Reflections on the past year

Dear members of the University community / Boozhoo / Aanii / Kwe kwe,

We began our spring convocations last Wednesday in Barrie and kicked off our convocations in Sudbury with the School of Nursing last Friday.  There are ten more convocation ceremonies this week in Sudbury and at Algoma University. Colleagues and I have attended or will attend five additional convocation ceremonies with our college partners in Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury, Timmins and Kingston, as well as at the Université de Hearst. A record number of 2,124 students are graduating this year, bringing our total number of alumni to 46,644.

As I draft my convocation speeches, it’s always an opportunity to reflect on the power of education, my great sense of pride in our university community, and the amazing talent among graduates who will make our country an even better place to live, work and play.

As I reflect on this particular graduating group of students, there are so many with so much potential and so much to contribute, as evidenced by their numerous successes as students. Some highlights from the past year, include:

  • Our annual athletics awards banquet honouring academic, athletic and community achievements by our student athletes after another successful CIS season. Many players in the their final year at Laurentian were honoured;
  • Our engineering team earning a first-place finish in the 22nd Annual Canadian Mining Games.  The team from Laurentian ranked among the top three in 12 of the events that make up the competition, completing the Games with a 27-point margin of victory;
  • Seeing three teams of Laurentian students in the top 25 of Canada’s Next Top Ad Exec, with one of them making it into the top 10 again this year.  Over 200 teams from 42 universities were selected and gradually narrowed through three phases of competition. Congratulations to Matt Marcuccio and Patrick Barsalou from the School of Commerce and Administration on their second top 10 finish in a row!
  • 125 students from Sudbury and Barrie returned to model parliament, spending the day discussing, debating and negotiating important issues in the House of Commons. Our Chancellor, Aline Chrétien, served as Governor General and read the speech from the Throne in the Senate chamber. We also had over 40 alumni who participated in the Alumni Model Parliament taking place at the same time at Senate. Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, former Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps, Sudbury M.P. Glenn Thibeault, and Senator Marie-P. (Charette) Poulin graciously gave their time to help add to the experience for the students. Laurentian is one of only two universities privileged to hold such an event;
  • Laurentian students held another incredibly successful annual Airbandz for cancer fundraising event, raising over $21,000 in one evening for the Northern Cancer Research Foundation (NCRF);
  • Several prestigious awards were also given to our graduate students, as follows:
    • Ms. Twinkle Masilamani:  NSERC Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship
      PhD in Biomolecular Sciences, $150,000 over 3 years
    • Ms.  Indeewari Kalhari Silva Lindamulage:  Ontario Trillium Scholarship
      PhD in Biomolecular Sciences, $40,000 per year for 4 years.
    • Ms. Kirsten McMillan:  Ontario Trillium Scholarship
      PhD in Boreal Ecology, $40,000 per year for 4 years

I am also extremely proud of the people that make up our organization this year. We took on many ambitious challenges and through hard work, determination and commitment we achieved many milestones:

  • For the first time in four years, our operating budget was balanced in 2011-2012;
  • A record $15.1 million was raised from private sources in 2011-2012, with more significant gifts likely to materialize before April 2013 the end of The Next 50 Campaign;
  • The City of Barrie matched our commitment of $14 million with a $14 million pledge towards a university campus in downtown Barrie;
  • The launch of the School of Architecture remains on budget and on track for September 2013. We have received many gifts to support the new school, including $100,000 from Blaine and Lise Nicholls, $100,000 from TD Insurance Meloche Monnex and $50,000 from Downtown Sudbury. These generous donations will be used to support the education of Architecture students in various ways, including scholarships, bursaries, and resources that are needed for the Community Design/Build component of the program.  This is a key ingredient in the Laurentian Architecture model, and will allow our students to get real “hands-on” experience when they actually build the projects they have designed.
  • The construction of the new $20 million student residence on the Sudbury campus is on time, on budget;
  • Our enrolment rose for a third consecutive year, while increasing the average entry grade each year;
  • The proportion of senior year students who responded on the National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE) that they would definitely return to Laurentian increased, while it decreased in Ontario universities;
  • More people are noticing our collective success. Even when considering changes in methodology, no Canadian university has seen a bigger jump on Maclean’s rankings as Laurentian over the past three years. The value of our national earned media increased by 38% in 2011 to $1.435 million.

Another innovation that I am very proud of from the past year is the introduction of the Laurentian Soapbox.  We have had five sessions hearing from faculty, staff, students and alumni who are championing successes and asking critical questions.

Short presentations and discussions varied considerably including:

Although the topics were different they all had one thing a common: a genuine desire to make Laurentian University an even better place.  I’m thrilled that we are celebrating the university community accomplishments.

Health Services Manager Lyne Rivet also kept us up to date on the « Loser vs. Loser » competition.  She called us « a bunch of losers » but it turns out, that’s a good thing! Believe it or not, the 125 staff and faculty who signed up for the university’s first Loser vs. Loser competition dropped a total of 778 pounds over the 12-week campaign. Phenomenal results!  Congratulations to Health Services and all the organizers who put this friendly competition together.

I look forward to the next editions of the Soapbox on June 28th and August 23rd.

Laurentian University continues to gain national recognition because of our people and their drive to succeed in finding innovative solutions to local and global issues. I am very proud to call Laurentian home.

In my next blog posting, after convocations, I will comment more specifically on some of our future directions for the years ahead.

As always, I welcome comments on the blog or any other matter: you can reach me at, or you can join the 3,200 people who follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

Merci, Thank You, Miigwech

Engaged Students, Faculty and Staff

Dear members of the University community / Boozhoo / Aanii / Kwe kwe,

Laurentian University has all the assets to be recognized in the future as one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, as Georgian College, George Brown College, Kwantlen University College, the University of Toronto, McGill University and Simon Fraser University have been in the past decade.

As a sector, we are measured on numerous indicators, yet we have no data on the experiences of faculty and staff members on areas where collectively we do well as an organization and where we could improve.  We collectively need measurable information to guide action planning.  It’s essential to prioritize and focus efforts to bring about the most significant and positive change towards the goal of becoming one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers.

To enable this priority-setting, faculty and staff members will be invited to complete a confidential on-line questionnaire in May.  Results will be released in September and the survey will be administered again every two years to measure progress over time.  The outcome of the questionnaire will inform the 2011-2012 performance goals of the university’s Leadership Group and of other supervisors, but most importantly will inform authentic conversations at the department level.

I would like to thank the 150 faculty and staff members who attended one of the two Have Your Say 2011: Towards Organizational Excellence town-hall meetings held on February 3rd and 4th at the Fraser auditorium. We received excellent and constructive feedback and questions regarding next steps for the above-mentioned initiative.

Faculty and staff union/associations have been invited to join an Advisory Committee, which has already met twice to review and make adjustments to the proposed process and review the top bids received in order to select an external consultant to collect the data in confidence and report back to the university community.  Over the coming weeks, this Advisory Committee will review the questionnaire and provide advice on ways to maximize the success of this initiative.

While voluntary, your participation will make a difference.  We must become the change we want to see.

There is much to build on, including a very strong track record as a university in attracting and retaining talent.  We have talented and creative staff.  We have innovative faculty.  We have engaged leaders who care about the university.  We need to make sure that our energies are channeled and focused.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this initiative, please do not hesitate to contact Dr Anne-Marie Mawhiney at or extension 3221.  We are in the process of setting up an intranet link so that all employees can view the presentation that was used in the town hall meetings last week.  Another session is being planned for Barrie soon.

Laurentian students never cease to amaze me with their leadership and enthusiasm.

Just in the past two weeks, I was able to witness their strong level of engagement on a daily basis including at the:

  • 36th Annual SPAD Hockey Tournament organized by students from the School of Sports Administration (note that the Laurentian staff team won 3-2 vs the faculty team this year);
  • First event of the newly-created Saudi Club on the Sudbury campus;
  • 8th Annual SGA Charity Ball, with profits going to the Live-In for Literacy (kudos to Hannah Thompson and Sarah Williams for raising over $5,430 to build school libraries in India)
  • 2nd Annual Road to Riches Accounting Challenge organized by the Laurentian University Accounting Association and attended by 36 current and prospective students and over 20 Laurentian alumni who are now Chartered Accountants or C.A. candidates (kudos in particular to alumna Emily Blimkie from Collins Barrow and Valorie Leonard from the School of Commerce for their impressive efforts);
  • Last basketball home game for the Lady Vees and Voyageurs (kudos to graduating seniors Katie Goggins and Lisa Furchner who were honoured on Saturday);
  • Chinese New Year Party organized by the Laurentian University Chinese Student and Scholar Association;
  • 8th Annual Airbandz for Cancer for which students raised $17,000 this year for a total of $102,000 over the past eight years for the Northern Ontario Cancer Research Foundation (four fellow judges and I had the thought task of picking the winners).

Students give particularly high marks to Laurentian for its class size, the level of interaction with faculty, the availability of faculty outside class, the sense of personal security and safety on campus and the physical fitness, sports and recreational facilities.  What strikes me though when I speak with faculty and staff members – especially those who go beyond the call of duty to attend events such as those listed above – is that they are energized by the students’ energy and aspiration to do always do better, and in turn this gives faculty and staff the boost to be even better themselves at what they do.  I know that’s why so many faculty and staff members love what they do at Laurentian, and I am certainly one of them!

As usual, I welcome comments and questions on the topics discussed in my blog postings, or any other matter that may be of concern to you. My email is:

You can also join the 1,500 people who follow me on Twitter and Facebook, as well as find pictures of the above noted events.

Merci/Thank you/Miigwech