President’s Newsletter


Welcome to the November/December 2020 issue of Letter from Santa, a regular communication to the UBC community.



UBC Research and COVID

UBC has a connection to the Pfizer-BionTech vaccine that was recently announced as showing a high rate of effectiveness. The vaccine relies on innovations developed by Acuitas Therapeutics, a spin-off from UBC’s Life Sciences Institute. The potency of the vaccine depends entirely on Acuitas’ LNP system to deliver encapsulated mRNA to the interior of target cells. The system stems from research pioneered by former LSI Director Dr. Pieter Cullis since 1978.

UBC spin-off company AbCellera announced that a human antibody it discovered and developed in collaboration with Eli Lilly and Company has received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for COVID-19.

Fall Graduation

Earlier this week, I had the honour to participate in the Fall Graduation ceremony.

This virtual ceremony celebrated the very real accomplishments of UBC graduates and included video messages from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier John Horgan and other leaders, and a keynote address by writer and activist (and UBC alum) Cicely Bell Blain.

I hope you were able to attend the ceremonies and celebrated our amazing graduating class. If not, you can revisit it at virtual

I would like to congratulate all the graduates, and to thank all those who worked so hard on organizing and staging the ceremony.


Installation of Chancellor Point

On the same day that we celebrated our latest graduates, we also celebrated the installation of the Honourable Steven Lewis Point as UBC’s 19th chancellor. (You can watch this ceremony as well at

Besides his public roles presiding over all major ceremonies and convocations and representing the university in a wide range of events and activities, the Chancellor is also a great source of guidance and counsel for myself. Chancellor Point has a long record of public service and advocacy and I look forward to working with him. I am truly honoured that he has agreed to serve as Chancellor of UBC.

In the photos above, Chancellor Point and I are wearing new regalia. The regalia acknowledges the relationship between UBC and Musqueam, and UBC and the Syilx Okanagan peoples.

The Indigenous components on these robes were designed by Chrystal Sparrow, a third-generation Musqueam artist and carver, mentored by her late father, Irving Sparrow. Chrystal says that she created a simple Coast Salish Eye design to represent the Musqueam, Syilx Okanagan and UBC communities, who share together knowledge, distinctive cultures and respectful relationships. I would like to thank Chrystal, on behalf of the UBC community, for her artistry and talent in making these new gowns come to life.


Handel Kashope Wright Appointed as Senior Advisor on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence

I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Dr. Handel Kashope Wright as the Senior Advisor to the President on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence.

Dr. Wright is a Professor in the Department of Educational Studies in the Faculty of Education. He is also Director of the Centre for Culture, Identity and Education. His work focuses on continental and diasporic African cultural studies, critical multiculturalism, anti-racist education, qualitative research, and cultural studies of education.

Dr. Wright’s current research examines postmulticulturalism, youth identity, and belonging in the Canadian context.

Dr. Wright received a B.A. from the University of Sierra Leone, and M.A. from the University of Windsor, and an M.Ed from Queens University. He completed a Ph.D. in Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. At UBC, Dr. Wright has been Canada Research Chair of Comparative Cultural Studies and David Lam Chair in Multicultural Education.

Besides advising me on addressing issues of race, racism, representation and inclusive excellence, Dr. Wright will liaise with senior leaders, support the implementation of the Inclusion Action Plan, and develop an effective outreach strategy to the UBC community to advance understanding of race, racism and anti-racist strategies and facilitate town/gown relationships with anti-racism groups and communities of colour.

The Senior Advisor on Indigenous Affairs and the Senior Advisor on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence will work together to find intersections and collaborative opportunities.


UBC in Top 30 in the World for Graduate Employability

In this year’s Times Higher Education graduate employability ranking, UBC has jumped to #28 in the world from #61 in the world last year.  No other university in the top 50 in the world has experienced such a sharp upward trajectory in how our university is viewed by the world’s largest employers.


University Presidents Meet to Discuss Climate Change

A few weeks ago, I spoke at a virtual meeting of the presidents of the universities who are members of the Universities Climate Change Coalition (UC3). I assumed the presidency of the UC3 earlier this year, taking over from former University of California President Janet Napolitano after she retired.

Many interesting ideas came forward during this discussion that UC3 will begin work on  over the next year as a coalition. Key strategic initiatives include establishing a UC3 webinar series on key climate issues, decarbonization tactics/strategies, and technologies.

I also participated in a virtual meeting of the U7+ this past week. The meeting brought together nearly 100 university leaders from six continents for a series of dialogues on intergenerational justice as students worldwide call on higher education institutions to play an active role in addressing the global challenges they will inherit.

University leaders unanimously voted to work together and with government leaders worldwide to create new opportunities for mutual understanding and equitable resource sharing across generations. This builds on previous U7+ Alliance commitments to tackle climate change, promote ethical uses of artificial intelligence and digital technology and address other global issues.


Workday Implementation

I would like to thank and congratulate the IRP team upon the successful transition to Workday. The team worked tirelessly for many months to ensure a smooth transition to the new system. There were a few hiccups, as was only to be expected, but overall, the transition went smoothly. The team is still hard at work on the changeover, but the new system is running well. Again, congratulations and thanks to all involved.


UBC Faculty Recognized for Environmental Research

I’d like to congratulate UBC researchers Claire Kerman, Navin Ramankutty, Mary O’Connor, Willing Cheung and Allan Bertram, who have all been recognized — in different ways and by different organizations — for their environmental research.

Conservation biologist Claire Kremen (President’s Excellence Chair In Biodiversity with a joint appointment in IRES and Zoology) is this year’s winner of the Volvo Environment Prize, recognizing her world-class research on how humanity can feed itself while also protecting biodiversity. Since its inception in 1990, the Volvo Environment Prize has become one of the scientific world’s most respected environmental awards. Dr. Kremen is the fourth UBC researcher to be awarded the prize.

Navin Ramankutty (School of Public Policy and Global Affairs; Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability) has been awarded the prestigious Wihuri International Prize in recognition of his long-standing work on sustainable global food systems.

Mary O’Connor (Zoology) has been awarded an NSERC E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship for her research untangling the intricate connections between changes in climate and biodiversity. Her research has uncovered recurring – and predictable – patterns in the way organisms, food webs and ecosystems respond to temperature change, giving ecologists a vital framework to forecast the ecological changes that will occur in warming areas, and design sustainability strategies that nurtures our evolving natural world.

William Cheung (Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries) also received an E.W.R. Steacie fellowship. He studies the effects of climate change on marine biodiversity and fisheries. His work exposes how marine populations are adapting in response to ocean warming, deoxygenation and acidification. His research reveals steps we can take to help marine species and the fisheries that are depend on these resources continue to adapt to our changing planet.

Allan Bertram (Chemistry) received NSERC’s Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering. He’s a member of the Network on Climate and Aerosols. The team distills massive amounts of field data and observations to improve climate models that predict environmental changes that are likely to take place in the Arctic over the coming decades. These predictions help policy-makers prepare for and, hopefully, mitigate the worst of the effects of climate change in the Arctic.


News from around UBC

AMS: The AMS has funds up to $15,000 available for individual students or clubs to help make them happen. From conducting scholarly research to developing sustainable projects, there are four student funds and six that clubs can apply for. Find out more by visiting the AMS Funds and Grants pages [!/tab/ams-funds/]. You can also reach out to their Funds & Grants Administrator at

Faculty of Applied Science: After many years of planning, the Department of Civil Engineering and the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering jointly welcomed the first ever cohort of the new four-year Environmental Engineering undergraduate degree. The program will be delivered by more than 20 faculty members and includes courses from both departments, as well as six new courses developed specifically for this new program. Learn more.

Faculty of Arts: A new interdisciplinary UBC Centre for Migration Studies will support innovative migration research, knowledge mobilization and teaching and learning. Based in the Faculty of Arts and led by Dr. Antje Ellermann, the Centre will be the first migration research centre of its kind in Western Canada. • The Museum of Anthropology has begun preparations for a rebuild of its Great Hall to protect its irreplaceable collection in the event of a major earthquake.

Faculty of Forestry: The new Faculty of Forestry website officially launched this fall. The refreshed site features an updated, new look, improved navigation, 16 original videos, a special student section, and increased visibility for the visually impaired. • The Faculty also launched the Masters of Urban Forestry Leadership. Registration for this new professional master’s program is now underway with the first cohort to begin July 2021. The program  will help to meet the increasing demand for urban forestry practitioners.

Faculty of Land and Food Systems: The UBC Wine Research Centre has expanded to Kelowna campus. The centre will be led by the Faculty of Land and Food Systems and UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Management and Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science. This location in the heart of B.C.’s wine region will enable the Centre to increase opportunities for research collaborations, and develop new student offerings.

The Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences recently published a daily Instagram series sharing tips and advice for staying productive and healthy throughout the virtual school year. The tips were submitted by the UBC Pharmacists Clinic Work/Learn students. Check out the series at • Three research projects have been supported by a total of just over $2.18M through the Project Grant: Spring 2020 Competition from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR).

The School of Architecture + Landscape Architecture recently re-launched the Margolese National Design for Living Prize, a $50,000 award that recognizes a Canadian citizen who has made a significant contribution to the built environment and the people within it. Nominations open in February 2021 and SALA is asking the community to identify architects, landscape architects, planners, designers, engineers, or practitioners in other allied fields that they feel are doing something remarkable for the built environment. Post your suggestion on Instagram using the hashtags #betterfuturecanada and #margoleseprize.

UBC Okanagan: Professor Silvia Tomášková has been appointed as the inaugural Dean of the new Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences for a five-year term, beginning December 1, 2020. Professor Tomášková joins UBC from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is the Druscilla French Distinguished Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Professor of Anthropology.

UBC Sauder’s MBA program is now ranked 26th in the world (up from 27th last year), according to business magazine Corporate Knights. The magazine’s 2020 Better World MBA ranking looks at business schools with the most sustainability focused programs. • PhD student Rishad Habib gave a presentation on unlocking consumer behaviour change at the recent BIG Difference BC 2020 conference titled Changing Climate Change Behaviours. Co-hosted by UBC’s Decision Insights for Business and Society (DIBS), the provincial government’s BC Behavioural Insights Group, and WorkSafeBC, the annual event was held online for the first time and attracted a record 1,200 participants from across Canada and around the world.


As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments on this newsletter. I wish you all the best for the holiday season.

Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor

Click here for previous issues.