Simon Fraser University (SFU) became the first Canadian university to accept bitcoin today, announcing it will now take donations in digital currency.
Founded in 1965, the British Columbia-based university boasts more than 35,000 students, and was recently named as one of the top global universities under 150 years old.
Simon Fraser Bitcoin Club president Mike Yeung, who together with SFU alumnus Scott Nelson provided the first bitcoin donation to the school, explained that bitcoin is a way for the university to bolster its perception as a forward-thinking institution.
"SFU is looking to be really innovative and really edgy, and bitcoin is one of those things that is perfect for that."
Yeung and Nelson, who now serves as chief technology officer at crowdfunding startup dana.io, contributed $6,000 in bitcoin for the new initiative.
SFU students Laurie Macpherson and Lauren Shandley will use the donations for a co-op project to be completed during the upcoming fall term. The students will visia Kolkata, India, where they will work with Destiny Reflection, a non-profit organisation that seeks to provide support for victims of human trafficking.
In conjunction with the announcement, the university has added a "Donate with Bitcoin" option to its official donations page. Contributions can also be made through employer matching, recurring monthly gifts and cheques.
SFU will use BitPay as its official bitcoin merchant processing partner.
SFU embraces bitcoin
The news is the latest from SFU, which has been increasingly vocal about its support for bitcoin in recent weeks.
For example, Mark McLaughlin, SFU’s executive director of ancillary services, suggested on 20th August that the university could soon launch a pilot project to use bitcoin in its dining services and incorporate bitcoin ATMs into its bookstores.
McLaughlin told Vancouver-based news source Straight.com:
“It would be about creating somewhat of an ecosystem on our campus. It’s one thing to accept bitcoin. If there were some ATMs around the campuses, at least it’d make it easier for students to obtain bitcoin.”
At the time, McLaughlin suggested the school had "no plans" to accept tuition payments.
Bitcoin club influence grows
University groups continue to be an important part of pushing bitcoin use forward, with the MIT Bitcoin Project and College Cryptocurrency Network perhaps providing the most notable success stories to date.
Yeung, who has worked closely with the latter group, founded his school's bitcoin club in early 2013, after two years of mining and researching on his own. However, he says other students and university officials weren't initially enthusiastic about his ideas.
"When I first started the club, I tried to scour for support from faculty or support from students, and it was really hard to even get 10 people, nobody knew what the heck bitcoin was," he said.
Today, the club boasts a mailing list of more than 175 members and holds successful events on a range of topics. For example, the group put on COINFEST 2014 in February of this year, an event featured panel sessions from local industry businesses, including Anthony Di Iorio, co-founder of Ethereum and CoinTrader founder Paul Szczesny.
Yeung told CoinDesk that it was Nelson who first encouraged him to begin bitcoin mining in 2011, and that this hobby later became his obsession.
The business administration major recalls:
"I spent that entire summer 2011, I had no interest in anything else other than learning about bitcoin, trying to figure out what this thing is."
Though he did have periods of doubt about the long-term impact of the technology, he said his passion has carried through to his pursuit of higher education, noting that the process helped him persevere through rejections from classmates and university officials. In his spare time, Yeung also serves as the founder and CEO of Saftonhouse Consulting Group, a local bitcoin consulting agency.
Today, Yeung asserts that his intention is to pursue a career in the bitcoin industry, concluding.
"I'm definitely trying to do this as a career."