Even as petroleum engineering programs in the United States are reportedly losing students amidst widespread industry layoffs and the prospect of a new reality in oil and gas pricing, the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering is increasing its student capacity with the opening of a new $174-million engineering complex funded in part by Canadian Natural Resources Limited.
“Overall, we have amazing enrollment and incredibly strong demand for our engineering programs,” says Bill Rosehart, the Schulich Engineering School’s dean.
“We have almost 900 first-year students—including students that are coming in on our transfer program—which is basically record enrollment for us.”
Officially opened November 15, the Canadian Natural Resources Limited Engineering Complex has expanded the engineering school’s student capacity by about 200 seats so far in the course of a multi-year expansion to a total of 400 additional seats.
The school’s total enrollment currently is approximately 3,500.
A $7 million donation by Canadian Natural Resources—the single largest corporate donation in the University of Calgary’s history—along with support from individual donors and government made the new complex a reality.
Canadian Natural’s funding for the 18,300-square-metre expansion and renovation project was announced in 2013 when WTI prices seemed destined to remain above $100 a barrel.
Today’s sub-$50 oil and what has become the worst industry downturn in a generation hasn’t changed the company’s view of supporting engineering education.
“From Canadian Natural’s perspective, philanthropic giving is more important now than ever to ensure the community stays strong and vibrant,” Steve Laut, president of Canadian Natural and a University of Calgary mechanical engineering alumnus, said at the official opening of the complex.
“The oil and gas sector may be facing economic challenges but we’ve faced them before and always come back more resilient—and if you have a highly educated work force, then you have a strong community.”
Rosehart notes that Schulich students take a longer view of the economy but are also diversifying their engineering studies.
“We’re seeing an uptick in interest around entrepreneurship, for example” he says. “So we now offer a course in engineering entrepreneurship this year. We also started a joint-degree option for engineering students over five years instead of four, so they can leave with both a degree in engineering as well as a Bachelors in Commerce degree through our business school on campus.”
The core training is still engineering, but the add-ons and the way engineering is taught is changing. In this context, the Canadian Natural Resources Limited Engineering Complex promises a wider and better skill set.
“It's a different space. There are labs and design studios that fundamentally change how we can teach the students, [by providing them] with much stronger abilities around active learning,” Rosehart says.
“We can teach the students using team-based environments. We can give them more project-based learning. So it prepares them to be much stronger, what I call, ‘engineering leaders.’"