President’s Newsletter



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


Senior Academic Advisors

I am delighted to announce that Senior Instructor Kathryn Gretsinger, Professor Walter Mérida, Professor of Teaching Karen Ragoonaden, and Professor John Klironomos have been appointed as Senior Faculty Advisors to the President. Kathryn Gretsinger and Walter Mérida are based at UBC Vancouver, with Karen Ragoonaden and John Klironomos based at UBC Okanagan. Each faculty advisor will work on projects that advance our strategic plan. They will advise me on topics and issues that are important to faculty across both campuses, with an overarching goal to bring our UBC community closer together.

I look forward to working with this new team of faculty advisors. Please join me in welcoming them to these new roles.

Shaping UBC’s Next Century Call for proposals: Advancing Education Renewal

A new strategic plan “Call for Proposals” has been launched to support UBC’s efforts in the area of education renewal – one of our six priority strategies for the next two years. The Advancing Education Renewal Call for Proposals will allocate up to $1.5 million to projects focusing on one of the following three areas: improvements in teaching effectiveness, program redesign, and strengthening of graduate programs. These education renewal activities will ensure that UBC can continue providing exceptional learning experiences for our students. I encourage all UBC Vancouver faculty, staff and students who are interested in enhancing our activities and innovating with new approaches to attend one of a number of information sessions being held throughout December and January. Full details about the call can be found on the VP Academic website.

Strategic Cooperation with Osaka University

Last month, I signed a Statement of Strategic Cooperation with Professor Shojiro Nishio, the President of Osaka University. The Statement calls upon our two universities to strengthen research collaboration in selected fields related to our mutual strengths in Physics and Medicine. Osaka was one of UBC’s earliest partner institutions in Japan, with the original academic exchange agreement signed in 1984.

U7+ executive committee election

I was honoured to be elected recently to the international executive steering committee of the U7+ alliance, along with the presidents of other major universities, including Ecole Polytechnique, the London School of Economics, Columbia University and others. The committee will be meeting shortly to start the implementation of the U7+ commitments, which I outlined in a recent blog post.

Congratulations to Candis Callison and Connie Eaves

I would like to extend my congratulations to Graduate School of Journalism Associate Professor Candis Callison ( left), who has been elected as an International Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Dr. Callison is also a Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation Fellow in 2019, and recently co-convened the International Symposium on Climate Change and Indigenous Communities while a visiting scholar at Princeton University.

Congratulations also to medical genetics professor Connie Eaves (above right), the 2019 recipient of the Canada Gairdner Wightman Award. Dr. Eaves, who is also distinguished scientist in the Terry Fox Laboratory at the BC Cancer Agency received the award for her pioneering work and leadership in the study of hematopoietic, mammary and cancer stem cells, as well as for her dedicated advocacy for early-career investigators and women in science. Dr. Eaves has also been named a “Woman of the Year” by Chatelaine magazine.

5G Comes to UBC

Rogers and the University of British Columbia have announced a three-year, multi-million dollar partnership deal to build a real-world 5G Hub on the UBC Vancouver that will be a testbed and blueprint for 5G innovation in Canada. This partnership with Rogers opens exciting research and learning opportunities for our faculty and students in wireless technology. It is a great example of how universities and industry can work together to develop new knowledge and provide our students with the skills that are vital in building the digital economy. Find out more at


In November, we celebrated 10 years of Thrive at UBC with a month of events and initiatives aimed at fostering and maintaining mental health.

We also launched a new fund to support student wellbeing initiatives and invited alumni, faculty, staff and friends to make a donation to the fund through “Change Starts at Breakfast”. To celebrate this new fund and to show support for our students at exam time, UBC hosted a breakfast for students at the Life Building on Friday, November 22.

Our university is not just a place, it is our people – their success is UBC’s success. By promoting their wellbeing, we promote their excellence. That is why we must do this together— across the university, for everyone, by everyone — to ensure that all our people, places, and communities can flourish.

Times Higher Education Rankings

UBC continues to do well in international rankings. In the Times Higher Education subject rankings, we placed in the top 100 in all categories:

  • arts and humanities: 52
  • business and economics: 24
  • clinical, pre-clinical and health: 30
  • computer science: 43
  • education: 19
  • engineering and technology: 43
  • law: 34
  • life sciences: 27
  • physical sciences: 51
  • psychology: 10
  • social sciences: 28

I am proud of our outstanding faculty, students and staff who have made UBC one of the world’s outstanding universities.

Thunderbirds win national championships

Congratulations to the UBC Thunderbirds women’s soccer team on winning the national championships against the Calgary Dinos. It was their seventh national championship, and the first since 2015. Both the men’s and women’s rowing squads also won national championships this year – the sixth championship for the men and the third for the women.

Also, congratulations to all our varsity athletes, both at UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan. Earlier this week, I had the privilege of honouring our Thunderbird varsity student athletes at the annual Academic All Canadian Breakfast of Champions, celebrating student athletes with averages of 80 percent or higher. Balancing academics and athletics and excelling at both takes dedication and character just as much as it takes talent, and I commend all our student athletes. We recognized 139 student athletes this year.

President’s Chair in Brain Health

I am thrilled to welcome Dr. Sophia Frangou as professor and UBC President’s Excellence Chair in Brain Health to UBC from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Dr. Frangou’s research focuses on uncovering pathophysiological processes underlying psychosis, with emphasis on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder using clinical, genetic, cognitive, and neuroimaging techniques.

UBC Connects, President’s Concerts

Over the past month, I’ve had the honour to host or cohost several events, including two UBC Connects lectures (UBC alumna Ziya Tong and Nobel Prize winner Donna Strickland),  a President’s Roundtable on Migration and Integration, a UBC Dialogues marking the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality and two events in the President’s Concerts series. Outreach events such as these align well with our strategic plan, which emphasizes community engagement and dialogue.


Congratulations to our Grads!

Last week we celebrated Fall Congregation. Thousands of students received diplomas in the eight ceremonies held at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at the UBC Vancouver campus. I would like to congratulate all the new graduates, and I would also like to thank the staff and volunteers who worked so hard to make Graduation 2019 such an outstanding success.

Beam of Light Ceremony

On December 6, UBC will be commemorating the 30th anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre, and the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women (White Ribbon Day) at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts. UBC will be one of 14 universities participating in a 30th anniversary memorial event, together with the École Polytechnique. Please join us to honour the lives lost, and take part in the “Beam of Light Ceremony”, which will be held at each of the participating universities and simulcast on CBC, starting at 1:45 p.m.

News from the Faculties

Arts:$1 million donation from the Diamond Foundation will expand Jewish studies programming in the classroom and beyond the UBC campus. The funds will help bring in speakers from all over the world, enable students to engage directly with world-renowned visiting scholars, and support academic study and research abroad. • The School of Public Policy and Global Affairs announced its 2020 Lind Initiative: “Thinking While Black,” inviting us to consider Blackness as both a culture and a mode of thinking. This series will meditate on the structures of race in North America and spotlight the seemingly disconnected forms of racial violence that hide in plain sight. The series includes visits from foremost intellectuals including Claudia Rankine, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, Ibram X. Kendi, and Jesmyn Ward. Each of the public events held at UBC Vancouver is free to attend. • The Arts Student Centre has a new home and a new design. The building will serve as a hub for some 14,000 Arts undergraduate students and feature study spots, recreational spaces and an art gallery. It is scheduled for completion in September 2021.

Education: The Faculty of Education has unveiled its new strategic plan, Learning Transformed. Learning Transformed. The plan, which was developed by the entire Faculty of Education community, aligns with and supports UBC’s overall strategic plan, UBC’s Next Century, and situates the Faculty’s work within the core areas of people & places, research excellence, transformative learning, and local & global engagement. One of the plan’s most important goals is to support bold and daring teaching, learning, research, and scholarship that challenge barriers to educational access and success, promote quality and socially responsive educational experiences, and contribute to public dialogue. Find out more about the plan at

Forestry: The Faculty of Forestry has also officially launched its Strategic Plan 2019-2029. The product of consultations and online surveys, this plan represents a refresh of the previous strategic plan for the Faculty and supports UBC’s strategic plan, Shaping UBC’s Next Century. • The Faculty received special honours at the recent 25th Congress of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) in Curitiba, Brazil.  As the global network for forest science cooperation, IUFRO hosts delegates from up to 120 countries at congresses held every five years to advance forest research and scientific understanding so vital to the health of our planet’s forests. The awards presented to UBC faculty and students at this congress included: the IUFRO 2019 Scientific Achievement Award to Dr. Terry Sunderland; the IUFRO Student Award for Excellence to PhD candidate Andrea Vasquez-Fernandez and former Masters student, Khalil Walji;  and the Global Competition on Best Practices in Forest Education award to Associate Dean of Asian Strategies and Director of the Asian Forestry and Research Institute, Guanyu Wang on behalf of Asia-Pacific Forestry Education Coordination Mechanism. Dr. Suzanne Simard was selected by the Scientific Committee, the IUFRO Board, and the event’s organizing committee as a keynote speaker of one of the plenary sessions.

Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies: GPS has uploaded enrolment numbers for the 2019 Winter session, as well as interim numbers for the 2019 Admissions cycle on the Graduate Education Analysis & Research (GEAR) site. For the first time in the history of UBC, course-base master’s programs (3548) have similar enrolment numbers as doctoral programs (3625). Data shows consistent, considerable growth in course-based master’s enrolment, with an increase of 134% since 2003.

Land and Food Systems: New funding from the Ministry of Agriculture will see the Faculty of Land and Food Systems drive scientific innovation for B.C.’s food and beverage industry. The Hon. Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture, announced Assistant Professor Anubhav Singh as the new Food and Beverage Innovation Professor. He will work with industry and academic partners on applied innovation projects, support the new BC Food Hub Network, and develop academic programming in food and beverage technology.

Pharmaceutical Sciences: Dr. Karla Williams, professor in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UBC and Canada Research Chair in Oncology is researching potential treatments for metastatic breast cancer by studying invadopodia. To read the release, visit


Holiday Wishes

As this is my last newsletter for 2019, I would like to wish everybody a wonderful holiday season and all the best for 2020! A special shout-out to all the students starting exams today — good luck!

Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor

Previous Issues

December 2019
December 2, 2019

September 2019
September 23, 2019

Summer 2019
July 30, 2019

June 2019
June 10, 2019