When Bruce Miller graduated from Queen’s in 1972 with a degree in Civil Engineering, his class was not a model of diversity. At the time, engineering was largely the domain of white men. But in recent years, Miller has been resolute in supporting the growth of diversity in the field.
So, as he and his Queen’s classmates prepared for their 50th year reunion at Homecoming in 2022, they decided to put their collective attention on supporting the faculty’s equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) initiatives as outlined in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science’s strategic plan.
Together, they established the Science’72 EDI 50th Reunion Endowment Fund, a renewable award dedicated to supporting incoming engineering students from historically underrepresented groups. With over $1 million now in the fund, the award will give one incoming student $10,000 and is renewable for up to four years.
“Each year, we’ll add a new student,” says Miller, who is also a member of the Queen’s University Alumni Assembly. “The plan will be for us to ‘adopt’ these students so that they become honorary members of Sc’72. The goal will be to provide connection for them, as well as mentoring as they need it.”
Spearheaded by a committee made up of class representatives from every department within the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Miller says about 30 percent of the class contributed to the initiative. The most significant gift came from Sc’72 class member Stephen Smith, the namesake of Smith School of Business, who initially offered to match donations of up to $500,000 and eventually doubled his offer to $1 million.
Miller, who led three calling campaigns and communicated regularly with his classmates through digital newsletters over the two-year period leading up to the reunion, was delighted to see his classmates embrace the goal of bringing more diversity to the Engineering faculty at Queen’s.
“In assisting and supporting people in underserved and underrepresented groups who might otherwise not have a chance to attend Queen’s, we are making Queen’s Engineering better,” he explains. “The diverse nature of Canadian society means we need a more diverse and representative group of engineering graduates, so they can better serve society in Canada. That is a central focus for me.”
Miller, who presided over two engineering firms during his career, had always felt strongly about the importance of providing advancement opportunities for young people by exposing them to technology, math, and engineering at a young age. But as the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction in the United States in 2020, Miller paid attention, inspired to make change in his own corner of the world. “It sparked something in me,” he recalls.
Though the Sc’72 committee first began talking about establishing a class fund in 2018, it was when Miller learned that Dean Kevin Deluzio was putting an emphasis on EDI through the Engineering for Everyone pillar of the strategic plan that he knew they’d found their focus.
The group’s initial expendable fund provided money for the dean to use at his discretion on EDI programming, while the endowed fund will provide annual awards for deserving students of traditionally underrepresented groups well into the future – with the first recipients arriving as early as September 2023 or 2024. The criteria for eligibility are being developed by the university in consultation with the fundraising committee.
Like many of his classmates, Miller credits his time at Queen’s for changing the course of his career. He wants to see a new crop of engineers benefit the same way.
"This is something we hear over and over,” he says. “I heard it from Stephen Smith through this fundraising process. Going to Queen’s changed our lives. We had opportunities that we might not even have access to today, given the requirements to get into Queen’s.”
Miller says that he and his committee members have been inspired by the enthusiasm that his Sc’72 classmates have demonstrated for the initiative, as well as their commitment to increasing diversity within the Faculty of Engineering as a way of marking the 50 years since their own graduation.
“At first, we weren’t sure it would work, but we quickly realized that people weren’t donating money just because it was a class fund,” he says. “They were making donations because they believed in the purpose. It has been great to see.”
This story originally appeared on the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science website.