NEM 2024 Interview Series: Lakehead University Faculty of Engineering

Transforming Engineering Education: Insights from Janusz Kozinski, Dean of Lakehead University’s Faculty of Engineering

Throughout National Engineering Month we’re showcasing influential leaders in Canada’s engineering sectors to understand their outlook on where the industry is headed.

Recently we spoke with Janusz Kozinski, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at Lakehead University. Dr. Kozinski is a recipient of the top award for professional engineers in Ontario from OSPE and has made significant contributions to engineering education in Ontario and beyond. Check out this inspiring conversation below about how Lakehead University’s Faculty of Engineering is celebrating its 50th anniversary and how they are transforming engineering education in the province and beyond.

Tell me a bit about yourself & your background.

I was born and raised in Poland, but I like to call myself an academic globetrotter. I lived and worked in Germany, France, the UK, and the US, and have also spent some time in Canada. If you ask my colleagues how they would describe me, I think two things would define me as a person and academic. The first is that I like to create new things. When I was in the UK, we created a new university; at York, we established a new engineering school. Now, at Lakehead University, we are creating truly novel academic programs, so creating new things is something that I like doing from a personal standpoint. The second is that I like to explore things. When I lived in France, I went to space on a parabolic flight, and I’ve even gone swimming with great white sharks off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa. And, if I get a little bored being in Toronto, I like to go to the top of the CN Tower and hang with just one rope to challenge myself. I believe there’s nothing better than going outside of your comfort zone, so those are the things that describe me well.

Can you highlight some key milestones and achievements that the Faculty of Engineering at Lakehead University has reached during its 50-year history since awarding its first engineering degrees in 1974?

When I look back, perhaps the key achievement of the school’s engineering program was that they were able to create truly transformational change in engineering education, and that’s not easy to do. Engineering education is quite conservative, and it has been like that for a long time. When Lakehead created the engineering school, they decided from the outset to have this unique program, a college transfer program that allows graduates from colleges to enter the third year of the Bachelor of Engineering accredited professional program. It’s truly unique. They did it 50 years ago, and so far, only one other university in Canada is just exploring a similar concept.

What’s beautiful about this program is that it is designed for non-traditional students. The majority of engineering students come from high schools and go through four-year programs. What this program has done is truly establish itself as the driving force behind this new type of engineering education that significantly diversifies the population of students in engineering programs and provides opportunities for those who don’t have all the credentials from the outset.

Perhaps the other recent achievement is that Lakehead’s Faculty of Engineering has been recognized internationally and ranked by Times Higher Education in the UK as the number one engineering program in Canada for those universities that focus predominantly, but not solely, on undergraduate education. That is a huge achievement. We have other very good engineering programs, for example, our graduate programs, but our focus is truly on advancing undergraduate education. The Faculty’s programs were also recognized by the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board. Over the 50 years of existence of engineering at Lakehead, all the engineering programs were accredited, always for the maximum time. There are only very few universities in Canada that can show such a record.

To sum it up, our three major achievements are the transformation of engineering education, a novel approach to education that allows diversification of the student body, and accreditation, ultimately leading to international recognition.

How has the Faculty of Engineering evolved over the years, and what notable contributions has it made to the wider engineering community?

What Lakehead Engineering has been able to share with the community is this principle or motto that our programs, by design, provide engineering education for everyone. That’s an eye-opener for people, whenever I go to high schools or colleges as people see engineering as a slightly narrow program. They believe that you have to have all the prerequisites, and all the other elements in your education to be able to get in. Lakehead has changed that perception, and it’s that changing perception that allows Lakehead to reach out to a variety of communities.

We are very proud, for example, that we were able to reach out to Indigenous communities, particularly in the area near Thunder Bay. That is based on our principle of offering more opportunities to those who are not necessarily prepared to enter engineering programs in traditional schools. What we were able to do is also collaborate with institutions and industry representatives across Canada to advance research in certain areas like critical minerals, biomaterials, artificial intelligence, robotics, or blockchain. Those are the new elements that we wanted to explore.

Could you share more details about the planned events and activities for celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Faculty of Engineering at Lakehead University?

Our 50th anniversary is a golden opportunity to acknowledge our past while also looking into the future. We have a series of events that we’ve developed, for example, around convocation. We will be hosting the class of 1974, those who graduated first, and they will share their observations and life experiences with the young people graduating in 2024. The idea is to bring the entire community together. Then in the fall, we’re going to have an honorary gala at the university in Thunder Bay, inviting many friends, alumni, and students. It will be an event full of fun, but also reflection. We also want to listen to our community and how they see engineering evolving in the future.

What’s also important for us is the fact that we are truly proud to be the Leader Level partner for National Engineering Month (NEM) Ontario this year. It’s crucial to support our profession and NEM because it provides an opportunity to reach out to a variety of other professions and society at large, letting them know who we are as engineers. Engineering is one of the most creative professions, and it’s not always seen that way by society, so we must try to change that perception. Thanks to organizations like NEM, OSPE, PEO, and Engineers Canada, that’s what we aim to do. We want to ensure that our profession is recognized in that light. That’s one of the reasons why we were pleased and proud to become one of your leading partners for NEM.

How does the faculty envision these pathways contributing to the growth and diversity of the engineering profession?

The two important things that we have to realize are that as a country, Canada needs more engineers, but at the same time, we need a variety of people with diverse backgrounds to contribute to engineering. There’s nothing more important for our profession than trying to diversify who we are as individuals practicing engineering. If you look at our country, it’s such a wonderful mosaic of different ideas, knowledge, backgrounds, religions, and so on, and it’s working well from that perspective. We ought to open up our profession to this kind of approach, as well.

In the context of the 50th-anniversary celebration, and looking back as well as forward, how are Lakehead’s programs changing to attract a more diverse student population? 

We would like to attract more female students to our programs. Of course, we go to the high schools and visit young people to share engineering information and so on, and while that’s important, it’s been done for a long time and we still have no more than, on average, maybe 20 percent of our student body being women in all engineering schools across the country. As a community, we are still not doing enough to address this challenge.

At Lakehead, we want to open more doors and offer new, flexible pathways. That is critical if we are to address this challenge. For example, we often hear that female students do not always select the courses they need to enter undergraduate engineering programs. We have recently introduced a brand-new Pre-Eng pathway, that’s designed for any student who does not have all the prerequisites so they only need to spend an extra two semesters with us to make up the difference and then enter directly into any of our Bachelor of Engineering degrees.

We also know that engineering degrees can be too narrow, and often lack the wider context or the broader skill-set that others offer. That’s why we offer students the opportunity to study for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) alongside their engineering degree. This means in just two extra semesters they can graduate with a BEng and an MBA, setting themselves up to be highly employable in an ever-evolving job market and giving them the skills to be independent consultants or entrepreneurs. That flexibility and broader skill set have proved popular, including female students wanting to extend their potential beyond the technical foundations of engineering.

While outreach and engagement to female students is incredibly important, we need to back up that commitment with flexible pathways and innovative programming.

Lakehead Engineering has been a pioneer in the college transfer model. Can you discuss the success and impact of this model in bringing students from colleges into university engineering programs?

Lakehead Engineering created a unique college transfer model in 1974, and we are very pleased to see that some of our partners, colleagues, and other engineering schools are now following in our footsteps. We are very happy about it because what it means is that we, as an engineering community, will be opening more opportunities for others. So, we are highly supportive of it. On the other hand, there’s nothing more interesting than having a bit of healthy competition, so, what we need to do is keep reinventing ourselves.

Recently, we concluded that if we are to be successful with the college transfer model, it’s critical to recognize colleges as our partners. There’s a big difference between collaborating with somebody and being a partner. A partnership is about equals, so we’ve engaged with individual colleges, and what we are doing right now is aligning our academic curricula with colleges and universities for the benefit of students who will be transferring to our programs. Also, what we wanted to do is make it clear to our colleagues across the engineering community that the future of engineering education is all about what we call a learning continuum. That means we have to be prepared to be flexible enough to offer courses and programs on campus, online, on-demand, just in time, and just in case, because we have to recognize that people have their own lives, and sometimes they have other jobs to do. What we are doing right now is trying to redesign our programs to make them flexible enough so people can benefit from those programs regardless of what else is happening during their daily lives.

We are creating a new engineering program called the Master of Integrated Engineering. It’s the engineering equivalent of an executive MBA. We will be delivering it in the GTA initially, and we’ll take it from there. We also have this principle that it’s easy to talk the talk, but it’s not that easy to walk the walk. At Lakehead Engineering, we focus on the walk. Sometimes it is hard to do it, but on the other hand, there’s nothing more interesting than dealing with hard, difficult questions. We aren’t afraid of not knowing the answers because we know that we will be able to find those answers together with our partners, collaborators, friends, and alumni. We have 10,000 of them all over the world, and we are reaching out to them right now so they can also celebrate the 50th anniversary with us.

What specific initiatives are in place or being developed to further enhance the college transfer model?

We’ve talked a lot about our undergraduate education, but I also want to let people know that we have fantastic Master’s and PhD programs as well. We also have quite a lot of partnerships with international institutions through our exchange programs – which are unique. Rather than just receiving students from other countries, what we always do is stimulate and create incentives for our students to spend some time in different countries, including India, Europe, Australia, China, and so on. What we typically do is provide our students with extra funding so they can spend additional time traveling around the country where they are studying, allowing them to learn more about the country’s history, geography, and people. When they return, we organize a seminar or session where they share their observations with the entire student population here at Lakehead, and it works very well.

Are there plans to introduce new non-traditional pathways for individuals who may not have initially considered engineering degree programs during high school?

We created a program specifically for people, who later in life, decide to study engineering or who do not have all the prerequisites after graduating high school. We call it Pre-Engineering or Pre-Eng in short. It’s like pre-medicine, so to speak. We’re passionate about opening these opportunities for people. They can enter our Pre-Eng program, and we prepare them to be successful in engineering education, seamlessly transferring to engineering programs. Another program we are developing that we are proud of is called our “Invictus Engineering” pathway. This engineering program is designed especially for wounded servicemen, servicewomen, and veterans who are transitioning from military to civilian life. They have a terrific background in technology, leadership, and management, but they lack engineering credentials. And because of their abilities or disabilities, they would not be able to follow just the regular engineering program, so we decided to create one for them. We hope to be able to create a partnership with the military and start that program next year. That would be a great contribution to this community

Learn. Grow. Thrive. Together. 

National Engineering Month is Ontario’s platform for celebrating the remarkable world of engineering. With a dynamic mix of insightful discussions, industry expertise, and diverse viewpoints, we’re showcasing the best of the profession. Join us in advancing engineering excellence, igniting interest in future professionals, and recognizing the vital role engineers play in society. Be a part of the #NEM2024 experience by attending an event. Explore all the exciting details at

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