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Pierre Lassonde, chair of the board of directors, Polytechnique Montréal.CAROLINE PERRON

From urban centres to remote corners on Earth and into space, the ingenuity of engineers has been central to humanity’s quest to overcome barriers, solve challenges and create opportunities.

“If you want to change the world, there is no better way to achieve this than through engineering,” says Pierre Lassonde, chair of the board of directors at Polytechnique Montréal, an engineering university with an impressive track record of impact spanning 150 years.

At the heart of this impact are deep connections to industry, communities and society, he explains. “Partnerships are very important to Polytechnique Montréal; they give us a front-row seat to current needs.”

Although conditions have changed over the past century and a half, the institution continues to tackle current and emerging challenges. At the time of its inception, there was a strong drive to develop Quebec’s abundant natural resources, including hydropower.

As a result, Quebec is now a leader in hydropower, which provides 90 per cent of the province’s electricity, and Hydro-Québec, the main utility, is recognized for its foresight in delivering clean energy solutions.

“Quebec has one of the greenest energy grids in the world,” says Mr. Lassonde. “We are also looking at other renewable power sources.”

Among the province’s natural resources are rich mineral deposits, including copper, nickel and gold. The government’s recent critical minerals strategy creates a supportive environment for resource development, and engineering expertise at Polytechnique Montréal will help to facilitate turning these assets into societal benefits.

“We want to create a greener, more sustainable future. We are working on new forms of energy, on new technologies that depend on critical metals, and on new materials,” he says. “We are also leaders in fields like artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, which are absolutely vital.”

At the foundation of Polytechnique Montréal’s success are efforts to “create a virtuous cycle,” Mr. Lassonde explains. “It starts with students who are keen and interested. They will one day be our ambassadors. Then we have our university, comprising of world-renowned experts who are dedicated to teaching the next generation as well as conducting research and development.”

Since 1873, the institution has produced more than 57,000 graduates who have had major positive impacts in Quebec, Canada and around the world. “The Polytechnique community is united and strongly mobilized, thanks in particular to the work of our foundation and alumni,” he says. “Thanks to them, we can achieve major breakthroughs in the development of new projects and university spaces and support our teaching and research activities.”

Currently, 10,000 students are enrolled. “One-third of our students are international, with many coming from French-speaking parts of the world,” he says. “Many of these students then go on to become leaders in their countries, which can help create an atmosphere of co-operation.”

While the calibre of graduates and professors helps to elevate a university’s reputation, Mr. Lassonde considers “impact the final connector of the virtuous cycle.

“Too many research efforts at universities don’t get applied in the real world. That’s where an entrepreneurial mindset can make a difference, as well as dedicated centres and divisions for translating research findings into tangible benefits.”

For example, Polytechnique Montréal’s entrepreneurship office, Propolys, has already supported more than 150 projects since its creation in 2019. Two programs for entrepreneurs, in cybersecurity and clean technologies, are offered to support key sectors of the economy and society.

Among the measures often considered for an institution’s standing are the number of papers and citations achieved, yet Dr. Lassonde believes concrete outcomes are even more important. “How do we measure success? How many patents have we registered? How many companies have we formed? How many jobs have we helped create in Quebec, in Canada?”

Polytechnique Montréal’s portfolio includes 105 improvements to existing technologies, 56 patents held and 27 active spinoff companies.

Achieving real-world impact is a priority at Polytechnique Montréal, and this is something that draws partners, students and professors to the university, he adds.

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.