April 2021


Welcome to the April 2021 issue of Letter from Santa, a regular communication to members of the UBC community.



Spring Graduation Takes Place June 2

In light of the current restrictions related to COVID-19, we are not yet permitted to hold mass in-person gatherings. As we did in 2020, we look forward to celebrating our graduates at a virtual ceremony, on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. We will hold one ceremony for students graduating from UBC Vancouver that morning, and one ceremony for students graduating from UBC Okanagan that afternoon.

I know what an important event this is for the UBC community. While I understand this virtual ceremony will not be the same as seeing our students graduate in person, it is an opportunity to come together as a community to celebrate their outstanding achievements. Whether you know someone who is graduating this spring or not, I encourage you to take the time to join me in celebrating the achievements of the Class of 2021. Please see graduation.ubc.ca for more information on the June 2 virtual ceremony.

UBC to Award 18 Honorary Degrees

I am proud to announce that UBC will be awarding honorary degrees this Spring to the following individuals:

  • Theresa Arsenault, Q.C.
  • Shashi Assanand, O.B.C.
  • Irwin Cotler, P.C., O.C.
  • Dame Sally Davies
  • Peter Dhillon, O.B.C.
  • Dr. Victor J. Dzau
  • Esi Edugyan
  • Dr. Bonnie Henry
  • Al Hildebrandt
  • Dr. Tasuku Honjo
  • Dr. Deborah Lipstadt
  • Clarence Joseph Louie, C.M., O.B.C.
  • Garry Merkel
  • Dr. Heather Munroe-Blum, O.C.
  • Jessie Nyberg
  • Elder Roberta Price
  • Paul Thiele
  • Greta Thunberg

You can find out more about this year’s recipients at https://graduation.ubc.ca/event/ubc-honorary-degrees/


Over $210 million raised for UBC priorities

Thanks to the generosity of donors to UBC and the engagement of our alumni, I am pleased to share the following year-end results from Development and Alumni Engagement:

In the 2021 fiscal year, $210.3 million was raised in support of UBC priorities and at the end of its fourth year, $176.7 million has been raised for the Blue & Gold Campaign for Students overall.

In the fourth year of the alumni UBC strategic plan, Connecting Forward, 82,134 alumni have been engaged through broad-based engagement and 27,741 alumni connected through deeper engagement opportunities.

I’m also pleased to share that on April 7, 2021, UBC held its first university-wide Giving Day. A total of$546,203 was raised during this inaugural 24-hour online fundraising event.

Despite a time like none we have experienced, UBC is grateful for the immense generosity of our donors and engagement with our alumni.

Anti-Racism Update

As you know, we have established an Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force, as the over-arching body for UBC to carry forward our Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Initiatives. The task force began its work in March and will wrap up in May, after which a final report will be written. The report is expected to be ready to share with the UBC community by August 2021. You can find more information about the Task Force and its activities here.

UBC Okanagan to Offer Bachelor’s Degree in Indigenous Language Fluency

UBC’s Okanagan campus, located in the territory of the Syilx Okanagan Nation, is set to become the first university in Canada to offer a bachelor’s degree in Indigenous language fluency. The Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency (BNLF) program, created in collaboration with the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) and the En’owkin Centre, is designed to work closely with the community to provide a comprehensive and high-quality education in Nsyilxcn — the language spoken by members of the Syilx Okanagan Nation. Thank you to the BC Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training for providing $2 million towards the Indigenous Language Proficiency and Fluency Degree Framework for six communities and First Nations-mandated institutes to partner with post-secondary institutions to develop and deliver language degrees including the BNLF.


UBC Launches Global Engagement Strategy

On April 12, UBC launched a new Global Engagement Strategy. The strategy, called In Service, will guide the university’s international programs, partnerships and educational initiatives at home and around the world over the next decade to help build a more just, sustainable society.

We are unveiling this new strategy at a time of great change and turmoil across the globe. Even as the planet is engulfed by the COVID-19 crisis that has driven societies to greater isolation, we recognize that the global prosperity gains of the recent past rest on shaky foundations.

I want to thank Vice-Provost International Dr. Murali Chandrashekaran and everyone who has helped bring this plan to life. I would also like to thank all of our partners: research collaborators, student mobility partners and donors for all they do to help us be better global citizens.

Fact vs. Fiction: Countering the Spread of Misinformation on the COVID-19 Vaccines

Hear from UBC experts from the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences and the School of Biomedical Engineering on April 20 as they dispel common vaccine myths with science and facts, explore how social media can be utilized to share accurate, evidence-based data, and learn how to navigate through misinformation to make your own decisions regarding health and wellness. The webinar is presented by alumni UBC in partnership with the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences and the Faculty of Medicine.

News from around UBC

Faculty of Applied Science: Applied Science-led projects were awarded over $1M in CIHR Project Grant support and $6.6M in research infrastructure support. One of the latter projects will see a multidisciplinary team of UBC experts tackle air pollution with network of sensors. • UBC Engineering set a record high for winter work placements. • A UBC SCARP report suggests that Craigslist could supplement conventional rental housing resources to provide a more complete picture of the rental housing situation in Vancouver. • Dr. Margaret Moss, associate professor in the School of Nursing and Director of the First Nations House of Learning, has been appointed to the US Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice.

Faculty of Arts: Dr. Sheryl Lightfoot was appointed as a member of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Dr. Lightfoot is the first Indigenous woman from Canada to hold the position. • UBC’sDatabase of Religious History project received $4.8 million from the John Templeton Foundation — the largest grant to date for a single research project in the humanities at UBC. • Students, alumni, faculty and staff at the School of Journalism, Writing, and Media were recognized with the Investigative Reporters and Editors Award, the top investigative journalism prize in North America, for their documentary America’s Medical Supply Crisis. • Graduating student leaders in the Faculty of Arts shared their reflections on their time at UBC.

The Faculty of Education is pleased to announce the Edith Lando Centre for Virtual Learning, with funds generously donated by the Edith Lando Charitable Foundation. The Foundation’s significant gift of $1.5 million will allow for an innovative virtual education technology centre to support marginalized learning communities in gaining critical education technology skills. The emphasis will be on supporting rural and remote communities, Indigenous learners, refugee and immigrant communities, and early childhood education instructors.

Faculty of Forestry: A recommendations document was published as part of the year-long Forests Summit process which brought together experts from all over the province to come up with a vision for the future of British Columbia’s forests and suggestions for implementation. Click here to read “Implementing a vision for the forests and forest-dependent communities of British Columbia”. • Genome BC recently announced funding for a research project conducted by Dr. Scott Hinch and Dr. Michael Russello. The project is aimed at developing a suite of genetic tools for helping species-at-risk-fish such as Kokanee salmon. Click here to learn more.
• PhD student Lucy Binfield received the World Bamboo Foundation Global Fellowship Award for 2021-2022, marking the inauguration of this award. Lucy’s award-winning topic, “Bamboo and Poverty Alleviation: What Works? A Review”, is named on the World Bamboo Foundation website along with the seven other winners. UBC Forestry M.Sc student Sol Rodriguez is also one of the award’s finalists. Click here to learn more.

Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies: On March 31, 10 graduate students took the virtual stage in the Three-Minute Thesis competition final, to find out who could best summarize and present years of research in only three minutes. From the discovery of novel antimicrobial fabrics that could help reduce the rate of infections in hospitals to the exploration of new modes of active travel in Vancouver, we learned from finalists about graduate work that spanned Faculties and research fields. PhD candidate Tebogo T. Leepile, from the Faculty of Land and Food Systems, placed first with a presentation on the prevalence of anemia among San women and children in rural Botswana. She will be representing UBCV in the virtual 3MT Western Regional Competition on May 13.

UBC Health convened more than 50 researchers and other colleagues from the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses as well as community members for a focused discussion about the collection and use of disaggregated data on February 24. This session was Part II in the UBC Health Disaggregated Data Dialogue Series, continuing and focusing the conversations started during the first webinar where participants heard from BC’s Human Rights Commissioner about the Disaggregated demographic data collection in British Columbia: The grandmother perspective report.

The Faculty of Land and Food Systems has just launched its five-year strategic plan, called Navigating a Better Future: Land and Food Systems Action Plan 2021-2026. It leads with the vision – Balancing our food system and planetary health to create a better world – and it recognizes the diverse expertise residing in the Faculty through five priority areas to focus on for the next five years. In creating this plan, the Faculty aligned itself with the university’s important strategic areas outlined in Shaping UBC’s Next Century and looked with a new lens at how to strengthen the university’s Indigenous, climate action, inclusion and wellbeing strategic priorities.

The Faculty of Medicine‘s Dr. Pascal Lavoie and Dr. Louise C. Mâsse are leading a new study to track COVID-19 transmission in Vancouver schools. • Dr. Gurkirat Kaur Kandola, a recent graduate of the Northern Medical Program, is pursuing northern and rural pediatric learning. Her dream is to provide care to under-served areas and – as a woman of colour – she hopes to become an ally for families from a variety of different backgrounds. • In the new book Dreamers, Skeptics and Healers, authors John and Wendy Cairns, David Ostrow and Gavin Stuart tell the remarkable journey of the Faculty of Medicine’s first 70 years, tracing its trials, tribulations, and triumphs, and celebrating the many visionaries, leaders, faculty and students who paved the way for its success. To read more and purchase a copy of the book, visit: https://www.med.ubc.ca/dreamers-skeptics-and-healers/.

Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences: Assistant professor Dr. Karla Williams is co-primary investigator on the “Materials and technologies for highly sensitive biomarker analysis of extracellular vesicles toward cancer diagnostics” project, in conjunction with Dr. Walter Algar, UBC Chemistry. The project has been awarded $367,200 in CIHR funding over a period of three years. Dr. Mark Harrison, associate professor, is co-primary investigator on a project with Dr. Nicholas Bansback, UBC School of Population and Public Health. The project, titled “Evaluating the impact of a mandatory switching policy for biosimilars”, will receive $298,350 in CIHR funding across three years. Details on these two projects can be found here. • The Our Practice podcast was created to talk about the evolving profession of pharmacy and the challenges and rewards of providing innovative patient care. Season One includes five episodes which will be released throughout 2021. https://pharmsci.ubc.ca/pharmacists-clinic/ourpractice

UBC Okanagan: Congratulations to the 2021 Principal’s Research Chairholders: Dr. Phil Ainslie, School of Health and Exercise Sciences, Principal’s Research Chair (PRC) in Cerebrovascular Physiology in Health, Exercise and Disease; Dr. Shahria Alam, School of Engineering, PRC in Resilient and Green Infrastructure; Dr. Eric Li, Faculty of Management, PRC in Social Innovation for Health Equity and Food Security; Dr. Jian Liu, School of Engineering, PRC in Energy Storage Technology. • On March 24, Dr. Ananya Mukherjee Reed, Provost and Vice-President Academic, UBC Okanagan hosted Perspectives of Black Scientists, Science and Systemic Racism where three inspiring panelists shared their perspectives and experiences as Black Scientists. This was the final of a three-part webinar series discussing science and systemic racism.

UBC Sauder: Dr. Sandra Robinson, the Distinguished University Scholar Chair and Professor in the Organizational Behaviour & Human Resources Division at the UBC Sauder School of Business, has won the 2020 Jacob Biely Research Prize, UBC’s highest honour for research. • Dr. Carol Liao, UBC Sauder Distinguished Scholar, has been named a recipient of Business in Vancouver’s 2021 Influential Women in Business Awards. • Graham McIntosh, executive director of the Diploma in Accounting Program and Continuing Business Studies at UBC Sauder, has been awarded an Honorary CPA designation by the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia for his contributions to accounting education.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments on this newsletter. Best wishes.

Santa J. Ono
President and Vice-Chancellor