Ultimate garage gets major funding gift

The Elko Engineering Garage will provide engineering students with new hands-on learning opportunities, using tools and equipment to build devices they've designed.

Richard Cairney - 21 September 2018

Engineering students at the University of Alberta will have access to a new work space where they can bring their ideas to life, thanks in large part to a major donation from an engineering alumnus.

A major gift from local philanthropists Ernie and Cathie Elko will cover maintenance and operating costs of the new Elko Engineering Garage, a 6,000-square-foot makerspace shop where engineering students can bring their ideas to life.

Dean of Engineering Fraser Forbes says the idea for the makerspace comes from the fact that the best learning comes from doing, and that the best ideas should not be constrained by lack of access to equipment or capabilities.

The Elko's gift, Forbes added, is a powerful sign of faith in the Faculty of Engineering.

"We are grateful and honoured that Ernie and Cathie have demonstrated their confidence and trust in our faculty to enrich the education our students receive," said Forbes. "It's appropriate this gift is announced on Alumni Weekend, when we are reunited as a family. In many ways, this generous gift is about community."

Forbes told a gathering of alumni that the makerspace provides new opportunities for engineering professionals to meet and mentor students.

"The Elko Engineering Garage strengthens our student community. Members of our alumni are invited and encouraged to give of their time and expertise here, mentoring our next generation of engineers."

The Elkos have chosen not to reveal the amount of the gift, but Forbes says the impact of this partnership is undeniable.

Because of their gift, the ongoing operation of the Elko Engineering Garage is sustainable, covering ongoing operating costs, including maintenance and salaries for engineering co-op students working in the garage.

Ernie Elko graduated from the U of A with a degree in civil engineering in 1962. He served as president of the Canadian division of Peter Kiewit and Sons (now Kiewit) from 1992 until 2003, when he turned to engineering consulting.

The Elko family has a long history of contributing to the betterment of their community. In 2011, they made a key contribution towards the purchase of a new cardiac MRI machine for the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute.

Ernie was also part of the Edmonton Investors Group that owned the Edmonton Oilers from 1998 to 2008. He has also served in local government as a council member for the summer village of Argentina Beach.

Elko Engineering Garage Fast Facts

Previous generations have benefited from family garages where people could tinker, and the Elko Engineering Garage is a shared home for all engineering students to do the same.

While equipped with traditional hand and power tools, the garage stands apart with tools on the high-tech end of the spectrum.

  • The Elko Engineering Garage is a $3.8-million investment in students by the federal government and the Faculty of Engineering. It is located on Level 2 of the Engineering Teaching and Learning Complex (ETLC).
  • Combined with the Mechanical Engineering makerspace and the new design lab in the Electrical and Computer Engineering research Facility, U of A engineering students now have access to one of largest University makerspaces in Canada.
  • A major gift by engineering alumnus Ernie Elko and his wife Cathie will cover ongoing operating and maintenance costs of this facility.
  • The 6,000-square-foot centre will be fully operational in January 2019.
  • This modern makerspace is equipped with one of the largest 3D printer collections in Edmonton, including 11 polymer 3D printers ranging from consumer to commercial-grade machines.
  • The Elko Engineering Garage is home to a Stratasys PolyJet J750 3D printer-one of only three in Canada and the only one in the West. Its ability to print ultra-fine layers, about half the thickness of a human skin cell, creates amazingly realistic surface textures. It also offers full-colour mapping, which replicates colour gradients and shadows so accurately printed objects seem to come to life.
  • A machine room adjoining the Elko Garage is the 'heavy' work zone where students can access larger machinery with higher safety, ventilation, and dust control requirements. This area allows them to build with metal, wood, and other materials, using tools like CNC machines, injection molders, vacuum formers, saws, lathes, a water jet cutter, and more.
  • By student for students: engineering students shared their needs and vision for the Elko Engineering Garage, sharing their creative ideas and making key contributions to the way the space serves them.
  • The Elko Engineering Garage is operated by Faculty of Engineering staff working with engineering co-op students. Co-op students will always be rotating through the Elko Garage on work placements serving as mentors, supervisors, troubleshooters, and leaders.