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Arts and Culture

Do small towns produce the biggest athletic talent?

Queen’s research featured in new Apple TV documentary assesses whether an athlete’s birthplace has a big impact on their likelihood of making the big leagues.

When you talk about a favourite hockey player in Canada, one of the first things that comes up is their hometown. And by this measure, the small city of Kingston, Ontario, has been getting more than its fair share of mentions over the years.

Kingston, (which is also home to Queen’s University), has a reputation for producing some of the world’s best hockey players, including Kirk Muller, Doug Gilmour, Jayna Hefford, and Mike Smith. Kingston has produced 70 National Hockey League (NHL) players, including five who scored Stanley Cup-winning goals. This is a hometown hockey record that still stands today.

But Kingston isn’t the only small city that’s been highlighted as a real hockey hotspot. Across the ocean, a small town in Denmark, has also achieved an impressive hockey-related feat. In just nine years, the city of Herning, with a population of 50,000, has produced five NHL players, including Frederik Andersen, Frans Nielsen, Oliver Bjorkstrand and former NHL forward Peter Regin and Nicklas Jensen. What makes this even more interesting, is that Denmark is a country with very little hockey tradition. It’s a phenomenon that has inspired a new Apple TV documentary, The Hockey Miracle in the Middle of No Where, and research led by Queen’s professor Jean Côté (Kinesiology and Health Studies) takes centre ice in helping to explain it all.

facing off in a game of ice hockey“The filmmaker Rasmus Ankersen and a small crew came to Queen’s four years ago to learn more about our research, which received a lot of press when it was published in 2006,” says Dr. Côté. “The filmmaker then wrote popular books about talent development in sport and our research was central to his story line that focused on the trajectory of these five NHL players that grew up in Herning.”

Research by Dr. Côté and collaborators that suggested small places are better than big cities at developing talent made media waves when it was published in the Journal of Sport Sciences in the mid-2000s.

“After studying professional athletes born in different cities in the USA and Canada, we found cities with populations between 50,000 and 100,000 present the best odds of producing elite athletes in hockey, basketball, baseball, and golf,” says Dr. Côté. “There are some things in the social and physical environment in small towns that are more efficient.”

The researchers found that the effect could be mainly due to factors related to the interaction of quality relationships, activities, and competitive settings that are favorable to young athlete development. For example, smaller cities present fewer safety concerns, better access to open spaces, and less competing sources of leisure time use by children.

Small cities might also present more opportunities for the type of developmental experiences and practices known to be associated with expert performance.

The Canadian data gathered for his research also suggests that rural areas with populations of less than 1,000 produced significantly less professional players than expected. This points to a lack of infrastructure that are usually common to a city, which may result in fewer opportunities to invest in physical activities and sports.

“I did talk at Kingston City Hall around a decade ago on the topic, and Kirk Muller responded to my presentation, discussing his upbringing in Kingston,” says Dr. Côté. “A lot of characteristics of Herning were shared in Muller’s story.”

The Hockey Miracle in the Middle of No Where is now available on Apple TV for subscribers. Dr. Côté and his team have a prominent role in the 45-minute film, which also includes scenic panoramas of Springer Market Square and the Queen’s campus. For a preview of the documentary, visit the website.

Q&A: Giller Prize-winning author Omar El Akkad

Novelist discusses his award-winning new book, his time as a Queen’s student, and his upcoming role as the 2022 Writer in Residence in the Department of English.

Giller Prize-winning author Omar El Akkad (Photo by: Anna Mehler Paperny)
Giller Prize-winning author Omar El Akkad. (Photo by: Anna Mehler Paperny)

Earlier this month, Egyptian-Canadian author and Queen’s alumnus Omar El Akkad was awarded the coveted Scotiabank Giller Prize for his latest book What Strange Paradise. The book marks El Akkad’s second major fiction release — following his lauded 2017 debut American War — and centres on a young Syrian boy’s survival amidst the global refugee crisis.

El Akkad spoke to the Gazette about his book and its reception, about his experiences of learning and mentorship while a student at Queen’s, and about his upcoming role as 2022 Writer in Residence with the English Department’s Creative Writing program.

Congratulations on being awarded this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize for your book What Strange Paradise! How does it feel to have your work recognized in this way?

It’s a surreal thing, an honour I never thought about except in the abstract. Writing is a pretty lonely existence, and you never really know when you’re putting the book together if it’ll have any resonance at all. To be in this position, where a book I thought might never be published in the first place is now being mentioned alongside so many of my literary heroes on the Giller longlist and shortlist, isn’t something I’ve been able to fully process yet.

In What Strange Paradise, the main character, Amir, is caught in the throes of the Mediterranean refugee crisis. While his story is fictionalized, it is certainly representative of the true dangers faced by displaced people. As real-world social, political, economic, and environmental challenges grow to impact more and more people, what do you hope readers come to understand or feel through their engagement with Amir’s struggle?

I used to have a much more confident answer to this sort of question. I used to have a very specific set of hopes and expectations about what I want readers to take from my books, the ways in which I hoped the work might change them. But in truth, those expectations are indistinguishable from delusion. The book the reader reads is a million lives removed from the one I wrote, and that’s something to be celebrated. If any piece of literature, mine or otherwise, does anything to expand a reader’s conception of what it is to be human, that’s more than enough. I certainly hope people will come to see the need for a more humane and just approach to global refugee policy, but that’s something I hoped well before I wrote this book.

In an interview on CBC’s Q you said that, upon learning of your win, one of the first calls you made was to Carolyn Smart, a creative writing professor you had here at Queen’s. Why was she one of your first calls, and what about her mentorship — and mentorship generally — contributed to your growth as a writer?

A very long time ago, Carolyn decided to admit me to her prose class, which ended up changing my life. It was the first time I was being taught by a writer, surrounded by other student writers. It made this sort of life seem like something I could actually do. She was also my first publisher, when she put together an anthology of student writing called Lake Effect. I say without hyperbole that there are more than 30 years’ worth of Canadian writers who owe her an incredible debt. People don’t usually associate Queen’s with a robust creative writing program, but over the years, Carolyn did more for Canadian literature on her own than almost anyone I’ve ever met.

In an August 2021 profile in the Queen’s Alumni Review, you touched on some of the notable inflection points along your early path toward becoming a novelist. You enrolled in (and ultimately graduated from) computer science at Queen’s mostly out of feelings of familial expectation, and instead honed your writing through elective or extracurricular means — reporting for the student newspaper and connecting with the creative writing course. Along the way, did you learn anything that may encourage current Queen’s students as they seek to identify and nurture the things for which they are passionate?

I think for me, Queen’s served two invaluable purposes. First, it allowed me to fail, repeatedly and consistently, in relative safety. I had so many terrible, uninformed opinions and I screwed up in every conceivable sense and I learned, from my teachers but also from my peers, how to be better. The other thing my time at Queen’s afforded me was the opportunity to dabble in a million different pursuits, to try things out and see if they made for a good fit. You don’t get that kind of opportunity many times in life, a million doors flinging open all at once, and what I’d encourage all students to do is walk through at least some of those doors; the thing you end up making your life’s work could be on the other side.

Queen’s students may soon have a chance to garner your advice and mentorship directly, as you were recently welcomed by the Department of English as its Creative Writing 2022 Writer in Residence. What about this role do you most look forward to? How does it feel to return to Queen’s in a mentorship capacity?

I’m looking forward to some dedicated writing time and to meeting students. It’s been more than 20 years since I first showed up as a frosh, and I suspect I’m going to feel old as dirt as soon as I set foot on campus, but that little stretch of land from the water up to Morris Hall was the site of so many of the best memories of my life. It’ll be bittersweet to come back, but I think more sweet than bitter.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Queen’s community before we close out our chat?

I’ll be camped out in a little office in the English building at all hours of the day and night, wrestling with an absolute mess of a novel manuscript, from mid-January to mid-March. If you’ve got time, come by and say hi.

New internship supports diversity in art conservation

​Queen’s, National Gallery of Canada partner to engage students from Indigenous, Black, and other cultural communities in art conservation and restoration.

A partnership between Queen’s University and the National Gallery of Canada is aimed at engaging Indigenous and Black students, and students from other cultural communities from across Canada in art conservation and restoration.

The National Gallery of Canada’s Diversity Internship, initiated by Stephen Gritt, NGC Director of Conservation and Technical Research, and in partnership with the Queen’s Art Conservation Program, allows four students to prepare for their studies after their acceptance into the graduate program at the university.=

Queen’s offers the only Master’s in Art Conservation program in Canada. Each intern will be provided with a $25,000 bursary and a placement in Ottawa in the summer prior to their first semester. The internships are funded by an anonymous philanthropist.

Diversity in art conservation is a special focus for Patricia Smithen, Director of the Art Conservation Program at Queen’s, so when she was presented with an opportunity to support future Black, Indigenous and people of color conservators at the entry level, she was delighted to play an important role.

“The goals are to give students a unique and welcoming entry into the field of conservation, provide mentorship which would support them throughout their careers and give them the best opportunity for success at graduate school and beyond,” says Dr. Smithen.

Interns will have the opportunity to learn about the complexities of conservation and restoration work, including research, technical examination, and the historic and ethical dimensions of interaction with art and artefacts. From three to five months, they will be paired with various experts from the National Gallery’s Restoration and Conservation Laboratory and will follow them in their daily work as observers.

They will also be introduced to Conservation Science and broader heritage preservation issues at the Canadian Conservation Institute, also in Ottawa. The students will also visit Queen’s for a week of activity – most likely to work on a mini-project.

“Like many professions within the museum field, conservation is a discipline which can greatly benefit from different perspectives from various fields of study, and different voices from diverse backgrounds and cultures,” says Stephen Gritt. “The National Gallery of Canada is happy to partner with Queen’s University in this effort. This is a natural fit.

Rewilding the estate

How sustainability and biodiversity initiatives are core to the mandate of the Bader International Study Centre.

[The Bader International Study Centre (BISC) in East Sussex, England encompasses more than 600 acres of land]
The Bader International Study Centre (BISC) in East Sussex, England encompasses more than 600 acres of land. (Supplied Photo)

This spring, the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings revealed that Queen’s University had placed first in Canada and fifth in the world in its global ranking of universities that are advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Queen’s earned its Impact Ranking after successfully implementing programs to improve sustainability within and outside of the local Kingston community. But these efforts also extend “across the pond.” On the grounds of Queen’s UK campus, the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) at Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex, England, sustainability and biodiversity are combined to help nurture and preserve the natural environment, while providing a living lab for students, staff, and members of the public. 

The BISC estate encompasses more than 600 acres of land containing medieval parklands, ancient woodlands, meadows, ponds, marshlands, and formal gardens. Over the centuries, numerous changes, both inside and outside the castle walls, have resulted in a loss of biodiversity and preservation of these lands. In order to improve and restore the estate’s surrounding environment, Grounds and Gardens Manager Guy Lucas and his team of gardeners and grounds staff are implementing sustainable ecological practices such as rewilding to repair damaged ecosystems and restore the grounds to their original state through natural processes. 

  • [Photo of the bluebells among the ancient woodland]
    The ancient bluebell woodland set within the BISC's historic parkland.
  • [Photo of a woodland path on the estate]
    The woodlands form part of the castle's historic parkland supporting over three hundred acres of diverse wildlife and plants including ancient oaks and sweet chestnut trees.
  • [Photo of the wildflower meadow]
    Explore the winding paths among the five-acre native wildflower meadow dedicated to conservation at the BISC.
  • [Photo of Temple Field]
    Temple Field is enclosed by woodland and leads to the Folly with its own walled cottage garden within the castle grounds.

Supporting biodiversity

Lucas and his team’s efforts to rewild large areas of the estate are at the forefront of BISC’s biodiversity initiatives. A major part of this process will include the removal of non-native and invasive species and the planting of native varieties to provide a mixed species and age structure within the woodland. Also integral to the rewilding project is monitoring the species within the woodland and the management of trails to ensure they have adequate light, and the correct woodland edge flora, as these act as highways for wildlife.

In efforts to restore the lands to their original state, the estate team has adopted the ancient practice of 'coppicing' which has been practiced in the United Kingdom since the Neolithic period. 'Coppicing' involves cutting an acre of broadleaved trees down during the winter, on a rotation of 20-30 years, and allowing them to regenerate. Opening these areas of woodland mimics the actions of Neolithic ancestors and the auroch (an extinct wild cow) who carried out this process for centuries, allowing woodland flora and fauna to thrive.

Lastly, as 98 per cent of wildflower meadows in the UK have been lost, the team has dedicated 20 acres of the estate to create and protect an environment where wildflowers can thrive, acting as a vital food source for bees and butterflies and as a habitat for invertebrates and small mammals. In the winter, the sheep on the estate graze the dense thatch of grasses, which enables fresh seeds to come in contact with the earth and grow the next year’s wildflowers. 

[The estate’s sheep grazing grasses and encouraging the natural sowing of wildflowers.]
The estate’s sheep grazing grasses and encouraging the natural sowing of wildflowers. (Supplied Photo)

Advancing sustainability

The BISC’s commitment to sustainability extends inside the castle walls where numerous waste reduction efforts have been implemented.

Recently, a Sustainability Working Group was formed to bring together employees from across the institution to drive sustainability initiatives. These include working with the Aramark food services team to ensure that 100 per cent of in-house green waste is composted, enhancing recycling facilities within the castle, removing disposable food packaging, and increasing availability of electric travel methods.

On a larger scale, the estate team maintains sustainable reed beds that address sewage waste through natural filtration, making the water safe and clean. To generate renewable energy, a heat recovery pump system located in the castle moat is estimated to generate up to 35 per cent of the castle’s heating requirements, and a proportion of the electricity needed for the estate is generated via the use of around 200 solar panels.

[Aerial photo of the estate]
The Estate’s renewable energy initiatives leverage the existing historical features and natural environment to support modern technology for sustainability. (Supplied Photo)

The environment as an education tool

Allowing students and the public to interact with and learn from the estate team’s sustainability and biodiversity agenda is an integral part of the BISC’s mandate. The BISC Skills Award (BSA), which encourages students to participate in university events and programs for personal development, presents an excellent opportunity for student engagement. Recently, this program has incorporated the estate team’s sustainability and biodiversity initiatives into the curriculum by allowing students to partake in projects including invasive species removal, pond maintenance, rare species seed planting, and the designing of a new student services cottage garden.

The BISC is also dedicated to sharing the estate’s biodiversity and sustainability efforts with the public. One program that showcases this relationship is the Herstmonceux Castle Forest School. The Forest School allows members of the public to engage with the natural environment in the estate’s ancient woodlands, offering all learners opportunities to achieve and develop confidence through hands-on experiences in a woodland environment. This program allows the environment itself to serve as an educational tool. 

Improving biodiversity and the adoption of a sustainable mindset at the BISC is reflective of Queen’s steadfast dedication to advancing sustainable development through pursuing the UN’s SDGs. By way of its community and student outreach programs, the BISC has consistently shared its advancements and knowledge in sustainability and biodiversity with the public, providing education and enjoyment to the larger community.

For more information, visit the BISC and Herstmonceux Castle websites.

Learn more about Queen's University's Climate Action Plan.

For the Record: May 20, 2021

For the Record provides postings of appointment, committee, grant, award, and other notices set out by collective agreements and university policies and processes. It is the university’s primary vehicle for sharing this information with our community.

Submit For the Record information for posting to Gazette editor Andrew Carroll.

Renewal, tenure, promotion applications

Under the terms of the Collective Agreement between Queen’s University and Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA) for faculty, librarians and archivists (“the Collective Agreement”), as modified by the COVID-19 Emergency Letter of Understanding (the “LOU”) dated May 22, 2020 including Schedule C (MOA re Time-Limits and Supports),  the deadline for regular faculty to apply for renewal, tenure or promotion; librarians and archivists to apply for renewal, continuing appointment or promotion; and adjuncts to apply for promotion is Sept. 15, 2021.

Members must notify their unit head of their intent to apply for renewal, tenure, continuing appointment, or promotion by Aug. 1, 2021. Articles that refer to these procedures include: Article 24 – Employment Equity; Article 30 – Renewal, Tenure and Promotion for Tenure-Track and Tenured Faculty Members; Article 31 – Renewal, Continuing Appointment and Promotion for Librarian and Archivist Members; Article 32.6  Reappointment and Promotion of Adjunct Members; and Appendix O- Aboriginal  Participation in Renewal, Tenure or Promotion Committees (or in the case of Librarian and Archivist Members, Continuing Appointment).

Search committee for Vice-Dean (Health Sciences) and Director, School of Rehabilitation Therapy Faculty of Health Sciences

A search committee has been established to recommend a candidate for appointment to the position of vice-dean (Health Sciences) and director, School of Rehabilitation Therapy in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s University.

Committee Membership

  • Jane Philpott, Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences (Chair)
  • Catherine Donnelly, Associate Professor, Occupational Therapy Program, School of Rehabilitation Therapy
  • Cathy Szabo, President and CEO, Providence Care
  • Diana O’Grady, Vice President, Patient and Client Care, Providence Care
  • Erna Snelgrove-Clarke, Vice Dean (Health Sciences) and Director, School of Nursing
  • Janet Jull, Assistant Professor, School of Rehabilitation Therapy
  • Jordan Miller, Assistant Professor, Physical Therapy Program and Associate-Director (Physical Therapy), School of Rehabilitation Therapy
  • Kathryn Parsons-Aldrich, Professional Programs Manager, Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy, School of Rehabilitation Therapy
  • Katie Roberts (Secretary), Senior Staffing Officer, Faculty of Health Sciences
  • Megan Edgelow, Continuing Adjunct Assistant Professor, Occupational Therapy Program, School of Rehabilitation Therapy
  • Michael Coccimiglio, President of the Rehabilitation Therapy Society, School of Rehabilitation Therapy
  • Mike McDonald, Chief Nursing Executive and EVP Patient Care and Community Partnerships, Kingston Health Sciences Centre
  • Setareh Ghahari, Associate Professor, Occupational Therapy Program, School of Rehabilitation Therapy
  • Stacey Hatch, PhD candidate, Aging and Health Program, Research and Post-Professional (RPP) Programs, School of Rehabilitation Therapy
  • Steven Smith, Vice-Dean, Research, Faculty of Health Sciences; Vice-President, Health Sciences Research, Kingston Health Sciences Centre; President and CEO, Kingston General Health Research Institute

All staff, faculty, students and members of the Queen’s community are encouraged to provide input on the profile of our future Vice-Dean (Health Sciences) and Director, School of Rehabilitation Therapy, via the completion of this form. Questions can be directed to Crystal Tripple, Staffing Officer at ct82@queensu.ca.

Feedback received will be shared with the Committee and will help to inform both the development of the role description and the search process. In addition, nominations to the position, including rationale for supporting each nominee are encouraged.

How a unicorn is helping Ontario’s public and Catholic schools welcome gender diversity

Queen’s researcher Lee Airton has created Gegi.ca, an online resource that helps students advocate for their gender expression and gender identity human rights.

Gegi.ca is a newly launched website that advocates for gender identity and gender expression
Gegi.ca is a newly launched website that advocates for gender identity and gender expression

Queen’s researcher Lee Airton, Assistant Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies in Education, and Kyle Kirkup, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law (Common Law Section) at the University of Ottawa, have launched an online resource that targets elementary and high school students and educators seeking more information about gender identity and gender expression human rights protections. With “Gegi” – a beautiful/handsome nonbinary unicorn – as their guide, K-12 students across Ontario can acquire information and tools to self-advocate within their school and school board.

The launch of the website aligns with Education Week and Catholic Education Week initiatives across Ontario.

Gegi.ca was created following a study by Dr. Airton and Dr. Kirkup of how Ontario school boards were responding to their new legal responsibilities to offer an environment free from two separate forms of discrimination: for who you are gender-wise (your gender identity), and how you let others know through things like your clothing, grooming, and behaviour (your gender expression). The resource aims to translate and mobilize findings from their recent Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant (2018-2020), which identified that Canada is going through a gender human rights law revolution and that action was needed to directly address the incremental and uneven rate at which K-12 school structures and practices are changing in response.

“Gender expression and gender identity are still new concepts to many people, let alone new areas of legal responsibility for school staff. Gegi.ca is intended to fill this gap by supporting Ontario’s K-12 students and their loved ones is the kind of self-advocacy that changes schools for everyone,” says Dr. Airton.

Each Ontario school board (public and Catholic) will have two dedicated student and staff web pages on gegi.ca. These pages connect students and their loved ones or staff directly to relevant board policies and suggest what a Gegi visitor can do or whom to contact if their board has not yet updated its policies. Students are also invited to download and share information about their gender identity or gender expression human rights in relation to athletics, field trips, and washroom or changing room access directly with school staff or administration.

The site will also host a series of downloadable and accessible resources both in French and English. These resources contain the most up-to-date law- and research-informed guidance on the changes required to fulfill every school’s duty to create a learning environment free from discrimination on the basis of gender expression or gender identity.

 “Gegi.ca is a powerful resource for Ontario students and their families to ensure their gender identity and gender expression is protected and that students can thrive and grow in our schools,” says Rebecca Luce-Kapler, Dean, Faculty of Education.

Gegi.ca targets both students and teachers, providing access to knowledge and skills that are typically only held by legal professionals. Skills fostered by gegi.ca’s resources include legal self-advocacy (i.e., correctly identifying governing laws, past legal precedents, policies and procedure; and maintaining written records and conducting correspondence), and identifying key actors and levers of power within their own school and school board. For school staff who face gender expression discrimination, gegi.ca’s board-specific pages connect to local school board policies and advocacy resources, as well as union policies. Lastly, teachers and school administrators who recognize the presence of gender expression or gender identity discrimination in their school can access gegi.ca’s collection of tip sheets and curated resources, all of which prompt proactive change. The Gegi.ca team will also share the resources with equity leads in Ontario’s school boards and work to engage all directors of education as part of the rollout.

For more information on gegi.ca, visit the website.

What are the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings?

Looking at the social impacts post-secondary institutions are creating locally and abroad.

The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings are the only global performance tables that assess universities against the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through their research, teaching, outreach, and stewardship efforts.

Over 1,000 institutions based around the globe were assessed in this year's rankings, and you can view their performance toward each of the 17 SDGs on the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings website. Find out how universities are moving toward eradicating poverty and hunger, increasing health and wellbeing, achieving gender equality, advancing climate action and clean energy, stimulating economic growth and innovation, and improving education. You can also explore Queen's University's Times Higher Education profile.


Transforming the global academy

Principal Patrick Deane on how the SDGs are helping break down silos, provoke dialogue, and unite us all in a common global purpose.

[Photo of Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane]
Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Queen's University

As a member of the international group tasked with updating the Magna Charta Universitatum – the declaration of university freedoms and principles that was first signed in Bologna in 1988 – I am struck by the extent to which the intervening three decades have altered the global consensus about the nature and function of universities. Where the original document spoke eloquently to the fundamental values of the academy, the new Magna Charta Universitatum 2020 reaffirms those values but also expands upon their social function and utility. I would summarise the shift this way: we have moved from an understanding of universities as defined primarily by their ability to transcend historical contingency to a more complicated view, which asserts that timeless principles such as academic freedom and institutional autonomy are the platform from which the academy must engage with history.

If the situation in Europe and around the world in 1988 made it important to speak up for the freedoms without which teaching and research would be impoverished, by 2020 it had become equally important to speak of the responsibilities incumbent on institutions by virtue of the privileges accorded to them. The reality of rapid climate change has brought urgency and authority to this new view of universities, as have parallel trends in the social, cultural, and political climate, and “education for sustainable development” has emerged as the increasingly dominant model for global higher education – one which fuses the concerns of environment, society, and economy.  

Recent columns in Times Higher Education have admirably described the diverse ways in which the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been intrinsic to this reorientation of the global academy: as a rallying point for students and staff, as an accountability framework, and as a global language for political action, for example. Here at Queen’s University, the SDGs have been an important frame for our current planning process, and in all of those ways have influenced the manner in which we understand and wish to articulate our mission.

At one point in the process, an influential and valued friend of the university expressed some irritation to me about the way in which the SDGs had come to dominate and disrupt the university’s normally untroubled and inwardly-focused dialogue with itself about mission and values. “And in any case,” came the throwaway dismissal, “there’s nothing original or new about aligning with the SDGs.” Of course, that is true in 2021, but is it relevant? If a university is able to maximise its global impact, does the inherent originality or novelty of its planning parameters matter? In such exchanges – still occurring, I’m certain, on campuses everywhere – we can see that the changing consensus about which I wrote at the start is not yet complete.

It seems to me, in fact, that much of the value of the SDGs as an organising framework for universities resides in their not being proprietary or “original” to one institution, or to an exclusive group of institutions. It has often been pointed out that they now provide a shared language which helps universities in diverse geographical, political, and socio-economic locations understand and build upon the commonality of their work in both teaching and research. Adoption of the SDGs, however variously that is done from institution to institution, is turning the “global academy” from a rhetorical to a real construct, and I can’t imagine why it would be in the interests of any university to hold itself aloof from that transformation. Having watched our planning process unfold at Queen’s over the last two years, I can confirm that what the SDGs do at the global level, they do also at the level of the individual institution, providing a common language that provokes and sustains dialogue – not only between disciplines, but between the academic and non-academic parts of the operation.

I want to end by commenting on the excitement generated when siloes are broken open and when people and units understand how they are united with others in a common purpose and in service to the greater good. To cultivate that understanding has been the primary objective of planning at Queen’s for the last two years, and preparing our first submission to the Impact Rankings has been an intrinsic part of that process of learning and self-discovery. Naturally, we are delighted and excited by where we find ourselves in the rankings, but we are energised in a more profound way by the knowledge of what synergies and collaborations exist or appear possible both within our university and in the global academy.

The first 16 SDGs point to the areas in which we want to have impact. The 17th tells us what the whole project is really all about: acting in community for the communal good.

This op-ed was originally published in the Times Higher Education supplement.  

Queen’s community comes together to illustrate social impact

THE Impact Rankings submission measures the university’s overall contribution to global sustainability.

[Graphic image with a "Q" of the Queen's community]

Times Higher Education (THE), the organization best known for its World University Rankings, sees universities as representing the greatest hope of solving the most urgent global challenges. In 2019, they moved to create the Impact Rankings – an inclusive evaluation of post-secondary institutions’ commitments to positive social and economic impact measured against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This year, out of more than 1,200 participating institutions worldwide, Queen’s placed first in Canada and fifth globally in the 2021 Impact Rankings. It is the first time Queen’s has participated in this ranking exercise, and our performance is a result of the campus community’s united effort to create a comprehensive submission package for Impact Rankings adjudicators.

THE Impact Rankings

While many traditional ranking processes are designed with research-intensive universities in mind, the Impact Rankings are open to any institution teaching at the undergraduate or post-graduate level. Using the SDGs as a means of gauging a university’s performance, THE developed a methodology involving 105 metrics and 220 measurements, carefully calibrated to provide comprehensive and balanced comparisons between institutions across four broad areas: research, stewardship, outreach, and teaching.

“The Impact Rankings are unlike any other ranking. They offer a global platform to acknowledge and celebrate the partnerships integral to advancing international initiatives, developing the leaders of tomorrow, and working towards an inclusive, diverse, and sustainable future,” says Michael Fraser, Vice-Principal (University Relations) and co-chair of the Queen’s Impact Rankings Steering Committee. “On behalf of the Steering Committee, thank you to the community for your support and collaboration in advancing this initiative.”

In their submissions, universities must demonstrate progress toward meeting at least three SDGs, as well as toward SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals. THE evaluates each institution’s submission, drawing on the quantitative and qualitative data provided, as well as bibliometric research datasets provided by Elsevier, a data and analytics company.

The Queen’s Submission – A Community Effort

“Participating in the Impact Rankings requires self-reflection. We are asked to contemplate our current impact and think about what we want to achieve for the future,” says Sandra den Otter, Vice-Provost (International) and co-chair of the Queen's Impact Rankings Steering Committee. “These results testify to the work we have done together. I hope this is a moment for recognizing the progress we have made, and to furthering our aspirations as a university and as members of a global community committed to change.”

To lead its submission process, Queen’s established a Steering Committee, Project Team, and Working Group, comprised of leadership, staff, and faculty from across the university. This team set about gathering over 600 unique pieces of evidence, representing the efforts of over 70 departments and portfolios. Queen’s chose to submit evidence in support of all 17 SDGs – a decision that led to top-100 rankings in 14 of 17 SDGs, including top-10 in three categories (Zero Hunger, Sustainable Cities, and Life on Land) and being ranked first – globally – for SDG 1: No Poverty and SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. 

Metrics and measurements were unique for each SDG, with each goal requiring a specific combination of quantitative and qualitative data. The quantitative evidence integrated research bibliometric data and key words that measured number of publications, co-authors, and field-weighted citations. Other quantitative measurements looked at water consumption per capita, energy and food waste measurements, university expenditure on arts and culture, the number of first-generation university students, and number of employees from equity-seeking groups.

Qualitative evidence spanned institutional policies and individual courses, to the missions of research centres and institutes, community volunteer initiatives, and strategic plans, all demonstrating how we are advancing the SDGs. Metrics often required evidence of local, national, and global-reaching initiatives to illustrate full impact.

More than 400 internal links pointing to Queen’s websites were supplied as publicly accessible evidence of Queen’s research, outreach, teaching, and stewardship efforts. Additionally, nearly 100 external links were included in the submission, each reflecting the university’s extensive partnerships: internally with student-led clubs, locally with Sustainable Kingston and United Way KFL&A, nationally with the Government of Canada, and globally with the Matariki Network of Universities.

Learn more about Queen’s performance in the Times Higher Education 2021 Impact Rankings.

The art of dark matter

A new exhibition and residency project, generated by Agnes Etherington Art Centre, the McDonald Institute, and SNOLAB, brings together artists and scientists in the quest to understand dark matter.

In the 1930s, researchers first proposed the seemingly impossible concept of dark matter, the “glue” that holds the universe together. Dark matter is made up of material that does not emit light or energy, making it invisible. Even though about 80 per cent of the matter in the universe is composed of this indiscernible substance, we barely understand how it behaves or influences other entities.

The mysteries of dark matter are being unlocked by scientists and engineers at the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute at Queen’s University and SNOLAB, located in an active nickel mine two kilometres below the surface, near Sudbury. This work has inspired a new collaboration with Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

  • Artist Nadia Lichtig photographing the drift entrance to SNOLAB. Photo: Zac Kenny
    Artist Nadia Lichtig photographing the drift entrance to SNOLAB. Photo: Zac Kenny
  • Artist Jol Thomson documents researchers working on CUTE (a Cryogenic Underground Test Facility) at SNOLAB. Photo: Gerry Kingsley
    Artist Jol Thomson documents researchers working on CUTE (a Cryogenic Underground Test Facility) at SNOLAB. Photo: Gerry Kingsley
  • Artist Josèfa Ntjam and SNOLAB staff scientist Dimpal Chauhan discuss ancient water. Photo: Zac Kenny
    Artist Josèfa Ntjam and SNOLAB staff scientist Dimpal Chauhan discuss ancient water. Photo: Zac Kenny

To explore the “known unknown” from different angles and demonstrate the interrelatedness of science and art, McDonald Institute, SNOLAB, and Agnes launched a residency and exhibition project, called Drift: Art and Dark Matter. Drift, an ode to the mining term for a horizontal tunnel, collaborated with four nationally- and internationally-acclaimed artists, Nadia Lichtig, Josèfa Ntjam, Anne Riley, and Jol Thoms, to partner with Queen’s and SNOLAB researchers searching for dark matter and create unique pieces inspired by these exchanges.

The first stage of the residency took place in July and October 2019. It involved two extended site visits, at Queen’s and at SNOLAB, during which the artists, scientists, and staff participated in presentations, hands-on research experiments, and field trips. The visits provided ample opportunity for Lichtig, Ntjam, Riley, and Thoms to connect with world-renowned physicists, chemists, engineers, and other scholars, including Dr. Arthur B. McDonald, co-recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics. Discussions ranged from the basics of dark matter and neutrino physics to articulations of racialized, Indigenous, and entangled identity, prioritizing mutual exchange of knowledge and insights. The subsequent months of the residency were focused on digital discussion among collaborators and home studio production for artists.   

Josèfa Ntjam, Luciferin Drop, 2020, glass, metal, ABS filament and luminescent liquid and Myceaqua Vitae, 2020, video with sound. Collection of the artist. Installation view from Drift: Art and Dark Matter. Photo: Tim Forbes
Josèfa Ntjam, Luciferin Drop, 2020, glass, metal, ABS filament and luminescent liquid and Myceaqua Vitae, 2020, video with sound. Collection of the artist. Installation view from Drift: Art and Dark Matter. Photo: Tim Forbes

“The experience was unique for several reasons. Firstly, I was able to travel to Canada and then go two kilometres underground, together with the miners. Then the fact I was able to visit the research facilities and speak with the researchers, and later able to deepen the discussions with the researchers invited in the context of the residency,” says Nadia Lichtig, one of Drifts artists-in-residence. “The whole experience was very inspiring.” 

Drift successfully opened dialogue between artists and physicists, revealing shared values, goals, and habits and highlighting new perspectives and comprehensions of advanced scientific theories being explored and developed nationwide. The residency culminated in several artworks – installation, sculpture, textile, and video – that offer a multisensory experience of dark matter science and the “how” and “why” of that which cannot be sensed directly.

Jol Thoms, Orthomorph (Tunneling), 2020, digital print. Courtesy of the artist.
Jol Thoms, Orthomorph (Tunneling), 2020, digital print. Courtesy of the artist.

“From a curator’s perspective, I believe we have reached a historical moment when the modes and motivations of producing culture need to be reconsidered, and with this project, we’re participating in a broader movement of artists and institutions making forays to explore much wider contexts and different constructions of knowledge,” says Sunny Kerr, Curator of Drift and Contemporary Art at Agnes. “This exhibition is a crucial step at the beginning of longer conversations between art and science.”

For those interested in experiencing the exhibition in person, it is on view at the Agnes until May 30, 2021. It will then tour across Canada to galleries with McDonald Institute and SNOLAB affiliations in Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, and Sudbury. 

Nadia Lichtig, Blank Spots, 2021–ongoing, frottage on canvas, theatre lights, sound. Collection of the artist. Installation view from Drift: Art and Dark Matter. Photo: Tim Forbes
Nadia Lichtig, Blank Spots, 2021–ongoing, frottage on canvas, theatre lights, sound. Collection of the artist. Installation view from Drift: Art and Dark Matter. Photo: Tim Forbes

Drift: Art and Dark Matter also takes the form of an online exhibition that can be found on Digital AGNES. The digital exhibition showcases the meeting of theories and voices that informed this exciting transdisciplinary residency and features behind-the-scenes videos, interviews, and interactive activities.

Agnes is open: Agnes reopened its doors to the public on Feb. 20. In addition to Drift, visitors can experience two other exhibitions, From the vibe out: Neven Lochhead and Radicals and Revolutionaries: Artists of Atelier 17, 1960s as part of the Agnes’ current season offerings.

Josèfa Ntjam, Organic Nebula (detail), 2019, carpet, photomontage. Collection of the artist.
Josèfa Ntjam, Organic Nebula (detail), 2019, carpet, photomontage. Collection of the artist.



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