PODCAST: In Coversation with Queen's engineering alumnus Dr. Bert Wasmund

Posted on December 04, 2019


Alumnus Dr. Bert Wasmund and his family have long supported Queen’s students through numerous awards and through securing funding from engineering firm, Hatch. Recently, the family added a fourth award, The Wasmund Family Indigenous Engineering Scholars Award, a gift that supports indigenous students throughout their undergraduate program in Queen’s engineering, and which is being matched by the faculty. Every fall, Dr. Wasmund holds a dinner for students who have received awards. We caught up with him at the most recent dinner. See photos and more information about this year's Wasmund Family Memorial Awards and dinner. 

  • Alumnus Dr. Bert Wasmund and his family have long supported Queen’s students through numerous awards and through securing funding from engineering firm, Hatch. Recently, the family added a fourth award, The Wasmund Family Engineering Scholars Award, a gift that supports indigenous students throughout their undergraduate program in Queen’s engineering, and which is being matched by the faculty. Every fall, Dr. Wasmund holds a dinner for students who have received awards. We caught up with him at the most recent dinner.

    Raised in a farm and great parents. We were very humble. People had to work hard mixed farming and timbering to make a living at all. Went to a one room public school, all eight grades in the same class, taught by one teacher. I went to high school and Bancroft and then I applied to universities but it wasn't doing so good. So I went, I went to work at the Bancroft uranium mines and that was really a good thing because I got some good mentors. They're really good mentors in the mining business and into the uranium processing business. And one of them was the Queensman, a 1950 graduate from Sudbury. He talked me into coming to Queens and that was one of the best moves I ever made. That got me straightened out and they did, I put my abilities better to work. I joined hatch and Hatch was a small little company in Toronto but they had really good people. And I was able to really help Hatch and we build up a strong company very quickly.

    When did you start getting interested in developing these scholarship funds and in different awards?

    In 1990 , four of us took over the company running the company which was always was owned by the employees. So out of this and the success with the innovations that we're making, not only myself, but many others too, we made a fair bit of money and I knew that giving it to students was the best thing that was possible. And since I had been raised in North Hastings in North Hastings, Renfrew, and I knew those were, they were a great, is a great place to live and being raised because they had a very communal system for helping one another and they needed that and they still needed, they still, even to this very day. So that's where I did the first scholarship, was for the North Hastings North furniture from my old high school area. And at the time Ontario was the matching funds. So the money I put in, they double it. More recently now, then, well, and then I started with indigenous people cause they needed it even more. I think it was 2010 or so I started with it and we called it Aboriginal at the time. But now we've changed that to indigenous words. It's a better, more acceptable description and that's good. So now we're going have Aboriginal students, the same number. Three new ones each year and over four years it's 12. So we're having 12 every year. Like for these dinners we'd have 12 as the same, the 12th from North Hastings North Renfrew. And then we've got scholarships also in sustainable energy that's energy directly from the sun, wind power, solar power and hydro-power. And that's marvelous.

    You've kept your focus on awards for students and funding for students as opposed to buildings or something else. Why is that?

    My interest is people. That's who you really got to help. That's my view.

    I've read that you believe that an education is vital for everyone to be able to succeed. You talked a lot about in terms of making sure that these scholarships go to people who are most in need and financial need.

    The financial need is important and that's, that's it's getting worse I believe because now a lot of the students themselves are going into financial difficulty. They are taking loans out to go through. So now the size of the scholarships is $10,000 a year. So that just covers enough to sway the decision by this, the candidates. So they would be able to make the right decision, just enough to say think of seriously what you're going to do and give you enough money to get you to start on this and uh, and they'll pick the right path to do. It's important to get a good education that's vital for the progress of people. I think it's fundamental to succeed and not everyone is going to do it, but that's, we just changed the minds enough or a good number of them do with it's very helpful and will help the country a lot too. I believe it.

    You've mentioned too, that you feel that it's really important for indigenous communities to have their next generation come back and be leaders.

    Absolutely. That's even more important because we made such a problem for them not working with them and not getting them to advance. Fortunately we've got some real dandy people, you saw them today, Mark Green and so on. He was first in his whole year at Queens and it took him to Cambridge and so on. So we've got some marvelous examples of how well it works.

    You're here tonight to celebrate with these scholars and to have dinner with them when you do this every year.

    Well, yes, I do it every year. I love to do it.

    It must be really gratifying to see all these faces around the room.

    Yes, it is. Then there'll be some of the, some of those students that had a good number of them are going to turn out to be giants of their own. Don't worry. There are some really good people coming up.

    What do you think your education at Queens gave you to launch you forward into just such a successful career? What were the highlights of your education here?

    I learned an awful lot about the people at Queens. Not only about people but about Canada - you know, raised like I was on a farming community. I was fairly isolated, but soon as I come here, I was with people from the large cities. I was people from the far North, people from all over the world. And they weren't going home at night. They were staying here. And so we were getting together at night and talking. you learn a lot about the country that way and what the strengths are and what the different people think and so on. So it was amazing. I think you learn a lot about people and yeah, and of course it's a great school too.

    What advice would you give to a first year student coming in this year?

    I would say get organized and learn to use your abilities. And don't waste your time, but don't also be, don't be so narrow. Learn about people. Learn how to be a good team player and be ethical. That's important. And if you're smart, you get good at it. Utilize it. Be innovative. So that's, that's the thing.