What single word describes our times? For Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi, that word is disruption. On October 5, in a sold-out address to the Economic Club of Canada, the Ryerson president told members of the business community that to thrive in a changing world, students will need “21st century skills—that is, flexibility, adaptability, creativity and problem solving.”

From technology’s upheaval of traditional business models to the political/economic uncertainty that has spread across the world, “disruption” has become a fact of life. For Lachemi, the university sector is no different. With 42% of jobs at risk from automation within the next decade, Lachemi noted that education will be more important than ever, but also that “Canadian students need more than knowledge.”

“You know that many Canadian youth have what Ryerson’s Brookfield Institute calls ‘an experience mismatch,’” said Lachemi. “Despite impressive educational achievements, they do not have the real-world experience required to integrate into the workforce.”

In response, Ryerson’s 21st-century approach to disruption is guided by three ideas.

  1. Disruption Ignores Boundaries: “We must ignore the arbitrary and outdated barriers between us,” said Lachemi. “In a word, we must become partners.” At Ryerson, every program has an advisory board where leaders can share insights to create new and innovative programs. Ryerson’s new master’s program Data Science and Analytics works with companies like IBM, Sick Kids, and the Toronto Stock Exchange to provide students with real-world experience. The university has also forged an innovative partnership with St. Michael’s Hospital, and is a founding academic partner of the scale-up innovation hub OneEleven.
  2. Disruption is Global: At Ryerson’s DMZ, Tariq Fancy launched a potentially world-changing venture: Rumie, which provides low-cost tablets loaded with educational materials to poor and isolated communities. The tablet has been made available to children in 20 countries. But Ryerson’s global approach is truly an exchange. “Given that disruption requires us to think and act globally,” said Lachemi, “what is the best way to get a good grasp of what is going on in other countries? Invite the world to our campus.” Ryerson’s students come from 120 countries, and the community has also helped more than 400 Syrian refugees get established in Canada.
  3. Disruption is Changing How Students Learn: “Ryerson has high academic standards and conducts leading-edge research,” said Lachemi. “At the same time, we are committed to innovation.” To that end, Ryerson has become a global leader in zone learning, with its DMZ business incubator pioneering an interdisciplinary student-driven model of education that fosters partnerships between Ryersonians, corporations and government agencies. Lachemi also commended Ryerson’s Hyperloop team, working to develop the next generation of transportation in their entry to the Hyperloop Pod Competition sponsored by SpaceX. “The Ryerson Hyperloop Project has it all,” said Lachemi. “The project ignores boundaries, bringing together students from different disciplines. It is global, with students and advisors from five countries. And Ryerson’s partners—more than 15 of Canada’s leading engineering and manufacturing companies—helped make it happen.”

Held at the Omni King Edward Hotel, the October 5 event marked Lachemi’s first major address since his installation as Ryerson’s president last year. The event hosted delegations from across Ryerson, and representatives from the Council of Ontario Universities, TD Bank, Boyden Canada, Ontario Centres of Excellence and McCarthy Tetrault LLP.

In an emotional introduction, Economic Club president and CEO Rhiannon Traill recalled the impact that Ryerson had on her career. “So much of what I’ve done in the last decade since I graduated can be attributed to my incredible education, love, and passion that I achieved at Ryerson. It was a top-notch education, but it was more than just that: Ryerson allowed me to believe in myself, and believe that I was able to, in some small way, change the world.” Traill currently serves on Ryerson’s Board of Governors.

In her closing remarks, Ryerson Board of Governors chair Janice Fukakusa praised Ryerson’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion. “As you walk around the campus, you’ll see a rich diversity of people, hear an array of languages, and experience the energy of thousands of young people, many of whom are the first university attendees of their family. … I have to commend Mohamed and Ryerson for inviting the world in.”