Friday, September 19, 2014

President Samarasekera's Weekly Bulletin--Sept 19

As I walked to my office this morning, I could not help but notice all of the activity on the North Campus quad in celebration of the history and traditions of the University of Alberta. We are delighted that Mayor Don Iveson has formally proclaimed today Green and Gold Day in Edmonton. The High Level Bridge as well as the ATB Building downtown will shine green and gold tonight—all in honour of U of A Alumni Weekend.

Last night, at the Alumni Awards ceremony, I had the pleasure of meeting and honouring 41 alumni whose contributions and service to their disciplines and professions, voluntary and philanthropic sectors, and the university community are exceptional. As is always the case, it was an evening of powerful, affirming storytelling. I left feeling energized to be associated with such a remarkable group of people. And, the award winners are clearly thrilled to be recognized by their alma mater. If you have not attended the event, I urge you to put it into your calendars for next September.

This week, in preparation for the State of the University address, I spent many hours in reflection, reviewing the past decade of growth and accomplishment at this university. As I told the Edmonton Journal editorial board on Wednesday, I found it exhilarating to consider the wide-ranging impact that our faculty, staff, and students have had both on and off campus. Through dedicated, strategic planning and implementation of the four cornerstones of Dare to Discover, we truly have built one of the world’s best public universities. This week’s QS rankings confirm that our international reputation continues to build; we now stand at 84th in the world and 14th among public universities in North America. The future, as we discussed in the question period following my address, promises to bring significant change and opportunity—and I am convinced that the U of A is in a very strong position to shape what comes next. I am looking forward to meeting with Don Scott, the new Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education, and discussing the extensive role the U of A has played, and will continue to play, in the province.

One reason we are in such a strong position today is the major advancement we have made in our fundraising efforts. Yesterday, I was delighted to announce that the university’s endowment has now reached the one-billion-dollar threshold. As I have noted many times in the past, a strong endowment means greater long-term financial stability and greater capacity to attract—and even more important, retain—talented faculty and students. I would like to thank our donors for their steadfast support and the many deans, faculty members, staff, and students who have helped lead fundraising efforts over many years.

This week I also sat down with each of our three new deans: Stan Blade (ALES), Paul Paton (Law) and Pierre-Yves Mocquais (CSJ). We talked about the vision they are forming for their faculties and priorities for the coming year. We are fortunate to have all three now on board, bringing fresh perspectives to the senior leadership team.

This weekend will be busy. This morning, I addressed the Senate at its first plenary of the academic year and tomorrow I will be part of three alumni events, including a gala for our golden grads (those graduating 50 years ago) and a candy and dance party for recent and future alumni in the tent on Quad. A big thanks to the staff and volunteers who are working so hard to make these events a success.

Until next Friday,


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Join us at the State of the University Address

Nearly ten years ago, the University of Alberta came together as a community united by the our empowering vision to inspire the human spirit through outstanding achievements in learning, discovery, and citizenship in a creative community, building one of the world’s great universities for the public good.

From that point, we have transformed our university to the benefit of the public we serve. In striving for excellence, we have taken risks and made bold choices. We have defined our story and our place.

During this important year of presidential transition, the eyes of many will be watching the U of A and listening to our story. We have built a foundation for excellence, for global and local engagement and impact—and, as always, our work continues.

Please join me at noon today in Convocation Hall for the State of the University Address. I will reflect on the tremendous progress of the last decade and outline the priorities for the coming year.

All are welcome.


Event details:

State of the University Address
noon – 1:00 pm
Convocation Hall, Old Arts Building

Sign language interpretive services will be available.  For those unable to travel to Convocation Hall, this event will also be live-streamed at

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Join us for Alumni Weekend 2014

This week you will notice a very large tent begin to take shape on Quad. For many of you, this means one thing: cinnamon buns on Friday morning. Of course, it also means that this is Alumni Weekend, when alumni come back to campus to reconnect the university of yesterday with the university of today.

Here are a few easy ways you can get in on the Alumni Weekend fun.

1. Shake hands with our Alumni Award Winners

The Alumni Awards ceremony is one of the most inspiring events of the year — it’s also complimentary. Come to the Jubilee Auditorium on Thursday at 7 p.m. and be inspired by the achievements of amazing people like:

  • Ralph Haas, ’61 BSc(CivEng), ’63 MSc, (AKA the Prince of Pavement) who literally wrote the book on how to make our roads drivable;
  • Kevin Jenkins, ’80 LLB, former airline executive turned president and CEO of World Vision;
  • Eileen Mercier, ’69 MA, who studied Old English and Old Norse while at the U of A, and is now chair of the $140B Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan; and
  • Dan Hays, ’62 BA, rancher and former Speaker of the Senate of Canada.

You can meet all 41 award winners at the reception following the awards. It’s a wonderful reminder of how our work on campus creates global citizens who go on to do great things in the wider world.

2. Two words: Sock Fight 

Show off your green and gold pride in the Main Quad this Friday. Join us for a United Way barbecue and a “family photo” at noon. Then stay to throw socks at your friends and colleagues at a Sock Fight to launch our Alumni Association’s 100th birthday (think of it as a snowball fight but with socks). Have some fun while helping local charities keep people’s feet warm this winter. After Sock Fight you will have earned that cinnamon bun.

3. Olympic inspiration

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to hear Alexandre Bilodeau, the first Olympian to win a gold medal on Canadian soil, share his inspiring story of perseverance, determination, loyalty and victory. This Alumni Weekend Lecture takes place at 7 p.m. Friday in ETLC.

4. Come back to campus on Saturday. (Yes, Saturday)

If you’re looking for a great (and free!) family activity this weekend, check out Family Fun in the Tent on Saturday. There’s a barbecue on Quad plus plenty of activities led by the U of A Hide and Seek Club and Play Around the World. It’s a great way to introduce your family to campus.

Please join in the Alumni Weekend events. We'd love for you to come out, as would our alumni. Alumni have wonderful memories and stories to share, and are always interested to hear about the work that is currently happening on campus.

I hope to see you there.

Sean Price, ’95 BCom, MBA
Associate Vice President, Alumni Relations

Monday, September 15, 2014

Supporting safety in U of A labs

This week Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) begins an initiative to build consistency in the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in laboratories. Many of you may have received an email about this initiative or have noticed our posters in or around your laboratories.

Beginning this week, the safety professionals in EHS will be visiting lab supervisors to ask about the hazards in their labs and for evidence that the hazards have been evaluated and the right PPE is in use. They will work in concert with lab staff to achieve a goal of 100 per cent compliance. They will also be adding unannounced visits to scheduled lab inspections.

Our focus is on the basics: safety glasses, lab coat, gloves, long pants and closed-toe shoes. Some labs have specific hazards that require other equipment, such as face shields, respirators or steel-toe boots. Some personal protective equipment can be removed to do certain activities, such as coats when working on a lathe or eyewear when looking through a microscope.

We all have a part to play in workplace safety. When we take these basic steps we send a powerful message to students, colleagues, visitors, our loved ones and ourselves: we are professionals, and nothing we do at work is more important than our safety.

I would like to thank all who have shown their tremendous support for this initiative, from deans and chairs to supervisors and PIs. Thank you to all of you who have come to the town halls or met with us face to face. The team in EHS is looking forward to working with you in achieving our goal.

Philip Stack
Associate Vice-President, Risk Management Services and Chief Environment, Health and Safety Officer

Friday, September 12, 2014

President Samarasekera's Weekly Update – Sept. 12

On Monday, the Executive Committee of General Faculties Council met for the first time this academic year. As chair of GFC, I thought I would begin the term with a proposal. I have mentioned in the past my desire to reinvigorate and recharge discussion and dialogue at GFC. Along with others, I’ve recognized that there is not enough opportunity for the academy to come together for the open-ended and reflective presentation of ideas and views on issues of importance to our academy. In my opinion, it’s important that such discussion take place early on so that administration can hear GFC’s thoughts before deciding to tackle an issue and craft initiatives or solutions that then make their way through the formal approval processes of GFC.  So, on Monday, I proposed to the GFC Executive Committee that we include a 30-minute period of open discussion at GFC meetings on topics related to its work. The idea was well-received and a small working group has been struck to develop the terms and a framework for these discussions. Topics, we decided, will be identified and selected by the GFC Executive Committee prior to full GFC meetings so that the community can know well in advance which issue will be discussed at any upcoming meeting. Potential topics might include digital learning and academic freedom.

Mid-week, I was in Toronto and Calgary for meetings, including several arranged by the Office of Advancement. I was also pleased to meet with an editor at the Globe and Mail, as well as sit down for an interview with the paper’s post-secondary education reporter for broad discussions of issues relating to universities.

Yesterday, I received news that Mike Percy, former dean of our School of Business, has been appointed Chief of Staff by Jim Prentice, who, as you know, won the Alberta Progressive Conservative party leadership race last weekend. I would like to extend my congratulations and best wishes to Mike as he takes on this new role. I also enjoyed working with Mr. Prentice when he was Minister of Industry Canada, where he provided strong support for investing in university research through the Tri-Council, Canada Foundation for Innovation, and many other initiatives.

This morning, Premier and Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education Dave Hancock announced that he is resigning his seat in the Alberta Legislature. I have always very much appreciated Premier Hancock’s wisdom, understanding, and experience during our conversations. I would like to thank him for his long-standing support of Alberta’s post-secondary sector and for his many years of leadership and outstanding public service to Albertans.  

Next week will be busy. On Thursday, I hope that you will join me for my annual State of the University Address at noon in Convocation Hall. Everyone is welcome and I encourage you to register. Thursday also marks the launch of Alumni Weekend, which includes the Alumni Awards for distinguished alumni that evening (open to all) and many other activities hosted by Alumni Affairs, the U of A Alumni Association, and faculties across campus. A special note of congratulations to the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation and the Department of Computing Science both of which are celebrating 50th anniversaries this year.

Friday, Sept. 19 is Green and Gold Day—a day for alumni, students, faculty, and staff to show their U of A spirit by wearing our school colours. All are invited to gather in Quad for an aerial photo of the day.

Until then,


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Festival of Ideas tickets on sale

Since its founding during the University of Alberta’s Centenary in 2008, our Festival of Ideas has brought to Edmonton thought leaders and visionaries who have challenged us, piqued our interest, stimulated debate and encouraged new ways of thinking about old problems.  The festival has become one of the most engaging opportunities for faculty, students and staff to connect with the larger community through thought-provoking discussion. This year’s Festival of Ideas promises to be one of the most provocative and engaging yet.

Consider this lineup: Eldar Shafir, Princeton Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs, will discuss the psychology of scarcity and why having too little means so much. Marie Wilson, Don Iveson, Waneek Horn–Miller, Aaron Paquette and George Lafond, in a look-forward following the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliations hearings, will engage in a panel discussion about how to build bridges between indigenous communities and the rest of Canada.  The University of Alberta’s Ibolja Cernak will use the centenary of the First World War as a backdrop for her discussion about how Canada looks after its war veterans and what that tells us about our society. Acclaimed authors Colm Tóibín, Joyce Carol Oates and illustrator Art Spiegelman will share their literary insights. Additionally, Edmonton’s Shumka dancers will grace the stage of the Camrose Centre for the Performing Arts and the always popular Kids’ Festival of Ideas will once again engage young minds in a series of myth-busting activities organized by students and faculty at Enterprise Square.

The festival encourages fresh thinking about society, arts, science and culture. It gives us the opportunity to share our thoughts and work with the community we serve. This outstanding lineup, indeed the festival itself, would not be possible without the generous support of our founding sponsor, Capital Power, and our festival partner, the City of Edmonton through the Edmonton Arts Council. Our sponsors are fundamental to the success of the Festival of Ideas. Please join me as I extend my sincere thanks on behalf of the Festival of Ideas committee and the entire university community.

I do hope you will be able to participate in a number of events, many of which are free of charge.  Please visit the festival website for more information. Tickets are available InfoLink booths on the North Campus as well as on-line.

Debra Pozega Osburn
Vice-President (University Relations)

Friday, September 5, 2014

President Samarasekera's Weekly Bulletin--Sept 5, 2014

With the beginning of a new academic term, I am happy to be resuming my weekly bulletins. The last couple of weeks have been busy for all of us—as we prepare for the return of thousands of students, undertake orientation activities, put final touches on course syllabi, and begin the annual cycle of department, faculty, and administrative committee meetings—but I find that it’s always the first week of classes that truly renews and regenerates.

On Monday night, I participated in the Students’ Union annual orientation celebration. Let me congratulate them on a job well done. The event is usually held down in Hawrelak Park, but they had to move it this year to the Jubilee Auditorium. The energy and excitement indoors was just as vociferous as usual with hundreds of first-year students cheering their newfound pride in the U of A. It’s always a joy to be part of the event and an invigorating affirmation that what we do here matters. Today, I’m travelling down the highway to Augustana Campus to help bring in the new term with students and staff there. And yesterday afternoon, Provost Carl Amrhein was witnessed taking the ALS ice bucket challenge in front of the Administration Building with SU president William Lau.

Since returning from summer travels in Sri Lanka and India, I have been working with the provost and other vice-presidents as well as the deans to set the priorities for the next year. Deans’ Council has resumed its regular biweekly schedule. A committee of deans is reviewing Martin Ferguson-Pell’s 90-day strategy for enhancing graduate student professional development, funding structures, and recruitment to ensure the plan’s successful implementation over the coming weeks.

Last Thursday, the deans, executive team, and I held a strategic retreat here in Edmonton. We began the day with a wide-ranging discussion about the current state of the university; the goals and values that motivate and shape our teaching, research, and creative activities; and the opportunities that lie ahead for the U of A in light of the upcoming presidential transition. I’ll be sharing more from this conversation with you at my annual State of the University Address on September 18 (noon, Convocation Hall). I hope that you will register and join me for the event.

Again, welcome to the new term!

Until next Friday,


Friday, August 22, 2014

Front Row Seats to the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final

Over the Labour Day weekend university faculty, staff and students will have the opportunity to see the world’s top triathletes as they compete in the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final.

The City of Edmonton is hosting the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final from Aug. 26 – Sept. 1, 2014. More than 6,000 athletes, support teams, officials, family and friends from more than 130 countries will be visiting our city over the long weekend. The race grand stand is in Hawrelak Park and race routes run along and through the north end of campus showcasing the university to millions of television and online viewers, and giving us a front row seat to the events.

University of Alberta buildings will remain open during this time and foot traffic across North Campus will be largely unaffected. However, road closures will have an impact on vehicular and bicycle traffic getting to and from campus. Please check race times and the maps before you leave and remember to plan for extra time to get to your destination. Route details, parking and shuttle information are all available on the ITU World Triathlon website. Campus road and parking closures are listed below. More information is available on University of Alberta Facilities and Operations' site.

Please feel free to come out to cheer on the athletes as they pass our campus. Let’s help the city makes this a spectacular event.

Road closures

The City of Edmonton will close and barricade roads for the race routes from Aug. 29 - Sept. 1 including periodic closures of 111 Street, 90 Avenue, 87 Avenue, Groat Road, Saskatchewan Drive and Emily Murphy Park Road.

Please remember to check race times and maps before you leave and plan for extra time to get to your destination.

Parking and Shuttle Service

There will be no public access to parking lots 89 and E during the triathlon, and limited access to lots U and N. Parking Services will notify affected permit holders and advise them of alternate parking options. The City of Edmonton will be running a Park & Ride service at the University of Alberta.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Grants 3.0 Launched

The advancement of knowledge through the investigation of novel ideas and the application of knowledge for the betterment of our world is a fundamental responsibility of universities. Faculty members need to be supported with infrastructure and administrative tools that allow them to carry out this important work. With that in mind, we are pleased to announce that the University of Alberta launched Grants 3.0 on August 18. This powerful grant management tool is a major upgrade to the Researcher Home Page and will be a great help to University of Alberta researchers in managing grant funding.

Researcher Home Page is an online tool that enables faculty members to track expenditures in their grants. This improved self-serve resource is the culmination of more than a year of software development, several years of experience with the previous version (Grants 2.0) and the incorporation of valuable feedback from users. The result is a tool that is simpler to use with several useful new features. For example, faculty members will be able to initiate research proposals online, directly from their Researcher Home Page.  As well, they will be able to monitor their requests for new research projects online with the new Grants Life Cycle feature, in which completion of each stage for setting up a project is displayed in a clear diagram that includes completion dates. Similar easy-to-use online features are also available for amendments to existing projects.

The upgrades to Researcher Home Page are designed to enable faculty members to spend less time on grant administration and more time on their research. It will also further streamline and automate procedures in the Research Services Office. This aligns with the University of Alberta’s goal of efficient administration, the third point of its four-point Action Plan.

The Grants system – which enables the combination of pre-award activities for research grants with post-award financial management in one platform – is a large component of the university’s financial system. We are seeing the benefits of this software in a number of areas. Earlier this year, the Auditor General issued one of the best reports the University of Alberta has received. This financial management system has resulted in better accountability to funders, our board of governors and the people of Alberta.  We believe the system will be further enhanced with Grants 3.0.

We encourage faculty members and other users to watch for information and resources on how to maximize use of the new Researcher Home Page via email and on the RSO website.

Lorne A Babiuk      
Vice-President (Research) 

Mike MacGregor
Vice-Provost and AVP (Information Technology)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Falling Walls UAlberta: Promote your research and win a trip to Berlin

The University of Alberta is proud to host and to invite you to its inaugural Falling Walls Lab. Falling Walls is an international research competition developed in Berlin, where young academics from all fields of study have the opportunity to present their ideas to a panel of distinguished judges in a Dragons' Den-style competition. Participants are given three minutes to explain their idea, discovery or research project. The winner of the Alberta competition earns the chance to travel to Germany to participate in the Falling Walls international finale.

Only 20 locations from around the world have been invited to participate in the Falling Walls Lab competition. The fact that the U of A is on the list is a testament to the quality, passion and talent of our researchers and thinkers. Graduate students, post-docs and academics under the age of 35 are encouraged to apply. The application deadline is Aug. 25, 2014.

About the Falling Walls Lab

​​UAlberta’s Lab will showcase the quality, passion and talent of Alberta's next generation of research leaders and innovative thinkers. On Sep. 25, upwards of 20 U of A finalists ​will ​present their idea, discovery or research to a distinguished panel of judges from academia, business and government. The grand prize is a trip to Germany to participate in the Falling Walls international finale​, including air travel, accommodation and a ticket to the international Falling Walls Conference on Nov. 9.

Who can apply

Academics under the age of 35 from all fields of study, including graduate students, post docs, researchers, and scholars are all invited to apply. The only requirement is that applicants have innovative ideas, research projects, entrepreneurial initiatives or social initiatives that could break down walls or improve society.

​​Applications and deadline

The application form is online and quick to complete. The deadline is Aug. 25. Semi-finalists will be chosen by a UAlberta selection committee and invited to a presentation training session on Saturday, Sep. 20  from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The session will conclude with participants presenting their idea to the selection committee. Up to 20 finalists will be invited back to participate at Falling Walls UAlberta on Sep. 25 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

​​IP protection | Stage of idea/project

Presentations should be high-level and free of confidential details. Presenters must have a key role in the idea or project. Permission must be obtained if the idea/project is not theirs alone. Presentations should be simple: highlight the problem being addressed and the vision or proposed solution. Ideas can be a project in progress, one already completed or an idea under development.

​​Meet the jury

​​Falling Walls UAlberta event jury: Richard Fedorak and Jillian Buriak (University of Alberta), Dan Rizzoli (acting deputy minister, Innovation ​and Advanced Education, Government of Alberta), Cory Janssen (entrepreneur and University of Alberta alumnus), Zainul Mawji (vice president operations ​and strategy, TELUS) and Paula Simons (Edmonton Journal).

​​Berlin’s jury will be lead by Professor Carl-Henrik Heldin, Chairman of the Board of the Nobel Foundation, and will be co-chaired by Dr. Martin Sonnenschein, Managing Director Central Europe at A.T. Kearney and Founding Partner of the Falling Walls Lab. Other jury members will include representatives from highly regarded universities from across the globe, members of industry, the media, and internationally focused political organizations. A complete list of jury members can be found here.

Visit the U of A Falling Walls Lab website for more details including videos of the Berlin Lab, a list of previous lab presentations and videos of Berlin’s past winners.