Friday, October 24, 2014

Vice-President (University Relations) Debra Pozega Osburn reappointed for second term

I am delighted to announce that, today, the Board of Governors approved the reappointment of Vice-President (University Relations) Debra Pozega Osburn for a second five-year term, effective July 1, 2015. In her first term, Debra has led major organizational change within the University Relations (UR) portfolio. She has transformed the portfolio, which at one point had been led by six different vice-presidents over a five-year period, into an integrated, contemporary, flexible, and innovative unit.
Debra first came to the University of Alberta in 2006 to assume the role of Associate Vice-President (External Relations). In 2009, she was asked to take on the role of acting and then interim vice-president before being appointed to her current position in July 2010. Debra brought to the U of A more than 25 years of experience as a journalist and senior communications professional and consultant in the education sector. Prior to coming to the U of A, she held various communications roles over 11 years at Michigan State University, the university from which she also holds a doctorate in American Studies.
Under Debra’s leadership, University Relations has enhanced the reputation of the university across multiple local, national, and international audiences through strategic marketing and communications, media relations, government and stakeholder relations, and internal and external community engagement. Her team has successfully introduced a digital strategy that marries the design, content, and functionality of the UAlberta web environment with the academic mission of the institution.

Under her leadership, the UR team has also conceptualized and managed key strategies to help the U of A respond and adjust to changing financial circumstances, undertaken outreach activities that engage rural communities across the province, and developed new government advocacy practices that ensure the university’s role is understood and valued by partners in all orders of government.

Debra’s leadership has also been instrumental in envisioning a new model for community engagement that reinvigorated the university’s relationships with key stakeholder communities, especially within Edmonton. This has included establishing such initiatives as the Community Connections Awards and leading the biannual presentation of the Festival of Ideas. Initiatives such as these have been possible because of Debra’s leadership in forging collaborative relationships between her portfolio and faculties and units across the university, as well as between the university and external community groups, organizations, and agencies.

In addition to providing leadership within the UR portfolio, Debra’s vision and strategic advice has been essential to the executive team. Her voice is consistently one of reason and wisdom. I have personally benefited from her keen insights during challenging times, and her creative ideas, great interpersonal skills, and sense of humour have enriched the team as a whole.

Please join me in congratulating Debra on her reappointment as Vice-President (University Relations).

Indira V. Samarasekera
President and Vice-Chancellor

Friday, October 17, 2014

President Samarasekera's Weekly Bulletin—Oct. 17, 2014

The focus of many of my activities this week was philanthropic stewardship. Two President’s Society dinners were held, first in Calgary on Tuesday evening, followed by Edmonton on Wednesday. These are annual events, both recognizing donors who have given more than $1,000 to the University of Alberta and showcasing some of the research and teaching they support. This year, Graham Pearson (Canada Excellence Research Chair in Arctic Resources) joined me in Calgary to speak about his research, and Kim Campbell (founding principal of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College) shared her vision for the college with guests in Edmonton. My thanks to both of them for helping us create two memorable events.

On Wednesday, I also had the opportunity to attend the Killam Trusts luncheon, where the university both honoured this year’s recipients of Killam awards and recognized the work of the Trustees. This annual event is another that I consider a priority. Being one of only five Canadian research institutions that are the beneficiaries of the Killam bequest, the U of A has the tremendous privilege and responsibility of awarding a rare and significant set of research awards to graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty members. With the recent retirement of David Schindler, we celebrated the selection of a new Killam Memorial Chair in science or engineering. Yingfei Yi has been named Killam Memorial Chair and Professor of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. My congratulations to Yingfei, along with all of the 2014 winners—and my thanks to the members of the awards committees for giving their time and insight to the selection of these outstanding Killam recipients.

I also met this week with the new deputy minister of enterprise and advanced education, Marcia Nelson. Through our conversation, I was pleased and reassured to know that we will continue to work well with the ministry. Meetings between U of A administration and the ministry occur on a regular basis. Next week, we will be involved in the Campus Alberta Strategic Directions Committee, which is the quarterly meeting of board chairs and presidents, or their representatives.

This morning, Mayor Don Iveson and I sat down together to discuss one of our common goals to develop a strategic approach to enhancing Edmonton’s role as the hub for the north.

On the schedule for next week is Sustainability Awareness Week, which serves the dual purpose of raising awareness about both sustainability issues and efforts by staff and students to reduce the environmental footprint of our campuses. Earlier this fall, the U of A’s Energy Management and Sustainable Operations (a unit within Facilities and Operations) released its first Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Inventory Report and GHG Emissions Reduction Plan, which contain multiple strategies and plans for reducing emissions to a level 17 per cent below that of 2005 by the year 2020.

I’d like to conclude my bulletin this week by sending my condolences to the family of Bill Kent, a great alumnus (Engineering 1931) and friend of the U of A. Our oldest alumnus, Bill passed away earlier this week at the remarkable age of 106. I had the privilege of seeing Bill each year during Alumni Weekend, where he was a faithful attendee until this past September. The great pride he took in being an alumnus of the Faculty of Engineering and the U of A gave me a lift every year. He once told me how thrilled he was to have met all twelve U of A presidents, including our first president Henry Marshall Tory. His spirit and joy for life will be missed.

Until next week,


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sustainability Awareness Week and STARS™ Gold

The University of Alberta’s 7th annual Sustainability Awareness Week (SAW) starts next Monday, October 20, 2014. SAW is a fun, interactive way for every one of us to take steps to learn how to better weave sustainability into the fabric of campus life and beyond. Interesting events will be happening daily, everything from walking tours, to cooking classes, to a volunteer clean-up of Mill Creek Ravine near Campus St-Jean. This is the opportunity for faculty, staff, students, alumni, as well as community groups and campus organizations to come together to exchange ideas about living more sustainably. 

SAW launches on the heels of another important sustainability milestone. Last week, on October 10, the University of Alberta achieved a gold rating in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS™) – our best performance yet.  Developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, STARS™ is an internationally recognized sustainability performance measure for universities and colleges across North America. 

This success is thanks to the university’s on-going efforts to build a culture of sustainability at the University of Alberta. Students in nine faculties now have the opportunity to engage more deeply with sustainability by earning a Certificate in Sustainability alongside their degree. The university is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through such initiatives as ensuring new buildings now meet high sustainability standards. We are also capturing water from fire hydrant testing and reusing it to irrigate lawns. Thousands have benefited from changes in offices and campus events through the Green Spaces Certification Program. The university has also expanded its support of social sustainability through advancements in its counselling & clinical services. To learn more about the many exciting things happening on our campuses  visit the University of Alberta’s STARS™ report.

In order to to continue to improve our sustainability performance, we must improve our knowledge and share our ideas. SAW provides you with the opportunity to do both. Please take time out of your schedule to join us. Throughout this year the university community will also be invited to participate in a variety of activities to inform and update our campus sustainability plan. We hope to hear from you.

Organizing such a wide ranging number of events is a tremendous feat. Thank you to the University of Alberta’s Office of Sustainability and our many partner organizations for their commitment to SAW. 

We encourage each one of you to get involved in some small way: sign up for a workshop, take a tour or attend a lecture. Each one of us can help the University of Alberta build a more sustainable future. 

Don Hickey                                                       Roger Epp
Vice-President (Facilities and Operations)            Vice-Provost (Academic)

Friday, October 10, 2014

President Samarasekera's Weekly Bulletin—Oct. 10, 2014

I write to you this week from London, England, where I have been engaged in informative discussions between the vice-chancellors from the Russell Group of Universities and the U15 Group of Universities’ presidents and principals. The goal of this week’s meeting has been to explore and advance new ways for Canada (U15) and the United Kingdom (Russell Group) to stimulate international joint research and development initiatives. We explored how we might work together to build upon current research activity between the member universities, as well as initiate new collaborations, that foster the international and multidisciplinary approaches needed to address highly complex global challenges. Important to this discussion was the recognition that we should seek, together with our Russell Group partners, opportunities to work with research institutions, as well as business and community partners, in other countries. These discussions were particularly relevant, I think, at a time when our major funding agencies are expecting us to work concurrently on both the local and the global scale, and to incorporate innovative partnerships into our requests for support.

The universities welcomed the opportunity to meet with the high commissioner for Canada to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Gordon Campbell. We discussed how research institutions might work together to create novel and comprehensive solutions to global issues. Mr. Campbell noted the positive social and economic impact of post-secondary education in the global community, and the critical role that educational and R&D exchanges play in developing the UK and Canadian economies. His recognition of the importance of our work was gratifying, and testimony to the positive impact that we have on our communities every day.

On Monday, I was in Berlin to promote the Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative, which was renewed last week between the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres and the University of Alberta. Dr. Jurgen Mlynek, the president of the Helmholtz Association, and I met to talk about the current collaborations between the two organizations and how we might further expand and strengthen the partnership. Central to this discussion was the positive impact that HAI has had on raising the profiles of Alberta and Germany within each partner country, and the resultant economic and social benefit, in both countries, that has expanded well beyond the focus of the original collaboration. 

The theme of international engagement was continued in my meeting with the Canadian ambassador to Germany, Her Excellency Marie Gervais-Vidricaire. We talked about the importance of German-Canadian research connections and the U of A’s role in building a strong relationship between the two countries. It is clear to me the influence our work with the Helmholtz Association has had in growing the international reputation of the university and the province, in Germany and in other parts of Europe and the world.

I also met with officials from the newly established German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) to apprise them of the success and impact of the HAI partnership, and of the need for future investment in research. We discussed the expanding relationships of the university with a number of German partners, which were a direct result of the success of the Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative, such as the establishment of the German-Canadian Centre for Innovation and Research (GCCIR) in Edmonton, which connects small- and medium-sized enterprises in Canada and Germany. We also talked about the value of national-level programs, such as the agreement between the German Research Foundation (DFG) and NSERC for synchronized international graduate programs between Canada and Germany in engineering and science, which has become a model for international graduate student partnerships. I was very impressed by the growth and support of research in Germany, and the importance given to developing and sustaining international research collaborations.

This week I also had the pleasure of meeting with several of our alumni and donors in London. What an interesting and innovative group of people! It was wonderful to hear their stories, especially their fond memories of campus, and the impact that their time at the U of A has had on their lives.

As the week comes to an end, I am looking forward to spending time with my family and friends. I wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving, and hope that you can also take time to relax and enjoy the long weekend.

Until next week,


Friday, October 3, 2014

President Samarasekera's Weekly Bulletin—Oct. 3, 2014

University ranking season has now wrapped up with the results from the three international ranking bodies. I am proud to say that the University of Alberta has done well on a global scale. The first two, Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), which measure research output from citations and other indicators, have placed us around 100th and 84th in the world, respectively. The third ranking, the Times Higher Education Ranking, attempts to rank teaching and research. Thirty per cent of the score is based on surveys of academics measuring the quality of teaching at other universities. Surveys of academics are an inadequate approach to evaluating teaching. As a result, we have seen our ranking go up and down between 100 and 120 every other year for the last five years. We are not alone in this; several other universities that ranked highly in the first two pure research rankings have also had unexpected swings in their position on the Times Higher Education rankings. Clearly, the methodology in the latter has not been ironed out. Neither has it been audited and approved by iREG Observatory, an international non-profit association of ranking organizations, as is the case with QS rankings.

Though rankings are an indicator of a university’s international research reputation, we must keep in mind that rankings barely capture our impact on the local, regional, national or international community. The rankings do not assess what graduates do for society, and really cannot capture the undergraduate experience in any meaningful way. The University of Alberta’s economic impact and the organizations founded by our graduates are the real measure of a university’s contribution, and this is not captured in the rankings data. As described in the 2013 Alumni Impact Study, organizations founded by U of A alumni have an economic impact equal to the GDP of Alberta, and employ more than 1.5 million people.

The Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative is a prime example of our growing presence and impact in international research collaborations. Building on the success of the first five years, on Monday the university renewed its memorandum of understanding with the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres for a second five-year term. The success of the collaboration between the university and the Helmholtz Association has led to the expansion of the research focus beyond energy and the environment to include infectious diseases and neurodegenerative diseases, and discussions have started around potential research topics in diabetes and terrestrial ecosystem resource informatics. Not only has the Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative resulted in groundbreaking energy research and environmental solutions, but it has also raised our profile in Germany—opening the door to opportunities with other leading organizations such as Munich Venture Partners—and internationally as well.

I spent much of this week in Toronto and Ottawa. On Tuesday, we hosted a dinner in Toronto for alumni, donors and friends of the university. About 60 people gathered at the Royal Ontario Museum to hear our esteemed alumnus, Don Tapscott, talk about the economic and social impact of technology. While in Toronto, I met with donors to talk about the university’s priorities. It was wonderful to meet with so many people who share a passion and enthusiasm for the University of Alberta.

I spent the remainder of the week in Ottawa meeting with a number of federal government ministries and departments about the university’s research priorities and the Canada research agenda. I also provided support to the U15 Group of Universities and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada in their efforts to highlight the effects that recent changes to immigration policies have had on the ability of universities to recruit international researchers and post-doctoral fellows.

Next week I will be travelling to Germany and the United Kingdom to meet with research institutions, such as the Helmholtz Association, and to attend a summit for the U15 and the Russell Group Universities, as well as meetings with government officials and with members of our international alumni and donor community.

Until next Friday,


Friday, September 26, 2014

President Samarasekera's Weekly Bulletin—Sept. 26, 2014

Last week closed on a note of celebration with Alumni Weekend well underway. Some early statistics indicate that the weekend was a major success: three major events sold out, 2,077 cinnamon buns were sold, 500 people came out to a new family event Saturday afternoon on the Quad, and about 1,100 people attended the Alumni Awards ceremony. The hours of work devoted to make these events a success are about more than celebration—universities that build and sustain strong connections with their alumni also gain the benefits of having a highly engaged group of people who very often provide gifts of time and resources in support of faculty, staff, and student efforts.

To illustrate this point, I am delighted to report that at two alumni events hosted by the Faculty of Engineering over the weekend, there was celebration of two major gifts. The first, announced at Friday’s Dean’s Engineering Alumni Reception, came from the Lorenzo and Donna Donadeo family, who have been supporters of engineering and the University of Alberta since the late 1980s. In recognition of their gift, the new engineering building on the northwest corner of campus has been named the Donadeo Innovation Centre for Engineering. A graduate of the mechanical engineering program in 1981, Lorenzo Donadeo spoke with great emotion about how this gift is intended to honour his family's history of working and sacrificing to build a meaningful life in a new country. The Donadeos have had one of their previous gifts recognized through the naming of the Donadeo Family/Vermilion Energy Trust Engineering Classroom in the Engineering Teaching and Learning Complex.

The following morning at the Dean’s Engineering Alumni Breakfast, a second gift was honoured, this from Fred Pheasey, another graduate of the mechanical engineering program (1965). Thanks to his generous support, levels 8 and 8A of the Donadeo Innovation Centre for Engineering will be named the Fred Pheasey Engineering Commons. Fred Pheasey has been a supporter of the faculty and the U of A for over a decade. In 2007, he established an endowment to support the Frederick W. Pheasey Lecture in Engineering Ethics. My thanks to Fred Pheasey and the Donadeo family for their long-standing and generous support of the U of A and the Faculty of Engineering.

Following the events of Alumni Weekend, General Faculties Council met for the first time this academic year on Monday. I was pleased to welcome 64 new members to council and thank them for their willingness to serve on this critically important governance body. Numbering 158 in total, GFC is responsible for providing oversight and for making decisions or recommendations to the board on a broad range of academic concerns, as outlined by the Post-secondary Learning Act. In short, GFC is the academic governing body of the university. At Monday’s meeting, we approved changes to the electronic universal student ratings of instruction system, and discussed progress updates relating to digital learning, graduate student professional development, enrolment management and admissions, and the Renaissance Committee Report.

In my State of the University address on September 18, I noted that one of the priorities for the coming year is the Peter Lougheed Leadership College. Founding Principal Kim Campbell continues to consult widely across campus and is excited to broaden the conversation on October 9th at 4:30 p.m. when she will present a free public lecture entitled “Can Leadership Be Taught?” in 150 Telus Centre. Please register for this event.

Finally, I would like to extend my congratulations to all of the faculty, staff, and students honoured at yesterday afternoon’s celebration of teaching, learning, and research. At the event, we paid tribute to those whose work and achievements have been recognized by national and international bodies, as well as by our own university awards. In particular, I would like to congratulate this year’s University Cup winner, Paul Armstrong, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Medicine. The University Cup is the highest honour that we bestow within the U of A and is awarded to people, such as Paul Armstrong, who have a record of outstanding achievement in research, teaching, and service.

Until next Friday,


Monday, September 22, 2014

Celebrate! Teaching.Learning.Research

Please join us at Celebrate! Teaching.Learning.Research, the University of Alberta's annual tribute to our outstanding faculty, students and staff. The celebration takes place this Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014 at the Myer Horowitz Theatre, located in SUB.

Everyone is invited to come out and support fellow faculty, staff and students as these top achievers are recognized for their talent and dedication to the dynamic brand of teaching, learning and research that makes the University of Alberta a leader in post-secondary excellence.

Awards this year include the University Cup, the highest honour bestowed upon a U of A professor, as well as for excellence in early undergraduate teaching, and recognition for staff who play dynamic roles in supporting teaching and learning. Top graduate and undergraduate students will also be honoured. We hope to see you there. 

Celebrate! Teaching, Learning and Research is co-hosted by Carl Amrhein, the Provost and Vice-President (Academic), and Lorne Babiuk, Vice-President (Research).

The awards ceremony begins at 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25, with seating beginning at 3:15 p.m. Light refreshments follow the celebration at 5:30 p.m. There is no cost to attend Celebrate!, but please RSVP to or call 780-492-2644.

Friday, September 19, 2014

President Samarasekera's Weekly Bulletin—Sept. 19, 2014

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