President’s Newsletter



Welcome to the summer 2019 issue of Letter from Santa, a regular communication from myself to members of the UBC community. 



Welcoming new students

September is rapidly approaching, and with it, the arrival of thousands of new students to our Vancouver and Okanagan campuses. We’ll be welcoming the new first year students on Tuesday, September 3 at the Imagine Pep Rally on the Vancouver campus and at Create at UBC Okanagan.


University Climate Change Coalition Summit

In July, leaders of major Canadian, American and Mexican universities gathered at UBC to discuss the role of universities in combatting climate change. I had the honour of cohosting the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3) summit, alongside University of California President Janet Napolitano. Over the past year and a half, UC3 members have worked to leverage their institutional strengths as leading research universities to foster collaboration across sectors in an effort to accelerate action to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change.

Research universities don’t exist in a vacuum. We are communities where thousands of people live, work and play every day. As such, we have an impact on the environment, and we have an obligation to be aware of – and try to mitigate – that impact. We must go beyond minimizing harm to becoming net contributors to human and ecological health. You can learn more about UC3 and its goals at Also, please see the Vancouver Sun article about the summit at


Federal support for UBC sustainability initiatives

During the UC3 summit was taking place, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Amarjeet Sohi, came to the Vancouver campus to announce $5.8 million in support for two UBC sustainability demonstration projects. The first project, in partnership with BC Hydro and Cypress Power, will support a system for electric vehicle charging stations, with an investment of $2.3 million. This project will also help inform the development of guidelines for wireless charging and give UBC access to a fleet of two dozen electric vehicles.

The second project, in partnership with UBC Properties Trust, will build a six-storey certified passive house for staff and faculty at UBC Vancouver and install state-of-the art monitoring equipment in a second building, with an investment of $3.5 million. The project will evaluate and compare the two multi-unit residential buildings (MURB) to gather data such as energy use, emissions and indoor environmental quality to speed up the adoption of more net-zero energy MURBs throughout Canada. I would like to thank Minister Sohi and the government of Canada for their support for these important sustainability projects. Here’s a link to the official federal announcement. And here’s a story in the Vancouver Sun.


U7 Alliance

Sustainability was also a major topic of discussion when I participated in the inaugural meeting of the U7 Alliance in Paris in July. The U7 Alliance (also known as U7+) is comprised of universities from around the world coming together to addressing the most pressing global challenges (such as sustainability, clean water, gender equality and chronic diseases) in a multilateral context. The U7 Alliance includes universities from the G7 group of nations and beyond, including: Columbia University, the University of Cambridge, the London School of Economics, the University of Cape Town, University of Tokyo, Sciences Po, Sorbonne Université and others. I’m proud that UBC was asked to join this select group as a founding member. You can read more about the U7 meeting here.

President’s Medals of Excellence

Last year, I initiated the President’s Medal of Excellence program. The Medal is awarded, at my discretion, “for significant contributions to the purposes and ideals of the university.” This year, I have awarded the President’s Medal to:

  • Dr. Gerald Chan (Chairman, Morningside Group)
  • Elder Larry Grant (Adjunct Professor, First Nations & Endangered Languages Program)
  • Dr. Robert H. Lee (Founder & Chair, The Prospero Group)
  • The Honourable Beverley McLachlin (Former Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Canada)
  • Ms. Janet Napolitano (President, University of California).

Other recipients will be announced shortly. I am honoured that these distinguished individuals have accepted the Medal, and grateful for what they have done for UBC and higher education. You can find out more about The President’s Medal of Excellence here.


Joint projects with Amazon and Microsoft

Several months ago I visited Amazon to explore opportunities for research collaboration between UBC and Amazon. We identified three areas of mutual interest: Cloud Computing, precision medicine and sustainability. I am happy to note that on July 10, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced a Cloud Innovation Centre (CIC) at UBC at their annual IMAGINE education conference in Seattle. The CIC is the first of its kind in Canada, and provides UBC students, staff, and faculty access to cloud technology to advance projects, along with employing Amazon’s innovation processes. Branded as the UBC Community Health and Wellbeing CIC, powered by AWS, the Centre will support student teams tackling real-world issues and challenges, where application of novel and emerging technology or computing approaches are essential. It’s so wonderful to see such rapid progress in one area. I’m hopeful additional projects will come on line in the near future. You can read more about the CIC here.

UBC has also strengthened its ties with Microsoft by joining the Cascadia Data Discovery Initiative. The Initiative also includes the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, Oregon Health Sciences, BC Cancer, the University of Washington eScience Institute and the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University. The Initiative, one of the largest such consortia in the world, will work towards developing a common data platform to accelerate research and innovation across the community. on data discovery platform in cancer research and care. See for more information.


UBC Annual Report

UBC’s 2018/19 Annual Report is now available online. This document celebrates a number of significant accomplishments, most notably the launch of our new strategic plan, Shaping UBC’s Next Century (see below for an update). In this Annual Report you’ll find many examples that demonstrate how UBC is bringing our vision to life.


Shaping UBC’s Next Century update

Since last year’s launch of the Shaping UBC’s Next Century strategic plan, considerable progress has been made implementing it across the university. Progress includes: 177 projects identified, 21,347 students enrolled in enhanced courses and $84 million raised for student awards and support for enhanced educational experiences. These achievements – and more – can be viewed, and downloaded as a poster, here.In the fall, we’ll launch a new strategic plan website — complete with stories and metrics related to the plan’s implementation, as well as updates regarding calls for proposals. The new website will feature the most diverse and representative examples of the plan in action from across the university.

I’m excited about what we’ve achieved so far, under the leadership of Gail Murphy (Vice-President Research & Innovation), Andrew Szeri (Provost and Vice-President, Academic, Vancouver) and Ananya Mukherjee Reed (Provost and Vice-President, Academic, UBC Okanagan). I’d like to thank them as well as all the members of the UBC community for your continued support of the plan.


Okanagan student housing construction

Skeena Residence and Nechako Housing Commons will help us meet the demand for on-campus student housing and dining facilities at UBC’s Okanagan campus. Now under construction, the two residences will add approximately 440 new beds for students. The Skeena residence is built to Passive House standards for design, construction and operation. Nechako Housing Commons, a LEED Gold project, will also feature a 500-seat residence dining room, which will serve delicious and nutritious food and provide increased social and study space. Find out more about the projects


UBC Health

One of my first priorities as President of UBC was to enhance UBC Health, UBC’s Academic Health Centre. The first step in the process was to appoint UBC’s first Vice President Health, Dermot Kelleher, and to support him with a new Associate Vice-President of Health. This has been accomplished with the recruitment of Anne Martin-Matthews from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. To complete the process we are now recruiting for three exceptional directors to move forward the tripartite mission of UBC Heath:

Applications for these three positions are being accepted until September 30.


Historic Baseball Tournament

I’m looking forward to the Collegiate Baseball Tournament, August 13-18. This historic tournament will feature teams from UBC, the University of Tokyo, Keio University and Sacramento State University. The tournament will be hosted primarily at UBC’s Tourmaline West Stadium, but will also feature a premiere game at Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium, home of the Vancouver Canadians. As UBC baseball director Terry McKaig says, “We are using baseball to build a bridge between Asia and North America for our student-athletes and fans.” For more information or tickets, please visit


News from the Faculties

Finally, for your summer reading pleasure, a round-up of assorted news and initiatives from UBC’s Faculties:

Applied Science:

  • The UBC Thunderbots placed first in their division at the RoboCup 2019, an annual international robotics competition, where over 400 teams from 40 countries are represented, aimed at “[promoting] robotics and AI research by offering a publicly appealing but formidable challenge.” These challenges include robot soccer and robot rescue. They were one of two Canadian teams participating in the competition and are the first Canadian team ever to become champions of the Small Size League.
  • This past year, Geering Up teamed up with the community of Musqueam Indian Band and Britannia Secondary School to create our very first InSTEM project! InSTEM was a year long project to integrate Indgienous teachings into the Science 10 curriculum. Through activities such as rope design using materials like cedar, students were able to make the connection between traditional knowledge and their own coursework. This allowed them to see that these Indigenous perspectives are and always have been inherent in science and engineering. Geering Up’s mandate is to work with school and community partners to offer this type of programming. Geering Up’s hope is that these learnings can benefit both Indigenous and non Indigenous students by giving them a better understanding of the history of Canada and its peoples.  Here’s a video of the project:

Creative & Critical Studies:

  • The Faculty has a new partnership with the Caetani Cultural Centre in Vernon, which will support two graduating BFA students per year in month long summer artistic residencies. This partnership presents graduating students with their first professional opportunity as practicing studio artists, and is part of a broader faculty and campus strategy to strengthen community ties throughout the greater Okanagan. One of the recipients, Mirjana Borovickic, received the Dean’s Purchase Award in 2019, for her stunning depictions of her memories of living for a time in a Serbian refugee camp. See


  • In partnership with the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada, the Faculty of Education presents the Dean’s Distinguished Lecture featuring Senator Murray Sinclair on October 10. Senator Sinclair, the former Chief Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, will deliver his lecture in Jack Poole Hall, Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre. To register and find out more:


  • Following provincial approval, the Faculty will be offering a new Bachelor of Science program in Forest Bioeconomy Sciences and Technology (BEST). This program will put UBC at the forefront in bioeeconomy education, preparing students to work in a more sustainable world.
  • The Cariboo Fire and Ecology Research Institute is moving closer to completion, following the purchase of a 50-acre site close to Williams Lake. The site will form the base for the future Institute, as well as providing a permanent home for the Alex Fraser Research Forest office. There will be accommodation for faculty and students working in the central interior of BC. More about the research centre here:

Land and Food Systems:

  • UBC Farm is investigating water innovations to develop water-use reduction strategies, minimizing the water footprint of agriculture at UBC Farm and to support UBC’s Water Action Plan. This is important for sustainable food production as agriculture accounts for 70% of global water usage.
  • In a second project, UBC Farm is investigating how to build a more sustainable and biodiverse food system and to better understand the linkages between farm management and biodiversity. Learn more about UBC Farm research here:


I hope you’ve enjoyed this Letter from Santa. Best wishes for the rest of the summer.

Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor



Previous Issues

Summer 2019

June 2019