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MIT's Dr. Grimson returns home to Estevan to open the Innovation Conversation series

Grimson spoke before a large crowd at the Southeast College's Estevan campus.
Dr. Eric Grimson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology visited his hometown Thursday to talk about his path from Estevan to MIT.

ESTEVAN - Dr. Eric Grimson returned to his hometown of Estevan on Thursday and opened the Innovation Conversation series being offered by the Southeast Techhub.

The event was organized in partnership with Southeast College and took place at the college’s Estevan campus.

Grimson is the chancellor for academic advancement at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a professor of computer science and the Bernard M. Gordon professor of medical engineering, as well as a former head of the department of electrical engineering and computer science and a former chancellor for MIT.

Grimson left Estevan when he was 16, and now he only has a second cousin here and a few other indirect relatives in Saskatchewan, but he easily agreed to partake in the Innovation Conversation. He said it was important for him to make time and come to his hometown, which influenced him and his life.

Besides, he wanted to share his story to try to inspire and encourage others to chase their dreams no matter how far they need to go to succeed.

"I've had some success. If I can help someone think, ‘Oh, maybe I can go further than just going to Regina or Saskatoon.’ I'm not going to pick on those places. But if I can be a little bit of an example, if you're willing to take some risks, are willing to try, if you're willing to put yourself out there, you can show up somewhere," Grimson said in the interview with the Mercury.

He also noted that he believes Estevan has potential and should do its best to become a technology hub, grow its own and also attract tech specialists, and succeed in the contemporary world of technology.

"I think it's a really important thing to do. The industrial base is changing, from what I understand, dramatically. But I've seen other communities do this. I think if you're willing to take some risks and get support to do it, you have the ability to do it," Grimson said.

"For young people, [they need to] study computer science. I keep saying that, but it's really crucial. But also if you're handy with your hands, if you know how to build things, that's an opportunity … And the third piece is, look at what's here that's unique.

“I'll give you a specific example. I happened to give a talk at Dalhousie [University] about eight years ago, and one of the questions was, how can we be unique? My advice was, you have an industry, you know the sea really well. That's unique to you, take advantage of it," Grimson recalled. "Well, what is it here? Whether it's in farming, or something else, what is it here that is unusual to the province that you can build around …  I think it's really important to encourage people to be much savvier. You don't have to be in a big city, you don't have to be in San Francisco or Boston. You can do it here."

Illustrating this approach, in his presentation, Grimson shared a story of a Manitoba farmer who took one of Grimson’s online courses with MIT, which later helped him build a remote-controlled device that allows him to offload grain from his combine into a grain cart on the go, completely automatically. This innovation now saves him a lot of time and money.

"That could be you," Grimson said in his presentation. "If you figure out how to do something, it could really help out."

Grimson's presentation, A Future in Tech: My Journey from Estevan to MIT, touched on his connection to Estevan, his education and then his growth and career at MIT. In his motivational speech, he talked about the role of technology in the medical world and outside of it. He also opened up the universe of MIT – its staff, students, projects, development, progress, successes and opportunities – and explained how it encourages innovation.

While Grimson said big discoveries and progress can be done right here, he also pointed out that to make dreams come true, people need to step out of their comfort zone, be bold, and find ways to obtain needed knowledge to then implement in their visions.

"Raise your sights. I don't want to encourage you to leave the province ... but if you stay within the bounds of what you know, you're going to limit what you can do. Say somebody who's really interested in technology is going to college; see if you can get into a place that is really strong … Raise your sights. Otherwise, you're only going to do what you know how to do," Grimson said.

The first-ever Innovation Conversation was also streamed online with a few dozen people attending it virtually. The live-stream recording of the event can be found on YouTube (Dr Eric Grimson MIT Presentation at Southeast College Estevan Campus).

Born and raised in Estevan, Grimson’s visit was his first to his hometown in over 20 years. He noted that while his interest in technology mostly formed after his family moved to Regina and later, his years and his teachers in the Energy City have also influenced his future choices.

"A lot of the influence came later, but … I can remember a couple of high school teachers that were really good at encouraging persistence in science," Grimson recalled. "It was really sort of that encouragement that if you have a skill, apply it, that I think is really important … Those early mentors were really important."

Dr. Vicky Roy, the CEO of Southeast College, introduced Grimson and thanked him for coming and sharing his experience with the audience.

Councillor Rebecca Foord greeted Grimson on behalf of the city and the local innovation council. In her opening remarks, she touched on the many successes, innovations and talented people the southeast has had over the years.  

"It's hard to conceptualize how many successful people this area of the world has actually produced. These people all have something in common. They've taken a problem, a challenge or found a gap in the respective fields, and they found a way to make improvements, and as a result, have changed their industries. They're all innovators," Foord said.

"We've got an uphill battle in our community in the next few years. But with innovation, we can find creative solutions to not only saving what we already have, but to find ways to expand our beautiful city. We can take examples from our past and our present to find ways to transition through more difficult times in a positive way.

“Dr. Grimson is a perfect example of this. He left Estevan for the passion for numbers. And despite being one of only a handful of people doing what he did, he pushed for what he was passionate about, and for what he believed in. His research, teachings and innovative techniques have changed a number of industries in this world. And he inspires young minds to learn and do great things on a regular basis.

"I'm so proud to know that Dr. Grimson is from Estevan, and I hope that we can take some of his knowledge and his success and use it to motivate us to achieve our own goals, not only individually, but collectively as a city," Foord said.

More Innovation Conversations are coming to Estevan this year. Southeast Techhub executive director Gord More said next, they plan on bringing in Jeff Sandquist, former corporate vice president at Microsoft, and currently VP and head of worldwide community and growth for Automattic, a multi-billion dollar equity value SaaS enterprise, which owns, Tumblr, WooCommerce, Jetpack and a host of other properties.