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Vol 40  No 5
November 1, 2007


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Address to convocation by Dr. Axel Meisen

President and Vice-Chancellor

Friday, Oct. 19

First of all, I would like to extend my warm congratulations to our students who are graduating in this session of Convocation. We applaud your achievements and I also congratulate your families and friends, as well as our faculty and staff, all of whom have made your success possible.

You are now ready to begin a new phase of your life. Some of you may look at it with trepidation because you are unsure about what lies ahead. However, you can be confident that you will succeed because Memorial University has given you a fine education that is recognized around the world.

Joining us in this session is our honorary graduand, Dr. Shirley Tilghman. She is being recognized for her outstanding contributions to higher education and research. A native of Canada, she is a world-renowned biochemist and currently the president of Princeton University. Dr. Tilghman is well known for her work in the area of cloning and her leadership role in one of the most significant scientific efforts of our time -- the Human Genome Project.

You will hear more about her later in this convocation.

We are also pleased to be joined during convocation by His Honour, the Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, Dr. Edward Roberts. His brother, Douglas Roberts, a prominent businessman is also here today. We have invited them them to Convocation so that we can acknowledge their generous gift to Memorial University and, by extension, to the people of our province.

I draw your attention to the fine, new suite of convocation furniture on stage. It consists of the Convocation mace table, which incorporates in a stylized fashion, key elements of a traditional splitting table. There are also five chairs, a signing table with bench, and two lecterns. These gifts are in honour of the late Dr. Harry Roberts, who was an outstanding leader in our community, as a physician and a businessman. On behalf of the entire Memorial University community, I want to thank you, Your Honour, and you, Douglas, for your generosity.

I also wish to acknowledge the presence of the designer and carver of the furniture, Mr. Ian Stewart who has travelled, with his wife, all the way from England to participate in convocation this morning. We also have with us Michael Patterson and his wife. Michael is the craftsman of this wonderful furniture and he lives in the small rural community of Upper Amherst Cove.

I encourage you to come and see the pieces close up after Convocation.

We are also joined by Dr. Niall Gogan, a retired professor of chemistry and former associate vice-president (research). Dr. Gogan has been an outstanding academic leader at Memorial University for decades and today he will be named Professor emeritus.

Convocation is a day of celebration. Just as we celebrate you, our graduating students, and reflect on your successes, we also take time to reflect on the accomplishments of our university. Many of those successes are captured in our annual report, The President’s Report for 2006-7. It is being released to coincide with this convocation.

This year, we have given the report the by-line ‘Achievements and Transformations’. This is consistent with the university’s work and reflects the theme ‘become’, which we adopted last year as part of our new marketing initiative.

In addition to the usual statistical information, the President’s Report presents a range of stories on people and achievements. Let me share some of them with you that have special relevance to this graduating class.

Memorial is known for its work in the marine sector and some of our researchers are focusing particularly on the protection of the marine environment. For example, Dr. Richard Rivkin of our Ocean Sciences Centre is the principal investigator in the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network.

He and his colleagues are studying bacteria and other microorganisms that are brought to Canada in the ballast water of ships that sail here from far away places.

Although the field component of this program has just started, there are already some provocative results. For example, Dr. Rivkin and his colleagues have found that many ballast waters contain far more bacterial species than Canadian water. Some of these bacteria are pathogenic and threaten Canadian ecosystems. Approaches must be therefore be found to protect our waters fro these intruders.

The origin of our planet earth and its transformations is a particular interest of Dr. Derek Wilton, a member of our Earth Science Department. This world-renowned geologist has expanded our knowledge of the formative years of the continents. He has performed much of his research in Labrador. The Torngat Mountains are one of the best places on earth to witness mountain building because the mountains rise directly out of the ocean and are well-exposed.

Dr. Wilton and Dr. Stephen Loring, a renowned archeologist from the Smithsonian Institute, have also been studying a unique rock found in the Torngats called Ramah chert. Ramah chert was used as early as 4,000 years ago by the first peoples of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Maritime Archaic Indians. They fashioned tools from chert to hunt, cut their food and build their homes.

The scientific work of Dr. Wilton and others at Memorial provides us a fascinating rear-view look into the pre-history of Labrador.

At the other end of the historical spectrum, we have researchers who are working on modern problems.

One of them is Dr. Aziz Rahman, who is an engineering professor. He recently was bestowed the Achievement Award by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers for the development of Interior Permanent Magnet Motor drives. Such devices are used in highly energy-efficient vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius automobile. More than a million of these hybrid vehicles are now in use and all of them incorporate technology developed Dr. Rahman.

Across our campuses and in our schools and faculties, you will find creativity, innovation, energy and great stories. In recent years, the Faculty of Education has develop local, national and international partnerships that create learning opportunities for our students.

A good example is the Teaching Internship Program offered through our Harlow Campus in England. It is a program that places our Education students in schools in Essex County, where they are mentored by local teachers.

We also have a new relationship with an international school in Phuket, Thailand, where four primary/elementary students are currently completing their internships.

Memorial continues to build its international and national relationships across a wide variety of disciplines.

The Marine Institute’s Bachelor of Technology program, for example, has a large number of international students.

Five years ago the school partnered with Jilin University, China’s largest university. Participating students have the chance to complete their courses through the Bachelor of Technology program in St. John’s or in China. It was the first partnership of its kind between a Canadian and Chinese university. If you look at your convocation program you will see that many of our B. Tech graduates are from China.

I recently took a delegation to the People’s Republic of China, visiting several universities, including Jilin, with which we have actual and emerging partnerships.

It was amazing to see that, in just a few years, the massive investments by the Chinese government are paying rich dividends. Their graduates are very well educated, capable and highly motivated.

Of course we remain strongly committed to Newfoundland and Labrador, and to ensuring that our people are healthy.

This year, Professor Lynn Cooze from the School of Nursing developed a special program that brings dogs and their owners to interact with pediatric patients in the Janeway Child Health Centre. While you can imagine that it is a popular program, Professor Cooze had to overcome issues of contamination and strict hospital regulations.

Like patient care, we are also expanding and improving our buildings on campus.

This year, we made major renovations to the School of Music.

Our Cook Recital Hall, one of the city’s most popular performance venues in the City, underwent about half a million dollars in renovations, including a new stage floor, seats, carpeting, lighting and sound system. Funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage restored the hall’s suitability for high-quality recording.

The heart of the Engineering Building, a 200-seat engineering lecture theater, received a $200,000 facelift thanks to a donation from Fortis. Renovations to the theatre, renamed the Angus Bruneau Lecture Theatre in honour of our first dean of engineering, also included the addition of state of the art teaching technologies.

Although there have been many joyous moments in the past year, there were also times of sadness. We suffered the losses of some of our important leaders.

Dr. Rusted was the founding dean of the Faculty of Medicine. He helped build our medical school which is now recognized across the country for the excellence of its programs and graduates. The school is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Dr. Eaton was a former vice-president of student affairs and director of physical education. He introduced many of our innovative student service programs.

Professor Pynn was key to the development of our Faculty of Business Administration. He served as a well-respected teacher and dean of the faculty.

The reputation of our Faculty of Business Administration and our students continues to grow because of the dedication of professors like Gar Pynn and those who followed him.

We had a fine example of that success just last week when our students brought great acclaim to the Business faculty, to Memorial and to Canada.

The ACE Memorial Team was Canada’s representative in the Students in Free Enterprise World Cup in New York City. ACE stands for “Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship” and through it our students engage in activities that support entrepreneurial organizations throughout the province.

Over 1,500 teams, with some 37,000 students, vied for a chance to be in this prestigious competition.

Our team came second in the world. This is a wonderful accomplishment and attests to the ingenuity and expertise of our students and the mentorship of their professors.

This is my final year as president of Memorial, and I am proud that during my term we have seen the creation of many new programs, including doctoral programs in Education, Music and Business.

We have constructed important new facilities, including the Smallwood Student Centre, the Inco Innovation Centre, the Field House and PetroCanada Hall. We are about to break ground on new students residences in St. John’s and in Corner Brook.

Our level of external research funding has grown from approximately $35 million per year to $90 million per year. This enables us to support many students who could otherwise not continue their studies at the graduate level. We also make a large contribution to the economy of our region and country.

One of the accomplishments from which I personally take great joy is the increase in student enrolment from 16,000 in 1999/2000 to over 18,000 this year. Over the past eight years, we have graduated over 20,000 students and we have enabled them to create better lives for themselves and for our world.

The establishment of a collegial and respectful working environment with all members of our community has been one of my primary aims and I think that good progress has been made.

Today, Memorial University is not only well respected in our province, but also in Canada and abroad.

I have no doubt that Memorial will continue to succeed and grow. Our new Strategic Plan will serve as a guide, but your continued involvement in our university will be indispensable.

As our new graduates begin their journey today, I wish them success and welcome you into the family of Memorial University alumni.

May the success that you celebrate today follow you through the rest of your lives!

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