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Frank McKenna is a tireless advocate of technology.Cameron Fitch/Supplied

The organizer: Frank McKenna

The pitch: donating $5-million and raising $50-million

The cause: The University of New Brunswick’s digital technology initiatives

Frank McKenna was a tireless advocate of technology during his decade-long year tenure as premier of New Brunswick and he has kept up that passion since leaving office.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and most of the world went into lockdown, Mr. McKenna gave more thought to New Brunswick’s unique background in digital technology as interest in the province soared because of its location. The University of New Brunswick opened Canada’s first faculty of computer science in 1990 and the university is the home of the Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity.

“I wanted to do something that would build on that, something that wasn’t bricks and mortar, something that would be truly transformational,” Mr. McKenna said from his home in Cap-Pelé, northeast of Moncton.

He began working with university officials to help expand the number of students studying computer science at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

In 2021, he also donated $5-million to UNB and helped raise $50-million to establish the McKenna Institute which focuses on fostering digital technology innovation across a number of fields including health care, agriculture and artificial intelligence.

A key part of the institute is outreach and bringing digital innovation and education to various communities including First Nations. “We want everybody included, not just people who might have been disposed toward computer science,” Mr. McKenna said. He added that the First Nations’ program includes pathways to higher education and jobs.

The institute is also working with New Brunswick’s Department of Education to create a digital curriculum for schools and it’s offering skills-upgrade courses for people who are currently employed. It also has a mentoring program for young people, exchanges with students from the Middle East and initiatives to encourage more girls to take up studies in science, math, engineering and technology.

Mr. McKenna is hoping to raise as much as $100-million in total for the institute and he said the initiative has been energizing. “I just have this profound sense that it’s something meaningful, and something that can create exponential growth,” he said. “I just think we’re doing something profoundly transformational.”

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