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My First Ten Days at Queen’s (Part One)

Move in day is always a special time. It’s manifestly a huge day for new students and their parents, with a lot of goodbyes, hugs, some tears and a lot of hellos. It’s a big day for dons and residence staff, and for orientation leaders many of whom volunteer on move in even though the faculty part of the week doesn’t begin until Wednesday. Alumni even enjoy watching it and thinking back to their own arrival.

That’s always the case for me. On move in day I am usually to be seen along with my wife Julie wandering the residence halls and stairways randomly greeting new students and their families. And I always visit my old floor and room in Brockington House.

This year is special for me personally, as I mark 40 years since the day I first set foot on this campus. Things were different then. There was no Internet, and no elaborate campus tours. All I knew of Queen’s I had derived from a small blue booklet all applicants were sent, “Your Future at Queen’s.” I had applied to two other Ontario schools, but I was certainly keenest on Queen’s having heard of it for many years at a private school I had previously attended.

Visiting Brockington House 40 years after first arriving at Queen's

Visiting Brockington House 40 years after first arriving at Queen’s

I was, of course, thrilled to get in (I recall the day), and to get a second letter a few days later with a small but welcome scholarship. I enjoyed the summer, working at a local company that sold discount soft drinks, hanging out at local beaches and lakes with my high school friends, and getting ready for my university adventure. In August I spent a month in Europe, partly with my paternal grandparents in London, partly backpacking around.

I came back to Winnipeg at the very beginning of September and had a week to pack and say my goodbyes. On my last night, I went to two parties, one for a classmate who was getting married, and a smaller one thrown by a few of my closest friends. They had some going away presents for me including a small kettle, a couple of mugs, and small desk plaque that I still have reading ‘mafia headquarters’.

Here’s a day-by-day account of my introduction to Queen’s as I recall it 40 years on.

Day One: Saturday, September 11

I get dropped at Winnipeg airport and embark on a plane to Toronto along with two or three other students from Winnipeg all heading for Queen’s. At Pearson we all collect our bags and hop in a large car headed for Kingston. I am the second last to be dropped off, on the Collingwood Street side of Gordon-Brockington Hall. It is well past dark at this point. I am greeted at the door by a tall second-year engineer who happens to be on my floor, 3rd Brockington and helps me in with my suitcases (I’d sent a trunk ahead; it has the address sticker on it to this day). That young man is Charlie Lund, Sci ’79, son of two Queen’s alumni from Alberta and now himself one of our most loyal and active Calgary alumni. I am just getting settled when a fellow floormate, Michael Campbell, Sci ’79 pops his head in and introduces himself. Mike will end up as one of my closest friends over the next three years and he and I will share an apartment on Alfred Street in third year with two other engineers.

It’s late, and I’m tired, so I save exploring for the following day. At this point I’ve still seen nothing of Queen’s campus. Oh, and I’m in a double room, but there’s as yet no roommate. Could it be I don’t have one?

Day Two: Sunday, September 12

I grab some breakfast at Leonard cafeteria, which normally isn’t open on Sunday’s but is this weekend. I recall my first view of the then-Leonard Field, the lake, Morris Hall and McNeill House. It’s a bit like Dorothy opening the door of her house on to a view of Oz. What is this place and why am I here? A first bit of apprehension hits – have I made the right choice in coming? There are no computer cards for meals; we have standard issue cardboard cards, which get holes punched in them as we queue up.

Later that morning I meet my roommate – yes, I have one. R.J. (Randy) McCullough is from Parham, Ontario, which he describes as ‘forty miles north of here’. The Parham farm kid and the 17-year-old from a large prairie city…how’s this going to work? (It worked just fine and Randy and I keep in touch from time to time).

My instructions say to head over to Jeffery Hall to find out the number of my ‘Gael’ group – I’m in 109. I later wander over to what is now Nixon Field where I meet my Gael group leaders, Marion, Greg (who knows my roommate) and Karen (now Dr. Karen Smith, Associate Dean of Continuing Professional Development for Queen’s School of Medicine). And of course I meet my fellow frosh. I do not recall all of them and much less their surnames though we are all asked to say where we are from: Frank is an aspiring meds student (and now a very successful cardiac surgeon). Elsie is from Delhi, Ontario. Lee is from Larder Lake. There is a girl from Ancaster who will later be in my philosophy class. And, there is Gayle Stoness, from Seeley’s Bay, a future Queen’s career administrator (and briefly at McMaster with her psychiatrist husband at the same time in the early 2000s) who 40 years later remains a close friend.

I head back to the residence for dinner where they have designated tables to meet floormates. One of the first people to introduce himself is Bob Pritchard (Sci ’80) whose roommate is Bob Spies, also Sci ’80 – they will be known on the floor as ‘the Bobs’. It turns out that I have the room to myself again tonight – Randy’s gone home to Parham for the evening. There is a Brockington House meeting in the common room where we meet the dons and the wardens (or senior dons – yes, they were actually called wardens). The wardens are John and Jane Johnston, he a young lawyer and she a nurse. I have seen them many times since my return to Queen’s in 2009 and in my more homesick moments in my first term – and there are a few – they will be great listeners.

Day Three: Monday, September 13

This is the first full day of frosh activity. We get a bit of a tour of campus. We are treated to a movie called The Academic Cloister, by a budding student filmmaker named Michael McMillan (who will go on with several of his friends to found the incredibly successful Atlantis Films). And, we are handed something called a ‘sectioning envelope’ with a class timetable. We get a library tour of Douglas. The entrance then is at the second level, and a security guard checks backpacks going out of the building, not in, to make sure that books have been properly checked out. There are two major reading rooms up top. There is first, the Reserve Reading room with lovely oaken paneling and stained glass (now known as the Harry Potter Room, but at that point J.K. Rowling is 11 years old and Harry and Voldemort are two decades from conception). And across the hall, in garish early 70s purple fabric, the so called ‘Purple Passion Pit.’

A snapshot of Orientation Week from the Tricolour Yearbook of 1976

Day Four: Tuesday, September 14

We are left to our own devices in the morning to visit academic departments and look into courses we might wish to take. I’m still dithering between English and History. Marion, the arts student among our Gaels, proffers advice on sections to take (and ones to avoid). I pick History 121 (intellectual history, the course recommended for potential history majors); English 110; a classics course (Intro to Classical Literature); Philosophy 117; and Politics 110. I try to pick sections in such a way that I will have Friday off. I’m not sure why, since going home is not a factor, but it seems others are trying to avoid Friday classes so I do the same.

In the afternoon we hand our sectioning envelopes, duly filled out with preferred timetables, to our Gaels. I’m pretty sure we all go and have dinner at Karen’s house at 81 Division St., which is still standing to this day.

Day Five: Wednesday, September 15

It’s Wednesday and I will admit that day is a bit of a blank. I have a bit of a sense that our Gaels are struggling to find things to keep us occupied. The modern arrangement for Orientation which has a residence half and a faculty half is a great improvement; I could have done with a bit more acculturation to residence life and my floormates (and feel a bit of a fish out of water, and an underage one at that, for most of my first term in residence).

…stay tuned for Part Two, coming next week, where I recount my first trip to Lake Ontario Park, my experience with registration and the first day of class.

A stunning finish for Queen’s Initiative Campaign

Ten years ago, Queen’s launched the Initiative Campaign with a goal of raising $500 million to advance the university’s mission, while a separate goal of confirming $100 million in future estate gifts was also established. Today, I am pleased to report that our benefactors have enabled us to reach and exceed our ambitious goals in spectacular fashion.

The campaign officially concluded on April 30th, and although we are still finalizing the official total, I can tell you that the Initiative Campaign’s final tally will exceed $640 million. Additionally, future gifts to Queen’s total $115 million. The Queen’s family was “all in” for the Initiative Campaign, with 35,000 members of our Queen’s alumni among the contributors. Notably, 97 per cent of all gifts were directed to specific campaign priorities, and nearly all of our campaign priorities were realized, with several projects on the cusp of completion. Certainly, the momentum of the Initiative Campaign will inspire us to continue seeking out new opportunities.

Our Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments provided an additional $94 million towards two campaign priorities, the new building for Queen’s School of Medicine and the magnificent Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Government support was essential in making these projects possible and the university is enormously grateful for these investments.

Joyce Announcement

The numbers and the projects are impressive, but the enduring legacy will be found in the impact the funds will have on our programs of teaching and research, our ability to attract talented students and faculty, and our capacity to provide leadership and personal growth opportunities for students to enrich their non-academic interests. We will be reminded of our community’s generosity every time we welcome a student to Queen’s who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it, and as we attend concerts at the Isabel or football games at Richardson Stadium. In so many ways, the campaign lives on.

I am truly astonished by the success of this endeavour. When I first took on the role of Principal, I must admit that the ambitious fundraising goal made me a little nervous. However, over the last six years, I have been continually reminded of Queen’s strong and generous community of which we are all a part. There are many people to thank for their hard work on this campaign including our many volunteers, our students, our faculty leaders, our advancement staff across Queen’s, our Trustees, Senators, and Councillors, and of course, our Campaign Cabinet. Thank you for your enduring support and for proudly championing the dreams we have for this university.

In the coming weeks and months, we will release a detailed breakdown of the Initiative Campaign, including stories about the impact that this unprecedented fundraising effort has had on our students, our professors, our staff members, and our campuses – stories that will become an important part of the history of this university and the legacy we leave for later generations of the Queen’s family.

Learning with our international partners

Although it has been just over six months since we launched the Comprehensive International Plan for Queen’s University, I am happy to report that a recent trip to China and Hong Kong proved that we are making great strides in delivering on its goals. The delegation to these priority regions included (in addition to me) Provost Alan Harrison, Brenda Brouwer, Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, and Kathy O’Brien, Associate Vice-Principal (International) and took place over one week in March.

Trips such as this one are crucial to the realization of our internationalization goals in many ways. There are measurable deliverables such as the signing or renewal of exchange agreements or 2 + 2 arrangements with our international partner institutions that help attract brilliant students from around the world to Queen’s and, relatedly, give our domestic students a diverse set of opportunities to study abroad. Yet, there are also less quantifiable outcomes that provide us with a broader view of higher education policy beyond our own borders.

As the Queen’s delegation travelled to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, we met with officials from Tongji, Fudan and Beijing Normal universities as well as representatives from the Shanghai Municipal Foreign Affairs Office, the Ministry of Education and the China Scholarship Council. We were also able to spend time with many Queen’s alumni and prospective students. At each of these meetings and events our delegation reiterated our commitment to working alongside our international counterparts to build stronger post-secondary experiences for all of our stakeholders.

Representatives from Queen’s – Associate Vice-Principal (International) Kathy O’Brien, Provost Alan Harrison, Vice Provost and Dean, School of Graduate Studies Brenda Brouwer, along with Zhiyao Zhang, Director, Queen’s China Liaison Office, back, third from left, and Professor Yuxiang Wang, back, fifth from left – meeting their counterparts from Tongji University in Shanghai.

There are, of course, significant differences in context and operating practices between us and the post-secondary institutions that we visited. China has had the advantage of a political system that has allowed it to create new universities and build new campuses without the degree of consultation with provincial or local governments (never mind the universities themselves) that would be required in Europe and especially North America. The result has been a dramatic recent output of graduates, especially in STEM disciplines, that far exceeds that of Europe and the US combined.

Having scaled up over the past 15 years, China is now, interestingly, beginning to focus on issues of quality and on outcomes in learning. This was a recurrent theme on our trip to China where there was, I’m pleased to say, significant interest on the part of Chinese universities and government officials in work being done right here at Queen’s on these issues.

Through each of our meetings in China and Hong Kong it became clear that although we operate halfway around the world from each other, we face common challenges such as the development of learning outcomes, program evaluation and assessment, and providing our students with an enhanced learning experience.

Meeting with Steven Simkovits (MBA’97) and Andrea So (Artsci’14) during an alumni event held in Hong Kong.

As I returned to Queen’s campus, I couldn’t help but think about how global trends in higher education policy inevitably affect us locally, and while that has likely always been true, I believe it is happening much more rapidly these days. Developing relationships with high-performing institutions around the world is critical to keeping Queen’s at the leading edge of both global and Canadian changes in PSE. We have much to learn from, and much to share with, our partners.

Hear, hear! Dr. Art McDonald recognized in the House of Commons

Earlier this week, I had the honour of watching Dr. Art McDonald and his SNOLAB collaborators, seated in the Gallery, rise to be recognized in the House of Commons. It was another remarkable moment for Queen’s University and Canadian science, as it was when Dr. McDonald accepted his Nobel Prize in Stockholm this past December.

Their recognition was made, shortly after Question Period, by the Member of Parliament for Sudbury, Paul Lefebvre. His address to parliament follows:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise to salute the fantastic achievements of Dr. Arthur McDonald, the co-winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics. Dr. McDonald, a professor at Queen’s University, led a global team of over 270 researchers from 13 international institutions to the discovery that neutrinos can change identities, thereby confirming that particles have mass. This discovery upset the standard model of physics and changed our understanding of how the universe works.

The team conducted these experiments at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, or SNOLAB, in the Creighton mine, located two kilometres underground in my riding of Sudbury. The lab is the deepest clean room facility in the world, allowing scientists to study the particles free from cosmic radiation constantly bombarding the earth’s surface.

Residents of Sudbury and all Canadians have reason to be proud of Dr. McDonald’s scientific achievements.

I invite all members to join me in conveying our deepest congratulations to the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics winner, Dr. McDonald, and his team of collaborators.”

Just before Question Period, Dr. McDonald had the opportunity to have a meeting with the Minister of Science, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, where she presented him with a certificate of recognition signed by Prime Minister Trudeau. We were then fortunate to be invited to meet briefly with the Prime Minister himself just before entering the House of Commons.

PM Trudeau Nobel Recognition

A moment with Janet McDonald, Prime Minister Trudeau, Dr. Art McDonald, and the Honourable Kirsty Duncan outside the House of Commons

The formal recognition in the House was followed by a lovely reception hosted by the Speaker of the House, the Honourable Geoff Regan, and the Speaker of the Senate, the Honourable George Furey. The reception provided us with an opportunity to meet with a number of Ministers and Members of Parliament, as well as members of Canada’s wider research community who attended, including the current President of the Royal Society of Canada, Dr. Maryse Lassonde and University of Waterloo President (and current chair of the U15), Dr. Feridun Hamdullahpur. It was a great reminder of the importance of Dr. McDonald and his team’s discovery to Canadian science, and another sign of the new government’s interest in university-based research.

Dr. McDonald speaks to a packed house at the Ottawa Alumni event.

Dr. McDonald speaks to a packed house at the Ottawa Alumni event.

That same evening, we were thrilled to see nearly 200 alumni join us for a special event celebrating the events of the day. The Queen’s spirit was indeed alive and well that night at what was probably the biggest gathering of the Ottawa Alumni Branch in my memory.

The next day, Universities Canada hosted an event featuring Dr. McDonald as the keynote speaker, providing us with yet another opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of higher education, research and innovation. Several senior-level bureaucrats were in attendance, including Gilles Patry, the President and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation; Lois Claxton, the Senior Advisor to the Governor General; and Lawrence Hanson, Assistant Deputy Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.

Overall, the trip to Ottawa was an exciting one for all of us, and it added yet another highlight to the phenomenal year we have had at Queen’s. Let’s do our very best to build upon this momentum as we head into our university’s 175th anniversary.


Mental Health: An Evergreen Priority at Queen’s

As our campus evolves and strategic targets are reached, new priorities take the place of the old. In my six years as principal, I’ve seen ambitious goals come and go as they are met, but there is one priority that remains high on the list year after year: mental health.

Some might consider this a failure, but I believe the opposite is true. We have made far too many strides in improving awareness of the mental health-related challenges that are inherent in university life, and the resources that exist on our campus to help our students manage these challenges, for us to write it off as such. However, we know that we still have a long way to go in building the most responsive and supportive community that we can. On paper, we can set deadlines and targets, but in reality, this issue is complex, pervasive and constantly evolving. At Queen’s, mental health has become our evergreen priority.

We are working to support mental health research at Queen’s, and yet each time we address a challenge, new concerns present themselves. For instance, Dr. Michael Condra, our former director of Student Wellness Services, and Dr. Heather Stuart, our Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair, are two researchers who have been studying ways to reduce the shame and stigma associated with mental illness on campus. We are now witnessing the positive outcomes of their important work. As the stigma has slowly dissipated, and the number of requests for accommodations has risen, we have responded by increasing the number of advisors available to Queen’s students and we recently piloted a first-year transition program for students with disabilities.

Of course, we have also been working hard to improve our counselling and wellness services across campus, and we know that we must continue to increase access to them. We are now actively exploring ways to co-locate services that promote physical and mental wellness with other academic and student services offices as a way of integrating health with the entire student experience. The proposed new wellness and innovation centre will be complemented by our embedded counselling services within faculties and campus buildings, which serve to reduce stigma and offer easier access to care and programming that is customized to the needs, culture and environment of each faculty.

There are many de-stressing events and opportunities on campus, including the very popular "Critters on Campus” days where students can cuddle and hang out with dogs. The event is hosted by the student-run ASUS Lost Paws

There are many de-stressing events and opportunities on campus, including the very popular “Critters on Campus” days where students can cuddle and hang out with dogs. The event is hosted by the student-run ASUS Lost Paws.

We also know that we need to focus on the health and wellness of the entire Queen’s community, and not just our students. For example, approximately 24 per cent of reported sick leave absences among employees relate to mental illness. In addition, these absences tend to be the longest in duration and most difficult to overcome when returning to the workplace. In an effort to combat this, Queen’s hosted its first Thrive Week this past November, which comprised a series of events focused on building positive mental health for students, faculty and staff. More than 70 events were held on campus over five days, structured around Thrive’s mental health themes: sleep, stress, stigma, physical activity and nutrition. It was wildly successful for its first year, and the implementation team is now working to maintain many of the activities throughout the year, and explore ways to improve faculty turnout next year.

I think it is also fair to say that the issues our community members face evolve over time and our response needs to reflect the increasing diversity of our student population. Last week, our university chaplain Kate Johnson talked about how she has increased student access to faith-based support through the hiring of part-time chaplains of multiple faith, a new multi-faith space on west campus, and a values-based financial literacy program, which has seen the number of enrolled students double in the past year.

Today at Queen’s we celebrate Bell Let’s Talk Day, which serves as both an important reminder of the issues we face together and a unique fundraising campaign that has helped to funnel more than $100 million towards mental health initiatives in Canada since 2010. Today, we also celebrate the work of our researchers who are making it easier to ask for help. We celebrate the dedication of our students, faculty and staff to making Queen’s a safer and more inclusive place. We celebrate our accomplishments, while acknowledging that we still have a great deal of distance to go.


For more information on Bell Let’s Talk Day, see a recent blog post from our Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair, Dr. Heather Stuart.