Aerospace campus brings Downsview into the light



Viewed from space, it’s a dark field in the middle of a brilliantly lit city at night. For decades Torontonians skirted around the periphery of Downsview Park with little awareness of what the land encompasses.

On April 25, Centennial College formally opened its Downsview Campus Centre for Aerospace and Aviation, an education and training facility that represents the first stage in an ambitious plan to recast the former military airbase as Ontario’s aerospace hub to help advance Canada’s aviation industry in a highly competitive global sector.

The four-acre campus is the new home of Centennial’s aerospace technology programs located on the historic site of de Havilland of Canada, an indelible part of Canada’s aviation heritage. The college’s $72-million project repurposes the de Havilland building with selective demolition and new construction to create 12,700 square metres of instruction space, including classrooms, labs and workshops, and two aircraft hangars under a unique green roof that displays the college’s logo to passing planes.

The campus actually opened in early January, after aircraft maintenance and engineering technology students relocated to the new site from the college’s other locations. Construction crews continued to put the finishing touches on the building while the students began disassembling aircraft and engines as part of their training.

The Ontario government contributed $25.8 million towards the campus, while Ottawa granted $18.4 million in Strategic Investment Funds. The college and its partners and donors funded the remainder. The expansive teaching space will allow enrolment to grow from 300 to almost 1,000 students, as aerospace graduates are in high demand in Canada and around the world.

“Aerospace is a vibrant industry that is ours for the taking,” Andrew Petrou, Director, Strategic Initiatives and External Relations at Centennial, told the audience on opening day. “We’re calling on the entire aerospace community – industry, organizations and academics – to work together to help drive aerospace technologies and training.”

Centennial counts Bombardier Aerospace as a key partner by helping to prepare its workforce with new skills required in the assembly and maintenance of the next generation of aircraft. With Bombardier’s generous donation of a Canadian-made CRJ200, the world’s bestselling regional jet, students have the opportunity to work on current technology and gain the full skills set to join the workforce.

In addition to training aircraft maintenance engineers (AMEs), Centennial has launched new programs for aerospace manufacturing technologists and technicians at the campus, which features sophisticated CNC machines and industrial robots that can rapidly produce aircraft components.

As the industry moves away from aluminum to adopt lighter materials such as carbon fibre, the campus has a composites lab that can make repairs or create new parts. There is also an indoor drone lab, where the future workhorses of the industry are being designed and tested.

Centennial’s campus forms the first stage in the Downsview Aerospace Innovation and Research (DAIR) consortium’s plans for a Downsview hub to develop new technologies through collaborative research and innovation, aid in workforce skills training and participate in supply-chain development.

DAIR partners include Centennial College, the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies, Ryerson University, York University, Bombardier, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Honeywell, Collins Aerospace, Safran Landing Systems, MDA Corp., Siemens, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Canada Aerospace, Canadensys Aerospace and FlightSafety International.

With an overall objective to enhance Canada’s ranking as an aerospace technology provider in a global industry worth $838 billion annually, Centennial College is well positioned as the anchor for this exciting endeavour.

• For more information, visit www.centennialcollege.ca/setas.


Centennial College’s next President is a dynamic educator



Dr. Craig Stephenson, Vice President, Student and Community Engagement, has been selected to serve as Centennial’s seventh President and will commence in his new role on August 26.

The rigorous selection process was led by the Board of Governors’ Presidential Search Committee, supported by Phelpsgroup Executive Search. This process included a series of campus and community-wide consultations that resulted in a comprehensive Job Opportunity Brief for the role of Centennial’s new CEO. It attracted an exceptional slate of candidates from across Canada. The selection committee found the candidate who not only reflected Centennial’s future vision, but who also has the capabilities to implement that vision.

 With his deep roots in the formation of Centennial’s new Book of Commitments, Dr Stephenson demonstrated keen insight on how a more agile Centennial will transform student and employee lives. Internally, his leadership will advance the cross-disciplinary communication that is a hallmark of the Centennial brand and will focus minds and hearts on sustaining success, ensuring the College remains robust and receptive to new opportunities. Externally, he will reach out to government, business and community stakeholders to forge more innovative partnerships and alliances.

 The College’s ability to transform lives and communities resonates readily with his own childhood roots and post-secondary experiences. He overcame great odds that reflect many of the experiences of our students today. Staring adversity down, three life lessons shaped his leadership. The first was the need to provide student support to build confidence – even at times when little may seem to be at hand.

Born into a working-class family living in a rural district in northern England, Dr Stephenson was the first in his family to go to post-secondary school. It was not an easy journey. Advised to “aim low” due to England’s classism, he was dissuaded from applying to the country’s best universities despite having exceptional grades. He went on to earn a first-class honours degree in history at Warwick University in Coventry, having worked hard to overcome a strong sense of not belonging.

Following this, a second life lesson emerged: the importance of exploration as a means to develop a worldview. Having studied and worked in England, South Carolina and California – and on an ocean-going ship touring the world – he has always been an education pioneer. A former international student himself and later, an International House Associate Dean, a senior member of the Semester at Sea student life team and architect of an international student services operation, Dr Stephenson has become well versed and passionate about global citizenship and internationalization.

A third life lesson surfaced as he took his education to the next level. The mantra aim high to achieve your potential while supporting others emerged as he completed his doctorate and taught social history at the University of Warwick, while serving as a Resident Coordinator overseeing the well-being of first-year students. All of these lessons shaped his views of how the power of local action contributes to global citizenry. He has shaped new programs and pedagogy, and helped Centennial’s research capacity and developing faculty to grow.

Originally hired as Centennial’s Dean of Students in 2008, he immediately initiated discussions, planning, retention analysis and action setting to conceive the College’s leading-edge developmental advising model. This momentum yielded a fresh approach to academic advising and simultaneously launched a powerful career services model. Of vital importance to students, he led mental health initiatives and became an exemplar of “silver service” quality, innovation, design and evaluation.

Those who have worked alongside Dr Stephenson know his leadership style is inclusive, principled and connected. He prefers to walk the talk and deliver what was agreed to. He’s a fan of the “pop-in” – to quote Jerry Seinfeld – dropping in to see people face-to-face when able. Through his long and varied involvement in the post-secondary sector, he is keen to never let a day pass by without finding a way to enhance the student experience, while considering the impact of his decisions on employees, institutional resources and stakeholders.

As an accomplished advocate and champion for Centennial students, his contributions signal next stages of growth and development. From pro-active student services to radical re-imagination of academic advising, he demonstrates the power of service leadership. Decision-making will be grounded in evidence, producing the result we all aspire towards: graduating healthy students who are exceptionally employable.

Dr Stephenson is an avid cyclist, residing in Whitchurch-Stouffville with his partner Parna and their seven-year old son, Oakley. As he takes the leadership mantle, he will be training as hard as he would for any long-distance cycling event – in this case, to understand the cadences of Centennial as he focuses on Scarborough and the communities that the College’s five campuses, learning sites and international partnerships serve.

•  Scott Allison is the Board Chair at Centennial College.

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