Joanne Curry is founding executive director of SFU Surrey and vice-president, external relations. (Submitted photo)

COLUMN: Tech investment in SFU Surrey helps entire community

‘I am confident this lift-off will enable SFU to reach new heights in the contributions we can make in Surrey and beyond’

Tuesday’s announcement at Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus by Advanced Education Skills and Training Minister Melanie Mark was cheered by the post-secondary and tech sectors across the province.

The minister announced millions of dollars in new funding aimed at expanding B.C. post-secondary institutions’ capacities to respond to the talent needs of the province’s growing tech sector.

This is great news for SFU Surrey, Kwantlen Polytechnic University and many other post-secondary institutions.

It will create nearly 3,000 student spaces in B.C. and result in a diverse range of exciting new programs. The announcement is even better news for the province’s tech sector. In addition to providing talent, the funding will attract leading faculty whose research will drive innovation and generate new market opportunities.

See more: Surrey receives hundreds of new tech student spaces

But the impacts of this investment go even further. While the post-secondary and tech sectors are the immediate beneficiaries, communities across B.C. will profit in many additional ways. Recalling the transformative changes that were triggered by the creation of SFU’s Surrey campus, we can look forward to broad-based community benefits.

When SFU opened its doors in Surrey City Centre in 2002, the area was home to an office tower with few tenants, a declining retail mall, a high rate of crime, and an unenviable reputation. Supported by the province and the City of Surrey, SFU was one of City Centre’s first anchor tenants. Over the past 15 years, we embarked on a journey that has resulted in close collaboration with Surrey’s thriving communities, business organizations, and all levels of government.

Members of the SFU Surrey Community Advisory Council and SFU’s India Advisory Council have guided us throughout this journey and have been champions for further expansion of our Surrey campus. Today, Surrey City Centre boasts Surrey’s City Hall, a vibrant retail mall, a fully leased office tower and 14 residential towers in the area. Proximity to Canada’s “most community-engaged research university” has become an important draw for companies and residents.

The new funding announced for SFU this week will support the first phase of a long-awaited expansion that, according to a Memorandum of Understanding signed by SFU and the province in 2006, was intended to double the number of SFU Surrey student spaces to 5,000 by 2015. This initial investment will enable SFU to create 440 undergraduate and graduate student spaces and hire over 20 new faculty in an innovative Sustainable Energy Engineering program that will focus on smart cities, clean transportation, and sustainable manufacturing.

The new engineering program will be housed in a $126-million Bing Thom-designed building currently under construction as a result of funding announced in 2016 by the federal and provincial governments. The program will add to the strengths of two flagship schools at SFU Surrey – Mechatronics Systems Engineering (which will also have teaching and research activities in the new building) and Interactive Arts and Technology.

Much work remains to be done to realize the full potential of this week’s announcement and to set the stage for further expansions. However, given the success of SFU Surrey over the past 15 years, and with an institutional vision that integrates teaching and research with community engagement, I am confident this lift-off will enable SFU to reach new heights in the contributions we can make in Surrey and beyond.

Joanne Curry is founding executive director of SFU Surrey and vice-president, external relations.

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