Chancellor donates $5M to Engineering, honours President

Western president Amit Chakma was honoured Friday as University Chancellor, Jack Cowin, BA’64, LLD’00, and his wife, Sharon, BA’64 announced they had donated $5 million to support Western Engineering and to name Western’s newest building the Amit Chakma Engineering Building.

“I’m incredibly proud to support Western Engineering and honour my colleague and friend by naming this fantastic new building today,” said Cowin.

“President Chakma’s leadership in developing and implementing a focused international strategy has increased partnerships with educational and research institutions, attracted the best and the brightest students from all over the world and developed innovative curriculum and research initiatives that prepared students to become global citizens. I’ve long been inspired by his hard work.” Cowin added.

As Cowin surprised Chakma on stage at the building’s official opening, there was a gasp from the crowd and a standing ovation. Chakma jumped from his chair and gave Cowin, Western philanthropist and personal friend, an emotional hug.

“Some of you may not know that Amit is also an engineer, and a faculty member here in Engineering,” Cowin told guests at the opening. “His passion for the profession and field makes this the perfect tribute to his time as Western’s President.”

“I’m sure you all recognize the leadership and vision Amit has brought to Western. In the past decade, it has grown from a largely southwestern Ontario university to an internationally recognized institution enabling our students to become better citizens of the world,” Cowin added.

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Under Chakma’s leadership, Western has increased its first-year full-time international enrolment from less than three per cent in 2009 to approximately 15 per cent in 2018, seen its global engagement grow to include more than 500 international research collaborations and expanded its overall first-year enrolment while maintaining one of the highest average entering grades in the province. The university’s endowment has tripled, growing from $266 million in 2009 to more than $765 million today, which will enable Western to continue to invest in teaching and reseach excellence well into the future.

An expert in petroleum research and energy management who earned his PhD from the University of British Columbia, Chakma holds a faculty appointment in Western’s Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering.

“Your gift to Western means a lot, but never did I imagine that you’d honour us with your generous support,” Chakma said as he thanked Jack and Sharon Cowin.

“I cannot tell you how pleased I am, how surprised we are and how grateful we are that you gave us the privilege of having our name associated with this wonderful university through your generous philanthropy. You have forged a lifetime of friendship.”

The building was designed by Perkins+Will with Cornerstone Architecture; construction was managed by London’s Norlon Builders.

Located on Western Road, the building offers a unique space meant to inspire students and faculty to learn, innovate and advance, and was designed collaboratively with input from students, faculty and staff. The building brings to life a vision set by Andrew Hrymak – former Engineering Dean and now Provost and Vice-President Academic.

As a potential Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building, the Chakma Engineering Building’s intelligent design is environmentally sustainable, with features that include a rainwater collection/harvesting system, electric vehicle charging ports, and a renewable solar energy system.

If certified, it will be only the third academic building in Canada to achieve Platinum LEED status.

The building also addresses the critical need for additional space. Engineering enrolment has grown from 1,500 in 2009, to 2,700 enrolled across undergraduate and graduate programs today. The building adds 100,000 sq. ft. of work spaces that integrate classroom theory with collaborative hands-on learning, so that students can now design, build and test their concepts and ideas all under one roof.

“The demand for Western Engineering’s programs continues to grow – and to meet the challenges of today’s society, this Faculty had to keep pace,” said Hrymak. “Graduating engineers with technical skills has always been a priority but providing them with a broad set of skills including team and leadership development, communication, ethics and equity, entrepreneurship and business has become increasingly important. Students will get all this and more with this incredible new space.”

The building is funded through Western’s contributions and generous support from donors and the Federal and Provincial Governments.

Chancellor Jack Cowin on Western President Amit Chakma:

Amit has become a close friend and confidant and I carry enormous respect for the courage he has shown throughout his life – from growing up in Bangladesh, to university in Algeria, coming to Canada, earning a PhD at the University of British Columbia, on to develop his career at Waterloo and then proudly President and Vice-Chancellor of Western. His life has been highlighted by a generous attitude of unselfish giving and a search for excellence – so it is justly appropriate that today as an engineer and as a service to this wonderful school, allowing the growth in the engineering school which has grown from 1,500 in 2009 to 2,700 enrolled students today.”

Western President Amit Chakma:

It is a privilege to serve this university as President and I am very proud of what our faculty, staff and students accomplish every day in terms of teaching, research and the many ways they give back to the city and indeed the country. This building is a great example of something that we have accomplished together in a collaborative process with input from students, faculty, staff and alumni. Jack and Sharon’s generous gift means so much to Western and I am deeply touched by their gesture to name this building in my honour.”