The Rotary Club of Vancouver, Terminal City Club, Vancouver BC
Good afternoon, and thank you everyone. It’s an honour and a privilege to be with you today.
I have spoken to Rotary Clubs in Cincinnati when I was President of the University of Cincinnati, and I’m thrilled to have a chance to address the Rotary Club of Vancouver.
This year marks the Rotary Club of Vancouver’s 105th year of service in our community, and of being part of an international network around the globe. More than a century of service!
As the president of a public university, I want to say how much I truly appreciate your tireless volunteer work at the community level – locally, regionally, and internationally.The University of British Columbia turned 110 this year, so it’s fair to say both UBC and the Rotary Club of Vancouver have come of age together.
UBC continues to excel in international rankings – among the top 20 public universities in the world.
This afternoon I will speak about a topic that honours a remarkable past and envisions a bold future – “Rotary Club of Vancouver and UBC’s Next Century of Service.”
First, I want to take a few minutes to recognize the magnitude of Rotary’s generous support for UBC. It goes back a long way!
In the 1950s, the Rotary Club of Vancouver was instrumental in raising $150,000 for the construction of International House at UBC. Their visionary goal was to provide a meeting place for Canadian and international students, to promote international and intercultural learning.Over the past 40 years, the Rotary Club of Vancouver has contributed over $200,000 to UBC, with many gifts supporting a number of initiatives. As well, the Rotary Club of Vancouver Hearing Foundation has donated over half a million dollars in major gifts to the UBC Faculty of Medicine. UBC Faculty of Medicine has worked in partnership with the Rotary Club of Vancouver and the Rotary Hearing Foundation to advance research, treatment and care for patients with hearing disorders for more than 30 years.
Here are some of the ways your support makes a profound difference in people’s lives:
- Research on the role of cell therapy in enhancing cochlear implant function. More than 4,000 Canadians have now received this life-changing surgery, including 250 children in BC. Forty per cent of new recipients each year are now children.
- Research investigating the potential to use stem cells from the organ responsible for the sense of smell in the nose, to see if such stem cells can be driven to help with hearing loss.
- Temporal bone lab equipment for research in diseases in the ear and throat, and head and neck surgery.
- The Rotary Club of Vancouver Speech Technology Teaching Laboratory was established in recognition of major donations to the School of Audiology and Speech Sciences to update equipment. Technology has evolved rapidly in this field, and this School offers the only training in BC for audiologists and speech-language pathologists.
- The Rotary Club of Vancouver Sid Welsh Endowment supports teaching and research in Clinical Audiology. The most recent studies have been related to assessments of hearing in infants and children that are critical to the prevention of developmental delays.
- Helping to pioneer cochlear implant surgery in Canada at St. Paul’s Hospital, and establishing the Rotary Hearing Centre at UBC for research to improve cochlear implants.
- Every year, the Rotary Club organizes the Bike-a-thon “Ride for Hearing,” which has been dedicated to support research for hearing loss.
UBC is truly grateful for ALL of your support, which is a testament to the Rotary motto “Service Above Self.”
Rotary International’s Strategic Plan describes its scope and vision as – “a global network of 1.2 million neighbours, friends, leaders, and problem-solvers who see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change – across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.”
I find this vision inspiring, especially as it acknowledges that in the acts of service, we create change within ourselves.
My own leadership style is based on a philosophy called “servant leadership.”
I certainly didn’t start out imagining that one day I would be called to be a leader. I became an academic because of my natural curiosity and passion for science. That passion and curiosity led me to an academic career in medicine and biology.
My research encompasses the immune system, eye inflammation and age-related macular degeneration – a leading cause of blindness. Early detection and treatment could reduce vision loss and allow more people to enjoy their retirement years and maintain their independence. It’s intellectually rewarding research that at the same time has the potential to transform people’s lives. For me, it allows me to use my scientific curiosity to help people.
As I progressed in my academic career, I also began to assume administrative and leadership responsibilities, first at Emory University and then at University of Cincinnati and now at UBC.
A “servant leader” has to start from a position of humility and respect. There are all kinds of people that you work with or encounter as a university president. My style is to consider myself as their servant. Servant-leadership doesn’t mean that you don’t, at times, have to make tough decisions or assert yourself, but the foundation of how I interact with people is one of mutual respect.
UBC is a public institution. It exists for the community. And so, as a servant-leader, I believe it is my job to listen, value and learn from the experience of others – regardless of background, seniority or education – to bring the full force of our combined experiences, expertise and knowledge to bear on the salient questions of our time.
The Rotary International Strategic Plan cites five “values in action” – fellowship … integrity … diversity … service … and leadership.
I want to take a few minutes to tell you about the new Strategic Plan for UBC, because I feel Rotary’s values are in alignment with UBC’s values.
The plan is called Shaping UBC’s Next Century and it has been 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. This was one of the most gratifying experiences for me in my first year as president. The plan has been approved by Vancouver and Okanagan senates and endorsed by the Board of Governors.
Shaping UBC’s 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 that are required for students to learn and thrive in a complex, ever-changing, interconnected 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.
What all public education is aiming for – whether university, college, polytechnic or trades – is to create an environment in which students are exposed to a variety of ideas, and 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.
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 university.
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.
We also recognize the importance of “transferable skills” and competencies in today’s world. 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, the student gains an understanding of human cognition, and learns to apply this knowledge to create intelligent artificial systems.
The traditional barriers between disciplines are disappearing as we try to 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, I’ve been telling people that we need to add the Arts to that acronym – science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics – and talk about STEAM, not STEM.
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.
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. Rotarians have always known this.
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.
International students play an important role in offering all students the opportunity to learn about global citizenship.
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 things about other cultures. They also become more aware of their own biases.
I’m pleased to say, this year we learned 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.
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.
Inclusion is one priority of UBC’s Strategic Plan that is especially important to me. This 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.
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. UBC has made positive impact in inclusion to date, but we must redouble our efforts to make sustained progress.
Before I finish, I want to take a moment to recognize the great many Rotarians 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! – It expresses our vision to help generations of UBC students achieve their dreams.
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.
In the words of the Rotary, “solving real problems takes real commitment and vision. From literacy and peace to water and health, we are always working to better our world, and we stay committed to the end.”
In closing I’d like to say, once more, 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, in Rotary Clubs around the world, and in every human endeavour that creates lasting change.