By Ashleigh Mattern, BA’11
Last year, the Engineering Advancement Trust purchased a bevy of hands-on equipment for students in the College of Engineering, including an advanced flow measurement system used to measure flows in pipes and rivers, a new impact testing facility that replaced a 50-year-old model with safety concerns, optics and photonics equipment, and a combined heat and power laboratory.
The Trust receives significant annual support from the Friends of the College of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan (FOCUS) – Calgary Chapter, a group of close to 1,500 Engineering alumni who understand that the college is a capitally intensive school that needs ongoing support from its graduates. Plus, giving something tangible is a great way to underscore the connection between alumni and students.
“When we were there, we benefited from the gifting from previous alumni,” said Blair Hockley (BE’96), campaign chair of the Calgary group. “We want students to realize that they are connected to alumni.”
Since the early 1950s, a significant number of U of S Engineering graduates have built their careers in Calgary, and since those early days, they never missed a chance to gather as proud U of S alumni, whether it was to have dinner with former professors, watch the Huskies play the U of C Dinos or meet the current U of S President. In the 1980s, the group formally organized itself into social and fundraising committees and since then they have raised over $3 million for the college, with the majority of the funds going towards the Engineering Advancement Trust.
Hockley has been involved with the group since he attended university. Alumni like Al Schreiner (BE’63), Art Dumont (BE’67), Doug Annable (BE’67), and Barry Korchinski (BE’67) were leading the fundraising at that time, and actively involved students in both fundraising and “friend raising” events.
Al Schreiner stepped in as Hockley’s mentor, and their relationship ended up transcending university; they have worked together around the world, and consider each other friends, says Hockley.
“My relationship with the group has been what we’re hoping to foster in other givers – a feeling of connection between alumni and students.”
Today, Hockley is the vice-president of Thermal Oil, a position he directly attributes to his education at the U of S. He says many alumni share this sentiment, and it plays a role in their willingness to give.
“We wouldn’t be doing what we are doing today without the excellent quality of education we received at the U of S. It’s incumbent on us to give back because we wouldn’t have what we have without our education.”
The group raises about $100,000 per year and hosts several social events. Their annual golf tournament started in 1990, and is a popular event to this day, but it has never been a fundraising event. All of their “friend raising” initiatives are kept separate from fundraising because they want members to see that building community is just as important as raising funds.
The group is currently witnessing a “changing of the guard” as the graduates from the ’60s allow the graduates from the ’90s to fill the leadership roles, though all generations continue to connect with current students. But no matter what changes come, the same conditions that have always made the group successful are still in place: very strong leadership in a very tight-knit industry.
Ashleigh Mattern (BA’11) is a freelance journalist in Saskatoon. She is a former editor-in-chief of The Sheaf, and her work is regularly published in a variety of Saskatoon publications including the U of S alumni magazine, the Green & White.