive, it tries to break down that borderline between knowledge creation and outreach,” she says. 

As an example, Duclos refers to a working group that pairs Concordia fine arts students with neuroscientists. “We were approached by the Brain Repair and Integrative Neuroscience Program [BRaIN] at the McGill University Health Centre,” she reports. “They wanted to use the science and data emerging from their laboratory and have artists communicate the output to the public in unexpected ways.” 

Amir Asif Amir Asif, dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science

The result is the Convergence Initiative: Perceptions of Neuroscience (, which pairs Concordia art students with PhD and post-doctoral candidates at McGill. The 17 current projects include portraits of post-traumatic stress disorders and visualizations of neurons firing in the brain. 

Duclos says it’s an illuminating experience for all of those involved. “It’s cross-cultural as well as cross-disciplinary. She explains that part of the magic is watching how the different types of training affect the perspectives of the researchers and the artists. Together, they negotiate new entry points to reinterpret the data while still respecting the science. “The questions an artist might ask of a neuroscientist stop them dead in their tracks. They had never had their work translated through someone else’s sensibilities.” 

Another next-generation move within the Faculty of Fine Arts is to place faculty members in various laboratories within the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science as well as the Faculty of Arts and Science. Through the Embedded Faculty Initiative, colleagues observe and explore areas beyond their usual focus, to renew intellectual curiosity across the university. As Graham Carr says: “That’s a huge piece of the next-gen mindset — to value and enable convergence. Convergence in research, in teaching, in training, between what’s happening inside the university and what’s happening outside.”


Being tuned into a world beyond the university is apparent in the university’s global partnerships and 7,000 international students, all of whom bring their own socio-cultural identities. Concordia has gone even further with the Institute for Urban Futures. 

André Roy André Roy, dean of Concordia’s Faculty of Arts and Science

André Roy, dean of Concordia’s Faculty of Arts and Science, asks the question: what will Montreal look like in the year 2050? “If you were to draw a demographic map of where populations are going most, you’d see what’s called a ‘gravity distribution’ toward urban centres.” 

It’s been estimated that as much as 78 per cent of people worldwide will be concentrated in cities by 2050. “This presents all sorts of challenges,” says Duclos. “How do you feed that many people, where do you house them, will our Métro be able to transport such increased numbers, what does it mean for the education system?” 

The Institute for Urban Futures is part of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture that takes advantage of Concordia’s membership in Temps Libre, the off-campus co-working site in Mile End. Alongside its talks, workshops, courses and research projects, the institute supports Futurists in Residence, a group trying to tackle some of the challenges expressed by Duclos. 

“We are creating a powerhouse of interdisciplinarity,” says Roy. “We do this by encouraging connections between people, to create spaces where ideas can be freely exchanged. We cultivate boldness and creativity in the way we approach things, to establish a vibrant intellectual environment where everyone is actively contributing to our shared academic project.” 

Stéphane Brutus Stéphane Brutus, interim dean at the John Molson School of Business

Concordia’s other academic faculties are also fully invested in the next generation. “We are probing some of society’s most pressing challenges,” says Stéphane Brutus, interim dean at the John Molson School of Business (JMSB). “JMSB will continue to adapt and grow to address how our new reality affects teaching and knowledge transfer to the increased internationalization and diversity of the student body.” 

“A successful next-generation engineering faculty will collaborate with other disciplines,” says Amir Asif, dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science. “It will explore collaborations with business, health, law, communication, arts, design and environmental science to address the economic, political, social and environmental context of the engineering and computer science professions.” 

Other examples of Concordia’s approach abound. Trudeau Foundation scholarship recipient Cherry Simon, who’s pursuing a PhD in the Department of Communication Studies, is working on a documentary film about prostitution as a form of colonial and patriarchal violence against Indigenous women and girls. “I applied to Concordia because the communications program has a strong emphasis on research creation,” she says. 

Sandeep Singh Sandhu, BEng 12, now a senior diagnostics engineer for Tesla Motors in Tilburg, Netherlands, benefited from his work terms through Concordia’s Institute for Co-operative Education. “You get real work experience while studying, and it helps you understand which direction you want to pursue with your career,” he says.

To each their own next generation

Isabel Dunnigan Isabel Dunnigan, director of Concordia’s Centre for Continuing Education

Another ingredient of the next-gen formula consists of education for those approaching or beyond the traditional university years. Whether a person’s dream is to design a hit smartphone app, learn leadership skills or find their place in the volunteer world, Concordia’s Centre for Continuing Education (CCE) has something for everyone. 

“We take care of students from the ages of 18 to 100,” says Isabel Dunnigan, CCE director of centre. Through the accelerated movements in society, knowledge and technology development, it’s given even more people an appetite to gain an edge that relates to either personal or pro fessional needs.” 

In our fast-paced society with evolution in technology, industry and academics, more people want to return to school to build their professional tool box or hone their skills. 

Dunnigan points out that we live longer and are healthier than ever before. According to Statistics Canada, life expectancy in Canada today is 81 years. That, as she adds, is a reason that old rules don’t apply to a new status quo. “Concordia’s Continuing Education is best known as a training ground for life. It offers distinct opportunities to better answer the personal, professional and organizational growth needs of our society. One day at a time, CCE invites people from different backgrounds and stages of life to take part in our trendsetting training,” she says. 

“For example, we’re developing a seminar series called the Third Season. This series addresses a population that has high-level competencies in their professions and, in some cases, they’re retired. We find among this population a strong desire to continue to develop their under - standing of life and society through relevant and meaningful educational experiences in order to continue con - tributing to their community.” 

Taking a next-generation approach doesn’t just impact 18-year-olds. “It is the next generation of all community clusters,” she says. “The next generation is the future. We need to stay flexible and visionary in our program development and delivery. It’s continuous, it does not have an end. CCE’s mission is to stay attentive and moving.”

Next-generation across the board

Other examples at the university abound. Concordia’s District 3 Center for Innovation — a startup accelerator where entrepreneurial ideas are turned into real services and products — is one piece of the university’s larger picture and strategy. (See “Finding the sweet spot in the work world”) 

Another is the new Aviation Think Tank — the first of its kind in the world — at the John Molson School of Business. Concordia’s online learning platform, KnowledgeOne, encompasses the next-gen philosophy too. 

“One area that can serve as a case study of how the next generation of students looks for something different is Concordia Library,” says Carr. Now in Phase 3 — the second to last — of a massive transformation that started in 2015, the space has added new functionality. Collaboration, experimentation and communication tools for research have all been added through the reimagined space. 

“I think what distinguishes Concordia from others is that we have a multilevel approach,” says Carr. “We teach and think about training students — though also about how to incubate and encourage truly next-generation research.” 

Shepard adds, “Empowering and engaging our community are central to our mission.” 

For more about Concordia's next-generation thinking, visit

Back to top Back to top

© Concordia University