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Top 10 SFU News stories of 2020

January 05, 2021
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By Norah Wang

-Despite a difficult year full of challenges due to the global pandemic, SFU students, faculty and staff rallied to support our community and beyond.

The university embraced remote teaching and working from home. We also welcomed a new chancellor and president, held a ground awakening for a First Peoples’ Gathering House and made significant headway on a proposed gondola to the Burnaby campus.  

Here’s a look back at 2020’s highlights.

The university responds to COVID-19

When the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020, SFU took immediate measures to transition to remote learning and work. Every department, program and faculty across the university adapted to support remote work and learning, starting in March.

Experts from the Centre for Educational Excellence helped faculty quickly transition to online teaching. IT staff launched Zoom and established remote support so that more than 41,000 faculty, staff and students could teach, study and work from home. And we launched the SFU COVID-19 Action Now (SFU CAN) so that the community could share resources, create networks and support each other. We also introduced new emergency funding for students, and a new, online HIVE Program to help new students build remote connections with their peers.

SFU researchers sprang into action in response to the pandemic. They conducted virus modelling, developed COVID-19 testing kits using new RNA imaging technology and designed low-cost, 3D-printed mechanical ventilators. SFU experts were also quoted locally, nationally and internationally on topics of global health security and gender differences in the impacts of COVID-19. 

Credit: SFU Community Trust

SFU remains at the top of world university rankings

SFU was once again listed as Canada’s top comprehensive university in the Maclean’s Magazine 2021 university rankings. We have ranked No. 1 for 12 of the past 13 years. A new global ranking, the World’s Universities with Real Impact (WURI), ranked SFU 34th for innovation, 29th for industrial application and seventh for its entrepreneurial spirit. SFU also ranked No. 1 globally for its impact on sustainable cities and communities and is among the world’s top 10 universities for its commitment to tackling climate change, according to Times Higher Education’s (THE) 2020 University Impact Rankings.

SFU's new Chancellor Tamara Vrooman, left, and new President Joy Johnson were sworn in during the fall 2020 convocation.

SFU welcomes new Chancellor Tamara Vrooman and new President Joy Johnson

Following an extensive community consultation and international search process, SFU’s Board of Governors named Tamara Vrooman, Vancity Credit Union’s president and chief executive officer, as the university’s 12th chancellor, and professor Joy Johnson, previous vice-president, research and international, as the university’s 10th president and vice-chancellor. During the 2020 fall convocation, Chancellor Vrooman and President Johnson were sworn in wearing newly designed regalia, which featured motifs created by Chief Janice George—Chepximiya Siyam’––and Willard ‘Buddy’ Joseph—Skwetsimeltxw ––both expert weavers and teachers from the Squamish Nation.

SFU also said farewell to former chancellor Anne Giardini and thanked former president Andrew Petter for his 10 years of inspired leadership championing SFU’s mission to be Canada’s engaged university.

Translink consults on proposed gondola route to the Burnaby campus

SFU’s Board of Governors adopted the Burnaby 2065 Campus Master Plan in March as the guiding document for future development on the Burnaby campus. The plan anticipates a new transportation option, the Burnaby Mountain Gondola: a cost-effective, environmentally friendly and more reliable commute option proposed by TransLink. Last fall, the first phase of consultation received more than 12,000 responses and strong support. TransLink just wrapped up the second phase of consultation on the proposed three possible routes.

Commitments and action toward reconciliation continue

In the early fall, we held a ground awakening ceremony for SFU’s First Peoples’ Gathering House, a ceremonial space for the community to celebrate Indigenous knowledge and culture that will open on the Burnaby campus in 2023. Ground awakening ceremonies were also held for the Indigenous Outdoor Classroom and TRC Memorial Garden. As well, SFU invested in the Raven Indigenous Impact Fund (RIIF) to support Indigenous entrepreneurs and advance economic reconciliation.

SFU alumnus Lance Uggla and his family are establishing the Uggla Family Scholarship at SFU.

SFU’s largest gift creates unprecedented scholarship to empower equity-deserving students

SFU alumnus Lance Uggla and his family committed $34.1 million to support 10 exceptional undergraduate students each year to study at SFU. The gift will establish the Uggla Family Scholarship for students who may not otherwise be able to afford a university education and address social mobility, equity, diversity and inclusion.

Students who become Uggla Family Scholars will demonstrate strong academic and leadership potential. The program will support members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, those living with a disability and those who identify as Indigenous, Black, or a person of colour

SFU retires its varsity athletics team name

In August, following an extensive stakeholder engagement process, former SFU president Andrew Petter made the decision to retire the name of SFU’s varsity athletic teams. This fall, SFU President Joy Johnson released a statement on the name change, thanking Black student-athletes, students, faculty and staff for their advocacy and activism and shared SFU’s  commitments to Black students at the university.

SFU scholars, clockwise from top left, Marianne Ignace, Michael Howlett, Bojan Mohar, Kelley Lee, S. Laurel Weldon, Jodi Viljoen and John Reynolds have been named to the Royal Society of Canada.

Faculty win national and international honours

Seven Simon Fraser University scholars have been named to the Royal Society of Canada (RSC)—six of them as fellows of the society and one as a member of the society’s College of New Scholars, Scientists and Artists. Membership in the Royal Society is Canada’s highest academic honour. Later in the year, SFU boasted its first UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Chair with the appointment of education professor David Zandvliet to the newly established UNESCO Chair in Bio-Cultural Diversity and Education.

SFU expands sustainability commitments

In March 2020, the university announced a new, five-year sustainability plan and joined more than a dozen Canadian universities to sign a charter furthering our commitment to address global climate change. In the fall SFU launched the Living Lab, a program that applies the university’s leading sustainability and climate research to its own infrastructure and facilities. And, in partnership with Corix Multi-Utility Services Inc., we began operation of a $33-million, community-based, biomass heating plant. Through the Burnaby Mountain District Energy Utility, it will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 85 per cent at the Burnaby campus.

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