BC School Trustees Association, Richmond
Thank you, Gordon, for your kind introduction. Good evening, and thank you everyone. It’s an honour and a privilege to be with you this evening.
Perhaps I should say right off the top that I have as much to learn from you as you will learn from me. Though I was born in Vancouver, I grew up in the United States, so I am the product of a very different public school system.
For example, there are structural differences between Canada and the U.S. school systems, and these vary from state to state in America. As well, cities and neighbourhoods in America remain socially and economically segregated, which is reflected in their classrooms.
But that’s another topic for another time. This evening I’ve been asked to speak about a topic that is very important to me – “Working Together for Successful Student Transition.”
I often receive invitations to speak at both public and private secondary schools, and I’m thrilled to have a chance to engage with so many leaders in our public education system gathered here for your AGM.
As the president of a public university, I want say how much I truly appreciate the tireless work at the community level of B.C. school trustees across this province.
You are the voice of your community. It is vital that the Ministry of Education listen to your voice to fulfill its role of providing a public education system that serves all British Columbians.
We are working together for all of our students – urban students, inner-city students, Aboriginal students, rural students, immigrants, refugees. All reflect the world we live in, and we want them to flourish in our schools and to successfully transition to post-secondary campuses in B.C. and beyond.
Never underestimate the power of working together. We continue to be awed and inspired by the students across America who have launched a movement – March for our Lives – calling for gun control and stepping up to create a safer society for everyone. This movement is having a global impact because they worked together.
Nor should we ever underestimate the passion of youth. These brave, determined, resilient students are already changing our world.
Students today have progressed far beyond the passive recipients of information they were in the old days. In turn, educators are called to go beyond the traditional methods of teaching and learning, as we prepare our students to meet the challenges of a world very different from the one encountered by their parents and grandparents.
The Ministry of Education defines the purpose of the British Columbia school system: to enable students to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to contribute to a healthy society and a prosperous and sustainable economy.
It follows then that post-secondary public education – whether university, college, polytechnic or trades – must support and enhance this same purpose.
What we’re all aiming for is to create an environment in which our students are exposed to a variety of ideas and will acquire the knowledge and skills that will enable them to achieve their personal goals and become responsible members of society, regardless of their choice of job or profession.
UBC is prepared to play its part. I want to take a few minutes to tell you about the new Strategic Plan for UBC – Shaping UBC’s Next Century – because I believe it is indicative of the kind of post-secondary environment required for students to learn and thrive in a complex, ever-changing, interconnected world.
Building a new strategic plan for UBC was one of the most gratifying experiences for me in my first year as president. The draft plan was informed by thousands of members of the UBC community – students, faculty, staff, alumni and university partners.
The planning process gave us the opportunity to connect with one another and share perspectives on what defines UBC and our role as a university, locally and globally.
That input was further shaped by a representative Steering Committee, multiple working groups, the Deans, the Executive, and other diverse university groups and external partners.
The Strategic Plan has been approved by Vancouver and Okanagan senates and goes to the Board of Governors for ratification next month.
Shaping the Next Century focuses on three priorities that we believe are critical to society today and reflect what we think the role of public education in society should be – inclusion, collaboration, and innovation.
Why these priorities?
- Inclusion reflects societal demand, heightened by the Canadian context. It recognizes not only that our community feels deeply about inclusion and our responsibilities as a public institution, but also that research, education and engagement are enriched by diversity.
- Collaboration because the challenges facing society don’t respect disciplinary or institutional boundaries, and we are more effective working together.
- Innovation aligns with the fast-changing world and the need for new approaches. It may take different forms in different contexts, but is as important in the arts and humanities as in the STEM fields.
Shaping the Next Century also emphasizes our enduring focus on academic excellence and on Indigenous engagement, sustainability and wellbeing.
Inclusion is a priority that is especially important to me. Inclusion is a commitment to access, success and representation of historically underserved, marginalized or excluded populations.
Aspects of our strategic planning that pertain to Indigenous peoples and communities are of high priority; there is much that needs to be done, given the long-lasting legacy of colonization.
The Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training recognizes the need to support the development of new education pathways to increase the number of Indigenous teachers throughout British Columbia.
For example, UBC recently received funding for a pilot community-based delivery of its full Indigenous Teacher Education Program in Williams Lake / Quesnel to about 20 Indigenous students.
Other groups have faced exclusion too, based on gender, race, religion, sexuality, age and ability. This is not acceptable and I am determined to ensure it does not occur at UBC.
The very nature of a campus environment is a place to foster diversity, where students encounter people whose views and backgrounds differ from their own. UBC has made positive impact in inclusion to date, but we must redouble our efforts to sustain this progress.
Post-secondary education is meant to be a transformative experience, as students learn not only about themselves, but others as well.
UBC’s motto is Tuum Est – It is Yours. It’s up to you. This means it’s up to each individual student to take advantage of the opportunities to step out of their comfort zone and grow – intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally.
This sounds like an amazing opportunity, and it is, but it can also feel like a lot of pressure sometimes. University can be an intimidating and lonely place for young people.
Statistics Canada reports suicide as the ninth leading cause of death in Canada, but in the age 1-to-24 grouping, 20 percent of deaths are attributed to suicide.
As leaders in the education community, we are aware that students at all levels – elementary, high school, and post-secondary – are especially vulnerable.
While physical health is easy to measure and talked about openly, mental health is under the surface and often not talked about at all.
It is very important to integrate mental health and well-being discussions at all stages of education from K – 12 and beyond.
For many students transitioning to post-secondary, they are away from home for the first time, without the support of their family and friends, in a new, confusing and complex environment. Of course, we offer courses and workshops to help first-year students adjust to the post-secondary learning environment.
But we also need to provide resources to help students connect, build coping skills, learn to recognize early when they may need assistance and get help when they need it.
An example at UBC is Thrive, a program for students, staff and faculty that promotes healthy bodies and healthy minds.
Thrive creates awareness of the connection between mental health, wellbeing and academic success, and links students to services and resources that help build positive mental health.
Much of the success of a campus wellbeing program relies on student leaders trained to provide peer support. The students are a real inspiration and very empathetic towards each other.
Today, young people are much more aware of what’s happening than when I was in university, and that’s a good thing. When young people realize they are not alone in experiencing mental health challenges, it motivates them to do something about it.
At UBC, we will continue to focus on the student experience – both inside and outside the classroom – and create opportunities for students to feel more engaged and better supported during their time at UBC.
We want to give them a sense of belonging, predicated on personal growth within smaller, diverse communities in the context of a large and complex community.
UBC has a long-established track record in teaching and learning excellence. We have invested in program innovation and included blended, online and interdisciplinary models of education for many years. We will continue to develop our practices in these critical areas.
We also recognize the importance of “transferable skills” and competencies in today’s world and will sustain our efforts to integrate these more purposefully into program design.
Thousands of students participate in experiential or work-integrated learning each year.
An increasingly automated, gig economy will require a highly adaptable workforce that can think critically, creatively, and work collaboratively to find solutions to complex problems.
Higher education is responding to pressures for change by introducing new courses to prepare students for work in fields that barely existed a decade ago.
At UBC, for example, students in Arts can now take a program in Cognitive Systems, in which the participating units are Philosophy, Psychology, Linguistics, and Computer Science. Through the interrelated study of these fields, students gain an understanding of human cognition and learn to apply this knowledge to create intelligent artificial systems.
The traditional barriers between disciplines are disappearing as we prepare students for the demands of the working world. So, for example, a student in Applied Science can twin her studies in hydraulic engineering with a program in entrepreneurship, so that she is prepared for the post-university challenges of commercializing and monetizing her skills.
Many more examples can be found, in both the so-called STEM fields and in the arts and social sciences. Indeed, Indeed, I fully support the addition of Arts to that acronym – science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics – and talk about STEAM, not STEM.
The Arts and STEM subjects are now beginning to intersect in ways we could never have predicted a few years ago. Such interrelatedness is essential if we are to give our students the kind of preparation that will prepare them for a profession in an increasingly technology-oriented workplace.
The liberal arts student at UBC is encouraged to cultivate a unique professional identity, an identity that reflects their personal interests while at the same time giving them the tools they need to succeed in a world that is increasingly shaped by science and technology.
And on the other side of the coin, engineering and science graduates are beginning to discover the social and ethical implications of their disciplines through new breadth requirements and arts electives.
And then, of course, there’s the whole area of information technology. The huge expansion of digital tools has revolutionized the business of teaching and learning. Many courses now take a blended approach, mixing face-to-face presentations with online or video presentations. Students now have instantaneous access to vast electronic databases, and require a sophisticated understanding of software tools to access and use that information.
International students play an important role in offering all students the opportunity to learn about global citizenship.
At one time the idea of internationalizing the university was seen as something threatening, because it was thought that international students were taking seats that should be reserved for domestic students only.
However, as you know, domestic and international undergraduate applicants are considered separately and they do not compete for the same spaces.
Domestic applicants compete against each other for the government-funded spaces, while international students compete for spaces that are not government funded.
International undergraduate students pay significantly higher tuition fees, unaided by funding from B.C. taxpayers.
I’m pleased to say, last January, we learned that the Province of B.C. will invest in 720 new undergraduate spaces for domestic students at UBC’s Vancouver and Okanagan campuses in such programs as biomedical engineering, computer science, and manufacturing.
We will work with your boards, your schools so your students can take advantage of these new opportunities.
Post-secondary institutions across Canada have gradually expanded international enrolment, recognizing that diversity on campus is a strength. Students learn about other cultures and, often in that learning, become aware of their own biases.
Also, domestic students are encouraged to study abroad. UBC offers a program called Go Global, where we partner with over 200 universities and institutions worldwide for students to study abroad for a semester.
Leaving home to study in another country, students learn to approach different situations and people with respect and sensitivity, to remain humble, to make the effort to learn about other cultures and themselves.
The reality is, the world is getting more interconnected, and universities need to do the same if we are to serve our students, and our communities.
For example, UBC’s Faculty of Education offers Canada’s only International Baccalaureate Teacher Education Program. This option explores an interest in international education that is concept-based, inquiry-driven, and student-centred.
I am proud to say UBC has been named one of the world’s most international universities. There are several reasons for this, including our commitment to student mobility and our involvement with global research initiatives.
I believe the next generation holds great promise in meeting the social, geo-political and economic challenges that lie before us and stepping into leadership roles at home and around the world.
Before I finish, I want to take a moment to recognize those thousands of Canadians who support post-secondary students through their charitable giving.
Every year, there are more than 2,000 outstanding students at UBC who might not be at our university without the help of donors.
We can help make a UBC education possible for more students by supporting our Blue and Gold Campaign for Students. This is our biggest campaign for students in UBC’s history. Our goal is to raise $100 million in new donor funding for student support over the next three years.
The campaign theme is Change their world so they can change ours! – expressing our vision to help generations of UBC students achieve their dreams.
In closing, I’d like to once more say how honoured I am to be here and how excited I am about what we will accomplish together. My own experiences have made me very aware of how the boldest of dreams can only be achieved by working together, in higher education and elsewhere.