Classroom Catalysts

Classroom Catalysts

Canada’s East Coast has long been known for many things: good times, friendly people, great food, and beautiful scenery. Lately, you can tack “the thrumming engines of the country’s knowledge economy” onto that list, too.

From charting the course of socially-responsible business practices to charting maps of the ocean floor, universities and colleges in Atlantic Canada are making a big splash around the world. But not just in the lecture theatre or the laboratory — they’re also the leading lights of the regional economy.

For this issue, Atlantic Business threw on our best tweed blazer to catch up with some of these local luminaries. And we found that the future of post-secondary education out East has never been brighter.

It’s hard to imagine what Atlantic Canada would look like without the Sobey School of Business. And that’s not just because it enrolls nearly half the students at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. “Our school prides itself on having an impact and really contributing to regional prosperity,” dean Patricia Bradshaw tells Atlantic Business.

They have a lot to be proud of.

With nearly 50 per cent of its students coming from more than 80 countries around the world, Saint Mary’s is the most international university in Canada, and the Sobey School is a big part of that draw. It’s not hard to see why: they offer several MBAs with entrepreneurship and CPA streams; a Master of Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation; a Master of Finance that graduates 80 students a year; a Master of Cooperatives and Credit Unions; a Master of Applied Economics (“the emphasis there is on ‘applied’,” Bradshaw laughs); and a PhD in Management.

It’s an impressive slate of programs, and it’s helped transform the Sobey School into a regional economic engine. “We recently commissioned a report through the European Foundation for Management Development,” communications officer Charlene Boyce informs us. “They have a proven system that they use to measure the impact of business schools across Europe. We’re the first North American school to take part.”

“What we found is that our financial impact is about $367 million per year for Nova Scotia. That’s both direct impact and indirect spinoff. There’s a multiplier effect,” Boyce continues. “And that’s just the Sobey School of Business. That’s just half the university.”

“That includes the money we bring into the province through the students we attract. And they add ongoing value — 55 per cent of our international master’s program students stay in the region after they graduate. For BComm, it’s 23 per cent, but that’s still 80 students per year,” Bradshaw adds. “And that’s just the financial impact. As far as intellectual impact goes, we have 78 faculty members who are performing research, much of which we mobilize in the community.”

It’s clear that supporting the local community is at the core of what the Sobey School does — not just by sending its graduates out, but by bringing the community in. “One thing our MBA program offers is the Master’s Consulting Project, guided by our business development centre,” Boyce explains. “It gives students the opportunity to work with local businesses and provide them with expertise and guidance in dealing with rural business challenges, or developing a marketing strategy, that they might otherwise never be able to get.”

“Our MBA students also have an international trade mission where they represent local companies abroad. Last year they were in Poland, representing 14 different companies. This year they’re going to Vietnam. It’s a very exciting initiative.”

This community engagement is centred around the Sobey School’s commitment to ethics and social responsibility. “We have an amazing strength in our faculty complement around business ethics,” Boyce explains. “We have a couple of professors who have given outside talks to other organizations about ethics on a regular basis. We actually signed on to the UN convention on Principles of Responsible Management Ethics, and it’s something we try and instill in our students so that our graduates can spread those values through the business ecosystem.”

So far, it’s definitely been a success. The Sobey School is regularly ranked quite highly by the Corporate Knights in their “Better World MBA” rankings for its commitment to teaching social responsibility. It’s also demonstrated by their graduates: you are as likely to find a Sobey School grad leading a charity or non-profit like The Rounds, United Way, or McPhee Centre for Creative Learning, as you are a bank or financial institution.

This community ethos is what makes them such a force in Atlantic Canada. “It’s all about that embeddedness,” Boyce concludes. “It’s about making sure that the Sobey School is really a critical component to the success of Nova Scotia and the region as a whole.”

Founded in 1785, the University of New Brunswick is one of the oldest post-secondary institutions in North America. But despite its venerable age, it’s anything but stodgy: in 2014, Startup Canada named it the most entrepreneurial university in the country.

“We have an intense focus on experiential and entrepreneurial learning,” Dr. Devashis Mitra, dean of UNB’s Faculty of Business Administration in Fredericton, tells Atlantic Business. “This type of learning helps students test their knowledge in real world settings.”

These twin streams of entrepreneurship and experience have combined to produce some exciting programs that have already accomplished big things for the region. One of these is the Activator program, which pairs promising student leaders from the school’s Concentration in Entrepreneurship program with local entrepreneurs and inventors. They are then connected with seasoned experts who advise and guide them through the process of starting a business.

“Many people have great ideas or inventions, but have no clue how to turn them into a business. Meanwhile, many of our students have an entrepreneurial mindset and are eager to apply their skills to starting a business,” Dr. Mitra explains. “Activator solves this problem. Every year since the program was started in 2007, at least one startup has launched in the region. Peter Goggin, CEO of Resson Aerospace, one of New Brunswick’s hottest new startups, is a graduate of Activator.”

Similarly, the Student Investment Fund (SIF) program has trained financial professionals by giving them direct investment experience. Successful applicants get a chance to manage a fund now worth over $8 million. “The program has over 200 graduates, and half of them continue to work in the region,” Dr. Mitra tells us. “Many are employed with Vestcorp Investments, which was formerly the New Brunswick Investment Management Corporation and the founding partner of the SIF program. They manage several of the province’s Pension funds, of which the public service, teachers and judges form a large part.”

One key to the school’s success is that they don’t approach entrepreneurship as merely a set of skills to be learned. Instead, it’s a way of life.

“Entrepreneurial people don’t all run their own businesses,” he observes, “but they have the mindset to take ideas and make them work. We’ve seen how our program gives students a more mature and critical perspective on everything they’ve learned. They become more confident in their decision-making and ability to take action.”

Great ideas and initiative are important, but they can only take you so far in business. Keen financial savvy will get you the rest of the way.

“Innovative ideas are not the hardest part of the path to success,” Anne-Marie Gammon, president and CEO of CPA Atlantic School of Business, tells Atlantic Business. “Most organizations succeed or fail depending on their financial acumen, and how they develop and execute strategic plans.”

That’s where the CPA Atlantic School of Business comes in.

The school trains and qualifies students to become Chartered Professional Accountants. They offer a number of highly respected programs like the CPA Preparatory Education Program and the Canada Advanced Certificate in Accounting and Finance. They have also partnered with the Sobey School of Business, infusing Sobey’s MBA with a CPA stream.

Right now, there are over 1,000 students at the school, representing more than 250 employers in Atlantic Canada.

But CPAs are more than just number crunchers. “On the surface, the CPA skillset is about accounting and finance. But it’s really about managerial financial literacy – the ‘language of business,’ you could say,” Gammon explains.

“That’s why CPAs are natural team leaders. They take a holistic view of any potential project. Many programs have benefitted from the steady hand of a CPA at the helm or in a supporting role, all across Atlantic Canada.”

Some very big things are happening at the University of Prince Edward Island.

“Our scale allows us to be nimble and adapt to societal and workforce needs,” says president Alaa Abd-El-Aziz. “UPEI is a hidden gem in the region and in Canada. It punches well above its weight.”

The university is a regional research hub. It’s part of the Ocean Frontier Institute in collaboration with Dalhousie and Memorial University, and hosts prestigious research chairs such as the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Aquatic Epidemiology and the UNESCO Research Chair in Island Studies and Sustainability. UPEI is also home to the Atlantic Veterinary College, the region’s only veterinary teaching hospital.

It’s also very accessible for students. “UPEI maintains the lowest costs for graduate students, the second lowest costs for undergraduate students, and the third lowest cost for international students in the Maritime provinces,” Abd El-Aziz observes. “We take pride in our collective efforts to provide some of the highest quality — and most affordable — post secondary education in the country.”

Those efforts are paying off. UPEI has had tremendous success in attracting students from around the world: 21per cent of the student body is made up of international students, and many of them remain in the region after graduation, either to pursue graduate research at the university, or as employees in the workforce.

It’s made a real difference to the province. In 2013, the university’s direct expenditures of $137.5 million boosted Prince Edward Island’s gross domestic product by $150 million – nearly three per cent of the Island’s total GDP. And according to Statistics Canada, UPEI generated nearly $30 million in revenue for the province’s research and development sector alone.

“Our primary role as a provider of skilled labour in the region is significant,” Abd-El-Aziz explains. “Most of the industries in growth mode — biosciences, IT, aerospace, and defence — require a higher percentage of educated workers. They need the talent UPEI will supply.”

“We’re becoming known for offering relevant programming — like that found at our new School of Sustainable Design Engineering and School of Mathematical and Computational Sciences — that leads to infinite opportunities for students and contributes solutions to challenges in society. And we’re not done yet.”

As the old adage goes, you are what you eat. And thanks to the Culinary Institute of Canada at Holland College, Atlantic Canadians have been eating very well.

For more than 30 years, the Culinary Institute has been producing the top culinary talent in the country. “These graduates have made their homes here, started vibrant businesses here, and developed a food culture that is really coming to life,” Chef Austin Clement, dean of the Culinary and Hospitality Program, tells Atlantic Business.

The secret ingredient? Training.

“Our students don’t train in a segregated lab setting (that they’ll never see again after graduation) like other programs,” Clement explains. “We build industry kitchens and train our students in them. We operate a full-scale cafeteria that serves about 400 meals per day, a fine dining restaurant, and a huge catering operation, all done by students. That doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country.”

You can taste the success. “Every year when the restaurant ratings come out, our kids are there,” Clement beams. “Places like the Fogo Island Inn, Raymond’s, and Mallard College are showing that the place to be for food is in the east. And they’re doing it with our students.”

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