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Vol 38  No 5
November 3, 2005


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Report to Convocation - St. John’s October 2005

Axel Meisen, PhD, P.Eng.
President and Vice-Chancellor

Welcome to convocation.

Every year, in the spring and the fall, Memorial University gathers in convocation to celebrate the success of you, our students, as you graduate. Today, the entire Memorial University community, joins with your family, your friends and all those who supported you in your quest for higher education, to congratulate you on your achievements.

There are about 60,000 alumni of Memorial University and today you join that family. Memorial is your university ­ your alma mater.

Today you also embark on the next stage of a relationship with your university that will lasts a lifetime. The University offers many services to its alumni, including professional development, advanced degree programs, social and recreational opportunities. We want to ensure that Memorial University retains a special place in your life.

As we celebrate the accomplishments of our students, we also honour the accomplishments and success of others ­ our honorary graduands.

Scott Hand is a businessman, patron of the arts and pragmatic visionary. You probably know him as the chairman and chief executive officer of Inco Ltd., the company that is developing the mine at Voisey’s Bay in Labrador and the hydrometallurgical refinery in Argentia.

Elizabeth Penashue is a mentor and teacher, a conserver and a protector of the language, culture and traditions of her people ­ the Innu of Labrador.

Born into a hunting and trapping family, Mrs. Penashue has been a beacon, reminding Innu, young and old, of their traditional way of life and respect for the land. She is one of those most remarkable leaders ­ the ones that require no formal title. She leads by example and remains a powerful symbol to her people.

But she is more than a symbol. Like all great leaders she is a person of action. Her efforts have drawn public attention to her people and their cause.

Mrs. Penashue is a remarkable woman and most deserving of the honour we will bestow on her this evening. You will hear more about her later in this ceremony.

You will learn more about them later in this convocation session.

We are also celebrating the life-long achievements of four of our retired faculty members who will be named professor emeritus at this session of Convocation. They are: Dr. Derek Burton, Biology; Dr. Philip Gardner, English; Dr. Richard Haedrich, Biology; and Dr. Joseph Hodych, Earth Sciences.

You will also learn more about these outstanding scholars and the contributions they have made to build Memorial University later in this Convocation.

Let me now tell you a little about Memorial University, a university that is undergoing significant change and succeeding in many different ways.

Our professors are being recognized nationally through teaching awards, such as the 3M Teaching Fellowships. These awards are amongst the highest awards in Canada, given to just ten professors every year. Memorial University has won four such awards in the past five years.

Last month, the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers' Council presented Memorial University with the Employer of Distinction Award. This award recognizes our achievements in the area of employment relationship, especially leadership, innovation, creativity, health and safety.

Our campus is changing, with one of the most visible changes being the transformation of the old Thomson Centre into the Inco Innovation Centre. This centre is a marvelous new facility for teaching and research.

Students now have a large, state-of-the-art auditorium and seminar rooms. There are first rate laboratories, some of which are dedicated to mining and mineral processing related to the Voisey’s Bay nickel deposit.

Other areas of the Centre support innovation in the social sciences, such as the Canada Research Chair in aboriginal studies, held by Dr. David Natcher.

The Inco Innovation Centre is the result of a $20 million major donation by Inco and support from the Government of Canada and the Government of the Province. Without Mr. Hand’s leadership, this Centre would not have come about. I therefore wish to extend my sincere appreciation to Mr. Hand.

In the spring, we inaugurated Petro-Canada Hall, a beautiful new rehearsal hall, adjacent to our School of Music. This hall was made possible by a $1.2 million donation from Petro-Canada and serves not only our music students, but also students in the community and students far a field. Petro-Canada Hall is equipped with internet access so that our students can perform together with students in another province or receive instructions from a master teacher who may be located as far away as Japan.

Earlier this year, we inaugurated the Landmark Graphics Visualization Laboratory, a laboratory that lets us see and study complex shapes in stereo or 3-dimensions. Such visualization capability is needed for the understanding of many complex shapes, including petroleum reservoirs, reactions of large molecules and human anatomy. In the first instance, we will be using the visualization centre for research into petroleum reservoirs offshore Newfoundland.

Research is becoming very important at Memorial University and our external research funds have grown from about $35 million in 1999 to over $80 million in 2005. This is a remarkable accomplishment, and the funds let us support many graduate and undergraduate students in path-breaking research.

Research frequently leads to new ideas, which can help create new companies or help existing companies grow. To assist, we have the Genesis Centre. One of its most remarkable successes is Rutter Technologies Inc.

This company, which makes data recorders and black boxes for ships, got a helping hand from the Genesis Centre at its start. Just recently, it was named one of the fastest growing and most promising technology companies in Canada.

Just like Rutter, many of our graduates have been highly successful. Yesterday, we celebrated four such alumni: Dr. Thomas Yee, an outstanding pianist received the Horizon award for outstanding achievements as an alumnus under the age of 35; Calvin Butt, an outstanding school teacher, was given the JD Eaton award for excellent and long-term service to Memorial University; Donald Crewe was recognized for outstanding community service; and Dr. Jim Barnes was the Lifetime Achievement Award winner for contributions in the area of modern marketing. Jim is a long-term, highly acclaimed professor in the faculty of Business Administration.

Just think, you have the same potential to be successful and we may be celebrating you in just a few years.

Every Fall we take time at the university to recognize those accomplishments at all our campuses in a series of special events and activities that we have dubbed “Celebrate Memorial.”

This week-long celebration kicked off earlier this week and continues into next week, with this convocation being one of the highlight events. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of our Corner Brook campus, Sir Wilfred Grenfell College.

For example, today is being observed at Memorial as Kindness Friday. Throughout the day, our employees and students are participating in random acts of kindness ranging from collecting donations for the food banks, to collecting eye-glasses for developing countries, to simple things like handing out treats to you graduates as you lined up to get your caps and gowns today.

We have a lot to celebrate and we invite you to join us in the festivities. You can learn more about it at our web site.

Memorial is moving ahead in the development of new and innovative academic programs.

A new course-based graduate program offered by our Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science was approved this summer. The new master of applied science in environmental systems engineering and management (ESEM) is expected to draw new international students to Memorial.

The program covers topics such as environmental law and management, human health and ecological risk assessment to find cost-effective engineering solutions to these complex issues.

Similarly, a new, innovative bachelor of arts in tourism studies program was approved this year to begin at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, our campus in Corner Brook, in January 2006.

The program will offer students an education in tourism, business, economics, heritage and culture. It will produce graduates who can balance specific and relevant skill sets with sensitivity to the strategic issues significant to tourism industries.

The BA in tourism studies allows students to engage in emerging and internationally acclaimed tourism initiatives on the west coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, including the Bonne Bay Marine Centre, Gros Morne Theatre Festival, L'Anse aux Meadows and Red Bay Historic Sites, the Port au Port Peninsula and Humber Valley Resort.

As well, the Tourism Studies program offers an advanced diploma in tourism studies as a flexible approach to post-graduate study for people who may already be working in the tourism field.

Teaching is something that we take very seriously and we have been blessed to have some of the finest university teachers in the country working at the Memorial.

This year several of our professors were recognized with national and regional awards for their teaching.

Dr. David Schneider, a professor at the Ocean Sciences Centre and associate dean of science (research), was awarded the 2005 Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools (NAGS) Graduate Faculty Teaching Award this year. This prestigious award is given to a teacher of graduate students and the recipient is selected from 125 American and 14 Canadian universities.

Jean Guthrie of Memorial's English department was honored with a teaching award from the Association of Atlantic Universities. Prof. Guthrie received the honour for demonstrating a commitment to the improvement of university teaching at Memorial and beyond.

Of course to support great teachers, you need top-line facilities.

Students interested in studying cartography, geographic information systems or remote sensing now have a new and improved teaching facility on the St. John's campus available through our Department of Geography.

The GISciences Teaching Lab is a technological haven where students take the theory they are learning in the classroom and apply it using the most-up-to-date software available on the market.

Aside from being of tremendous benefit to students in Geography, this facility has cross-disciplinary potential for students in biology and archaeology, or several any disciplines.

Our professors and students are always looking at the world around us and undertaking teaching and research to address real problems. Take, for example, the issue of workplace safety.

This year Dr. Scott MacKinnon, of our School of Human Kinetics, was named Memorial's first Research Chair in Workplace Health and Safety, with a mandate to spearhead interdisciplinary research initiatives in this area. This is an initiative under the SafetyNet research program.

Some of the work at Memorial attracts world-wide popular attention to the university and the province.

This past year the legacy of the Titanic once again drew media attention ­ this time from the British Broadcasting Corporation.

The program took a different p[respective by tracing the path of the iceberg that had doomed the famous ship, recreating its life from Greenland's ice cap to its end, melting in the North Atlantic.

Dr. Claude Daley, chair of Ocean and Naval Architectural Engineering at Memorial, explained how icebergs get to the Grand Banks and provided descriptions of what would have happened to the ice and to the hull when the Titanic struck the iceberg.

Filming took place in our Engineering Building. The story is slated to air on the BBC and on the Discovery Channel sometime during this winter.

Dr. David Philpott, in our Faculty of Education, gained national media attention earlier this year for a report he and his colleagues wrote on the Innu education system. Dr. Philpott and his research team conducted a study over two years on behalf of the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs., resulting in a report titled “An Educational Profile of the Learning Needs of Innu Youth.”

But the research team did not stop there. Earlier this summer, they released a new report titled “Recommendations for an Effective Model of Innu Education”. This presents a series of recommendations, based on extensive consultations and a cross-Canadian review of educational practices for aboriginal youth, for the consideration of educational leaders.

This work represents the largest educational study of its kind ever conducted on aboriginal youth in Canada and its findings will help shape a better educational system developed by and for the Innu.

Researchers in Memorial's Department of Linguistics and Faculty of Education have been collaborating with Labrador Innu communities to develop tools that will aid in the enhancement of literacy of the Innu in their own language, Innu-aimun.

The research team is led by Dr. Marguerite MacKenzie, head of Memorial's Department of Linguistics, and Dr. Barbara Burnaby, Faculty of Education, and the project is titled Knowledge and Human Resources for Innu Language Development. The primary objective of the group is to develop a comprehensive tri-lingual ­ Innu-aimun, English and French ­ dictionary.

Sometimes the work of Memorial occurs as a direct response to happenings totally out of our control.

Late last year the Amos Comenius School in Hopedale, Labrador was severely damaged by fire. The school lost much of its books, materials and equipment.

In a response to this Memorial's Faculty of Education launched a campaign, Sharing Hope with Hopedale. The goal was to replace school supplies and materials.

Our Education Student Society actively participated in the initiative, raising money with a bake sale and collecting donations from across the university community.

Participants included the Queen Elizabeth II Library, Curriculum Materials Centre, School of Nursing, Facilities Management, Ascension Collegiate in Bay Roberts and the VOCM Morning Show.

A generous partner was Provincial Airlines which transported all of the materials.

In total, the Faculty of Education collected 27 boxes of school supplies and materials including geometry sets, calculators, pens, pencils, crayons, colouring books, glue, paper, scissors, encyclopedias, children's books, novels, and textbooks covering subjects like geography, nature and science. Cash donations also totaled over $500.

It was a wonderful effort with a wonderful result and anther example of how Memorial creates formal and informal links to the many communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

I want to conclude my review with two short items related to our programs and our teaching.

Earlier this year, 80 students started our new fast-track bachelor of education (primary/elementary) degree program. It is offered at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook and the St. John's campus.

This new program was a direct response to students who desired a program that would enable them to complete an education degree on top of their other academics and to do this in an accelerated fashion.

The fast-track delivery enables students to complete the program in four consecutive semesters. We start the fast-track delivery program in May, and by doing so it allows faculty to teach in the summer and enables us to tap into the pool of available sessional instructors. So this is a win for the students who complete their degrees quicker and for the university and our professors as it enables us to employ our teaching resources more effectively.

As you would expect, innovative teaching is encouraged throughout the university. But what you wouldn’t expect is that sometimes our students can earn credits for just clowning around.

Dr. Jamie Skidmore, of the Department of English, hosts a popular workshop on clowning for students. Dr. Skidmore teaches within the theatre specialty and the diploma program in performance and communications media at our St. John’s campus. His specialty is the circus, clowning and sideshows.

As part of Dr. Skidmore's research, students and members of the local arts community have learned about particular methods of clowning and learned more about clowning as an art form.

From these examples, you can see that the future is bright for Memorial University and for you, our graduands. With your new knowledge and expertise, you can be confident to start a successful career and life.

Memorial University is moving forward. As a teaching institution, Memorial is the match of any university in the country. Our enrolment is now close to 18,000 students. Our research program is growing every year. We have the foundation upon which we can continue to build a world-class institution with a global reputation.

Building for the future takes prudent planning. Earlier this year the university commenced a new strategic planning exercise. Our last strategic plan was constructed in 2000 and its goals and targets have been substantially achieved. So now we look forward again. We will build the plan as we have built the university ­ through the process of extensive consultation and adherence to the core values of the institution.

We recognize that the university makes a significant contribution to the economic and social development of Newfoundland and Labrador and the direction Memorial takes in future is critically important to the province.

The provincial government’s White Paper on Public, Post-Secondary Education which was released earlier this year, provides general direction and will serve as a guide. The public policy aspirations contained therein will help us as we shape the future direction of Memorial.

The future is bright for Memorial University and for Newfoundland and Labrador ­ and so it is very bright for you, our new graduates. With your new knowledge and skills you will be able to take full advantage of it.

I can’t emphasize enough the value of the degrees you will be awarded today. As you venture forth into the world of work or into further studies you will find that your Memorial University education gives you a tremendous advantage.

The value emanates from the excellent reputation Memorial has built, the excellent graduates who have come before you and the excellent people we have working here.

Congratulations on your success! Enjoy today, and let me be the first to welcome you into the family of Memorial University alumni.

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