Report to Convocation - St. John’s May 2005
Axel Meisen, PhD, P.Eng.
President and Vice-Chancellor
Welcome to convocation.
This is a happy time for you, our graduands. The entire university community, your family and friends share in your joy and your sense of accomplishment.
To mark these events, we are also inaugurating several pieces of new convocation furniture. These pieces are the beginnings of a full new suite, made possible by gifts from the family of the late Dr. Harry Roberts, particularly his two sons: His Honour Lt.-Gov. Edward Roberts who is also the former chair of the University’s Board of Regents and Mr. Douglas Roberts. The other donor is Dr. Alan Perry, an honorary doctorate of Memorial University and great friend of our Province. He has contributed funds for the kneeler.
Thank you for your gifts to Memorial which will be enjoyed by participants in Convocation for generations to come.
We are here today because you, our graduands, worked hard and diligently to meet our stringent academic standards. This required many hours of study and practice, but it also gave you opportunities to make friends with fellow students, friendships that will last a lifetime and will bring you not only personal satisfaction, but will also help you to advance your careers.
To our graduands, I wish to say that there are two key elements to ensure your future success.
The first element of success is the expertise which you have acquired in your field of study at Memorial University. While there remains much to learn, you have all the basics for success.
There are many distinguished alumni who have demonstrated just that. Amongst them are, General Rick Hillier who recently became the Chief of Defense Staff of the Canadian Armed Forces; Kevin Major, a distinguished author; Ms Anita Ludlow, the new provincial Chief Nurse; and, of course, for those of you who love music the principal members of Great Big Sea: Alan Doyle, Sean McCann and Bob Hallett.
The second element for your success is the reputation of our university. In the days ahead, you will frequently be asked for the name of the university from which you have graduated. While the name “Memorial University of Newfoundland” is well recognized by the citizens of our province, it must become better known throughout Canada and the world.
Building the reputation of Memorial University
Let me therefore outline briefly how we are building the reputation of Memorial University.
Our focus has been and will remain on creativity and ingenuity. We will do the unexpected and take unusual initiatives, while at all times ensuring academic integrity and meeting the essential needs of our stakeholders in industry, government and community.
Teaching Excellence: 3-M Award Winners
Teaching at the university-level is a principal strength for Memorial University and we are fortunate to have many innovative, award winning teachers in our professoriate.
The most prestigious, national award for teaching in Canada is the 3-M Fellowship.
Over the past five years, four 3-M fellowships have been awarded to Memorial University faculty, including university orator and English professor Shane O’Dea, business professor Alex Faseruk, music education teacher Andrea Rose, all of whom teach at our St. John’s campus. In addition, mathematics professor Dr. Georg Gunther, who teaches at our Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, has just been named a 3-M Fellow for 2005.
These are superb faculty members whose dedication to their craft and unique approaches to teaching and learning bring students flocking to their courses every semester.
One of our current unusual initiatives is the creation of art work for the SeaRose, the floating production, storage and offloading vessel that Husky Energy will use to develop the White Rose oilfield off the coast of Newfoundland. To brighten the environment for the SeaRose crew who spend many days at sea, Dr. John Lau and his wife, Mrs. Heather Lau, have commissioned 22 pieces of art by our Fine Arts students at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College.
In return for the art work, Husky Energy is funding the Husky Energy SeaRose Travel Bursary, an annual travel grant of $2,000 for fine arts students intending to study at Memorial University’s campus in Harlow, England.
This initiative brings together the worlds of art and industry in a unique way that is both practical and visionary. The students’ art work will inspire the SeaRose crew and it will be promoted widely, thereby bringing recognition to Memorial University and to our students.
Landmark Visualization Laboratory
Memorial University is supporting the development of the petroleum industry in our province in many ways.
We have created special teaching programs such as the Master of Oil and Gas Studies. The first students are graduating from this program today. We have created new research programs, and we have just inaugurated the Landmark Graphics visualization laboratory that is unique in the world.
This three-dimensional visualization laboratory enables us to study complex petroleum reservoirs and it positions us as a leading university in oil and gas studies.
One of the main users of the Laboratory is Dr. Phil Bording, who holds the endowed Husky Energy Chair in Oil and Gas Research and is examining, with his students, the basic geology in Newfoundland and Labrador with the aim of finding more oil and gas.
Inco Innovation Centre - Exterior
In support of innovation, we are nearing the completion of the Inco Innovation Centre on our St. John’s campus. This beautiful building takes the place of the former Thomson Student Centre and will be the home of leading-edge research on the extraction of nickel and other metals from concentrates of the type produced at the Voisey’s Bay mine in Labrador.
In addition to metallurgical research, the Inco Innovation Centre has been designed for general use and it supports research in the humanities and the social sciences. For example, our new chair in aboriginal studies will be located there.
The Inco Innovation Centre will be a leading-edge facility dedicated to advanced teaching and research.
Petro Canada Hall
In support of innovation, we just commissioned Petro Canada Hall, an important addition to our School of Music. Petro Canada Hall, as the name implies, was created through a grant of some $1.2 million from the company.
It features the latest digital recording and internet broadcasting capability, rehearsal and performance space. It is an important addition for our music students, for our music professors and the entire music community in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Research is becoming ever more important in creating the conditions for a healthy, civil and prosperous society. Memorial University is now heavily engaged in research and, to summarize our activities, we publish an annual Research Report.
Our funding in support of research has grown dramatically and last year, Memorial University attracted for the first time over $80 million in research funds. These funds were obtained competitively and the great majority of them came from outside the province. The funds support our students, many specialized staff members and some faculty. Most of the funds are spent in Newfoundland and Labrador, thereby directly contributing to the economy of our Province.
New Canada Research Chairs - Dr. Duncan McIlroy, Dr. Qiying Chen
An important research initiative is the Canada Research Chairs program and two new Canada Research Chairs were appointed to Memorial University recently.
Dr. Duncan McIlroy was awarded the Canada Research Chair in Petroleum Geoscience/Geotechnology. Dr. McIlroy's research is important in the field of oil and gas exploration. He aims to generate improved models for the prediction of petroleum reservoirs through a combination of experimental work and the study of ancient sediments.
Dr. Qiying Chen was awarded the Canada Research Chair in Photonics. His research has important consequences in the area of information technology. He and his team expect their research to discover new ways of ultra-fast computing and communications which are essential to modern information technology, telecommunications, manufacturing, oceanography, medicine and the life sciences.
Early help for arthritis sufferers
We are piloting Canada’s first early rheumatoid arthritis clinic utilizing specialized nurses. Rheumatoid arthritis is a serious disease affecting about 5,000 people in the province. Early detection and treatment are critical to avoiding long-term joint damage. With some patients on a waiting list of about a year to see one of the province’s few rheumatologists, that is a hard goal to achieve. The pilot project is providing an effective means to shorten that long waiting list and more efficiently provide diagnosis and treatment for those who need it.
Memorial has always played an important role in helping preserve the culture of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Humanities Research Conserving our dialects
One of the most interesting aspects of our culture is our dialects. The province’s accents have contributed to its culture in a significant way. A group of researchers from the Folklore, Linguistics, and English departments have been researching the varieties of English language used on the island and in Labrador. Their research has led to the formation of two projects related to Newfoundland dialects.
Our archaeologists working at the Colony of Avalon in Ferryland on the Southern Shore made a very significant discovery last year.
They unearthed a set of three enameled gold seals that were the personal property of Sir David Kirke, Governor of Newfoundland from 1637 until 1651. This is an important discovery of artifacts from the days of the early settlement of Newfoundland and it comes about because of the research work undertaken by Memorial University professors like Dr. Jim Tuck.
In part, thanks to the work of our archaeologists who involve members of the local community in their work, Ferryland has become a strong attraction for many researchers and tourists interested in archaeology.
Research in areas of social development is also important at Memorial University.
For example, unemployment affects about half of all working-age Canadians with disabilities and an even larger number of women with disabilities find themselves either unemployed, underemployed, or living below the poverty line.
Michelle Murdoch, a master’s student in Women’s Studies, is performing a one-year research project to document and explore how these women could benefit from adaptive technology. Adaptive technology consists of computer software, hardware and workstations all tools capable of compensating for many human limitations in the workplace.
Ms. Murdoch’s research will ultimately help physically challenged women to enter or remain productively in the workforce. She is undertaking the research in collaboration with Community Health and in co-operation with the Independent Living Resource Centre in St. John’s.
Exercise and brain health
An important research initiative is lead by Dr. Dale Corbett who is confirming that exercise is not only beneficial for the heart, lungs and musculoskeletal system but it may also enhance brain function.
The research in the laboratory of Dr. Dale Corbett, Canada Research Chair in Stroke and Neuroplasticity, is examining potential beneficial effects of exercise that help brain cells function more efficiently and also render them more resistant to damage that can occur with an injury such as stroke, or in the normal process of aging.
Students volunteer on a life raft for safety research
We have researchers, aided by students, who are studying the technology, human factors and training that determine the operational performance of inflatable life rafts.
The research involved students from the School of Human Kinetics who spent at least two hours (and sometimes up to 12 hours) in a 16-person life raft in one of the wave tanks at the National Research Council Institute for Ocean Technology, which is located on our St. John’s campus. Add to that, one-metre waves and having to conduct cognitive tasks while being tossed around.
The findings will help shape policies and procedures to better provide a safe environment for those who work at sea.
Innu Youth and Education
Some of our research is looking at matters of great social concern in our province. For example, research is being undertaken to determine the causes and potential solutions to the problem of school absenteeism by Innu children in Labrador. Researchers in our Department of Linguistics and in the Faculty of Education are working with Labrador Innu communities to develop tools that will aid in the enhancement of literacy of the Innu in their own language, Innu-aimun. It is hoped that these tools will enhance the educational experience of these youths and keep them in school longer.
New Programs Under Development
We are also engaged in the creation of new programs at the university, such as Sustainable Resource Management, doctorates in Business and Nursing, a Master’s in Marine Management and an innovative program in tourism at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. The latter program is intended to educate the men and women who can foster the development of high-value, year-round, niche tourism that harmonizes with our Province’s culture and environment. An example is tourism focused on Innu culture, particularly the traditions revolving around tea dolls. The tourism program is in the advanced stages of development and is expected to be introduced in the near future at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College.
All of the new programs will differentiate themselves from programs at other universities by their orientation and special experience-based pedagogy.
Fast-track Education Program
We are also engaged in the creation of new programs at the university. A good example is fast-track program in Education.
This is a program that enables students with certain prerequisites to obtain a Bachelor of Education degree in just 14 months. The program has just started and is offered by the Faculty of Education on our St. John’s and Corner Brook campuses. Approximately 40 students have enrolled at each site.
Canadian Career Educators Award
Apart from teaching and research, Memorial University also excels in its services to students. This past year, the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers named Memorial as the Education Institution of the Year for providing work experiences that best complement academic education. In areas like co-operative education, internships and student work experiences within the institution, Memorial is seen as a national leader.
As you just saw, Memorial University has made important strides in the past year. However, our ambition does not stop there. In our submission to Government as part of the White Paper process, we outlined our vision for the future. This includes
• Making Memorial University competitive and first-rate by international standards
• Growing our enrolment from the present level of 17,500 to possibly 20,500 students
• Enhancing access to the university, especially for students from the rural areas of our province
• Increasing research and research income to $100 million per year from its current level of $80 million
• Ensuring that Memorial University is internationally recognized as a research-intensive university and a world leader in research that is of strategic importance to the Province
In conclusion, I want to assure our graduands that we are working hard to position Memorial University amongst the very best universities anywhere in the world. While pursing our global recognition, we will never forget our obligations to the people of this province, especially those who live in rural Newfoundland and in Labrador. I particularly wish to recognize the excellent support that our Provincial Government is providing Memorial University.
Congratulations once again to all of our graduands and best wishes for your future!