With the mining scene booming in northwestern Ontario and Thunder Bay positioning itself as an industry service hub, university president Brian Stevenson said the time is right to academically support this rapidly growing sector.
“We're building a case to establish a centre of excellence for mineral exploration and mining sustainability.”
Though still in the discussion stage internally, Stevenson said it will combine the university's strengths in exploration and environmental studies with other elements to create an interdisciplinary program.
“It's clear that mining is going to become a major economic driver in northwestern Ontario in the next 20 to 30 years, and the university has to be at the forefront of that.”
At its core is its popular geology department, but the program curriculum will involve input from faculty in engineering, business, health sciences, natural resources management and Aboriginal studies.
“All around the mining industry there are a lot of secondary and academic programs that aren't just about extraction, but about exploration, environmental assessment and reaching out to Aboriginal people; the social and economics side of it,” said Stevenson.
“We want to build a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary centre of excellence that brings all of our researchers together. That's the role the university can play in filling the gap between the Aboriginal communities and the mining industry.”
Stevenson said he was engaged in a similar initiative at the University of Alberta in supporting that province's energy sector.
He cautioned that it's a mistake to assume that Lakehead intends to directly compete with other Canadian universities and start pumping out mining engineers.
“We're not into the extraction part here, that's what Laurentian (University in Sudbury) does. The idea is that we should be complementing each other.
“Our goal is to listen to industry, the communities and develop the program within our expertise without trying to duplicate what other institutions in the country are doing.”
He placed no timelines on how fast a program could be developed, but added it could come together “quite quickly.”
“Whether we need support from industry or government, we'll know later on. But I think the province would expect us to take leadership on issues of supporting our economy in northwestern Ontario.”