|March 26, 1999||Volume 6, Number 13|
Dean encourages students to cultivate internationalism
Dean Franco Berruti, Engineering, says he became interested in applying for his current job when, as associate dean of Engineering in Calgary and actively involved in the chemical and petroleum industry, he kept being introduced to engineers who were graduates of the U of S.
"In addition to their being dynamic and having an obvious affection for their alma mater, the sheer number of them struck me. In fact, the last time I checked our alumni lists, there were over 1,300 U of S engineers working there."
Now that he's here, he's undertaken a number of initiatives to ensure that future graduates remain equally enamoured with the College.
"Engineering here has always tried to ensure that students get the attention they need. That includes extra tutoring and an open door policy that's often so open that professors who follow it have long queues of students lined up outside their doors."
This year, Engineering has undertaken a program to ease the transition for students from high school to the College.
For example, a restructured first-year curriculum, approved by Council in January, will reduce the number of courses to 10 from 12.
Two orientation classes have also been added to help frosh gain an overview of how component classes fit into the program.
"We want to give our students a sense of how all the required courses apply to the real world. Too often, they're dismayed at encountering so many math classes, when they thought they had come here to build things. We have to show them, for example, how graphics and math go together or how business courses and commercial software packages complement what we do."
With a recent $1-million gift from Cameco, Engineering has established the Cameco Access Program for Engineering and Science (CAPES), which helps Aboriginal students mainly to ease the transition into the first year of science and engineering.
After joining the U of S, Berruti fostered the integration of an optional, 8- to 16-month professional internship/work experience into the academic curriculum. The Engineering Professional Internship Program (EPIP) is very successful, with about 75 students currently enrolled.
Last year, the College also established a technical communications chair named after Engineering graduate Daryl ("Doc") Seaman.
"Both these initiatives reinforce the connections between industry, the alumni, and the College. One thing we're continually learning from industry is that we have to improve the communications skills of our students. They tend to forget that technical knowledge, which is second nature to them, isn't always readily understood by clients."
Berruti, who encourages the students to keep their horizons as broad as possible, notes that they can take as many as 20% of their classes outside the College.
"The world has become so interconnected that it's as important for engineers to have a sense of culture and languages as it is for people in those disciplines to realize how advances in engineering and technology affect them."
To underscore his point, he says that about 95% of Canadian companies now have an international component.
He comes by his own internationalism naturally, having grown up in Turin, Italy, where he majored in Greek, Latin, art history, and Italian literature in high school, later completing a five-year engineering degree at the Politechnic of Turin.
He came to Canada in 1982 to join the Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Waterloo, where he completed his PhD.
In 1986, with expertise in heavy-oil upgrading technologies and fast fluidized bed reactors, he joined the University of Calgary's Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. He became Engineering dean at the U of S in 1996.
To date, he's been awarded two patents, one for a process to reduce the viscosity of heavy oils and another for quickly separating gas and solids when transferring vast amounts of solid particles at very high rates from one vessel to another.
Despite his heavy workload as dean, he managed last year to generate about $250,000 in research grants and contracts.
That a good portion of that money is in foreign currency is particularly satisfying to him, as is the fact that his research money is able to fund five graduate students.
"One of the things I most enjoy about my job is working closely with students. If we're to succeed in the global economy, we can't limit ourselves to local industry. Bringing students into that global environment is vital."
He works closely with industry in France, Australia, Germany, the United States, as well as in Canada, and believes that a fluency in languages and an intercultural understanding are important assets for a student to possess.
As for Berruti and his family, he says they remain totally bicultural.
"I'm pleased that our 13-year-old son speaks fluent Italian. Although we left Italy 17 years ago, we can readily fit back into that wonderful food-and-wine lifestyle, as if we'd never left."
But he says they also enjoy the dynamism and opportunities of Canada and the relaxed lifestyle of Saskatoon.
"Here you can get anywhere in 10 minutes, which makes life much less stressful than in, say, crowded Italy."
On the other hand, he says he wouldn't rate Saskatoon drivers tops in the world and notes that "until I came here, I don't think I'd ever heard of anyone getting a ticket for driving too slowly."
However, the slow traffic presumably gives him time to ponder what still needs to be done in Engineering.
"As with every other College, we've been affected by reduced funding. Our classrooms are crowded and enrolment is up; and with ever-decreasing resources, it's hard to also keep morale up by continually asking people to do more with less. And we still don't know what impact The DesRosiers Report will have on the real costs associated with the delivery of our programs."
Berruti takes comfort from the fact that College alumni giving, too, is up - fully 23% of the University's 1997-98 Alumni Annual Fund was earmarked for Engineering - as strong evidence of 'customer satisfaction.'
But, he adds, Colleges can't rely on private funding to always step into the breach; they have to look for other solutions to the funding crisis.
To that end, at Berruti's instigation, engineering deans from across western Canada met in Victoria recently to find ways of sharing resources and operations. He points out that the Colleges of Engineering at the U of S and the U of R are already sharing a significant number of cooperative efforts.
One direction he says he isn't keen on, though, is providing engineering instruction exclusively via electronic transmission and computer-mediated teaching.
"In engineering education, the true value of digital technologies and multi-media is in their integration with face-to-face instruction. Courses on CD ROMs and VHS tapes can complement but not compete with the teacher-student and student-student interactions of a real campus. It's a matter of quality of education and intellectual experience: it's like comparing fast food with a fine Italian meal."
- Sigrid Klaus
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