The world of research often conjures images of large laboratories, white coats and imposing technologies. College of the North Atlantic’s (CNA) College Innovation Network isn’t so intimidating. In fact, its Director of Industry Innovation, Dr. Gary Thompson, says, “There really is no innovation project that’s too small for us. We have projects that range from quick concept designs to provide an ergonomic solution to multimillion-dollar hyperspectral projects.”
The college, itself, is one of the largest post-secondary educational and skills training centres in Atlantic Canada with its 17 campuses throughout the province. And the College Innovation Network uses this presence to support business innovation.
“For the College Innovation Network, the most important thing for us – what drives our applied research enterprise – is getting the college, industry and the community together to solve problems,” Thompson says. “We have a broad depth and array of skills in our faculty and students, from graphic arts right up to high-tech computer software development and petroleum engineering programs. So, there’s a lot of expertise we can bring to a problem. That is the beauty of our network.”
Ashley Nguyen, an industrial engineering technologist at CNA, agrees.
“What really sets us apart is the applied nature of what we do. We are very hands on, for example, when it comes to prototype development. We could get a sketch from someone in industry, and our faculty and students use that as the basis for an innovation challenge. Having access to the college’s faculty, staff, students, and research and development (R&D) facilities through a province-wide network means we’re open for business to work with any number of sectors.”
Using these real-world problems for its students to solve helps advance economic and social development in the province and keeps CNA connected with the local economy. Moreover, whenever industry funds innovation, it sets a positive precedent for similar investments in the future.
“This focus on business “pain points” and practical problem-solving supports the development and growth of our industries and communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and is a ‘win-win’ for our students and our partners,” Thompson notes. •