Message from the acting president

June 19, 2020 | Campus Life
This is my last column as acting president, and I would like to start by sharing with you some personal insights and acknowledgements. When I agreed to take the acting role last year, I could have not imagined the challenges that the year ahead would bring my way.

Our challenges began with the government’s swift implementation of retroactive grant reductions, followed by continued changes throughout the budget planning cycle of government funding policies. A final welcome change was made just over a week ago when the Minister of Advanced Education decided to remove the requirements to meet expenditure reduction targets. Each of these shifts demanded we act quickly and resolutely, and make a series of difficult and, at times, heartbreaking decisions. Some of the decisions taken in response to these developments have been the hardest of my long career at MacEwan.

Amid the budget uncertainty, we also faced the COVID-19 pandemic. In late February, we began to see impacts to our planning and operations. The pandemic resulted in the unprecedented shut-down of most facilities at both campus locations for months, which I know caused frustration and worry for our staff and students, created a financial crisis and caused uncertainty for the months ahead. It would have been unthinkable at this time last year that we would be facing such a disruptive crisis. These two significant events, the budget challenge and the COVID-19, have dominated my time as acting president.

Of course, we’ve seen many positive things in the past year. Many exciting events across campus and significant progress on several important campus development projects including the move to accommodate the School of Continuing Education at City Centre Campus, the new SAMU building and a new centre for Indigenous students. More to come on these later in this column.

Our people always impress. How MacEwan rallied to support our students through the COVID-19 crisis was inspiring. The ability of our staff and managers to, almost overnight, collaborate and move university operations to work-at-home arrangements was truly remarkable. I can say with confidence that with each decision we faced, the impact on our students and their learning and support was always the primary consideration.

I have discovered in the last year that the role of president is largely about people, relationships and ensuring continuity. I have been astounded by the high level of adaptability and commitment demonstrated by our staff, students and faculty as we have met each challenge. Through it all, I have been touched by the personal expressions of support, and the respect shown to me, even as I delivered grim news that was impacting the lives of people very directly. I had countless notes and words of support from students, staff and faculty over the last year. I would like to acknowledge the critical work of my colleagues on the Executive Council who work tirelessly for the university, and with me, and have faced so many complex problems over the last year.

I also want to acknowledge the work of our Board of Governors and thank them for their support during my time as acting president. It is important that I recognize Carolyn Graham, our board chair. Carolyn is a determined advocate and representative for MacEwan University. Her seemingly boundless commitment to MacEwan and her leadership should give you all confidence in the future direction of our university.

Finally, I have also learned that at a university all roads lead to the president’s office. The team that has supported me during the last year is simply exceptional. I have been amazed by their ability to balance the demands of the office and consistently deliver quality work on time. Dr. Annette Trimbee has a fine team waiting to support her work when she arrives.

Annette Trimbee feature image

Welcoming MacEwan’s sixth president and vice-chancellor

On August 1, we will welcome Dr. Trimbee as the sixth president and vice-chancellor of MacEwan University. Under Dr. Trimbee’s leadership we can move forward with current and new plans for the university’s future.

Dr. Trimbee brings with her a unique combination of leadership experience in both the post-secondary and public sectors. I look forward to welcoming her and I am confident she will ensure MacEwan continues to provide a high quality, student-focused education that has been an integral part of our history.

With the unique circumstances, and a difference in the look and feel of campus this year, Dr. Trimbee will connect with staff and students in different ways. We will have more information on introducing her to campus in the coming weeks.

Black Lives Matter and anti-racism

Diversity and inclusion is a core value at MacEwan. Throughout my time at MacEwan, we have worked hard to develop and support change through networks, initiatives and programs to educate and promote anti-racism, diversity and inclusiveness.

We also know that we have more work to do. The scenes unfolding in the U.S. and Canada are undoubtedly having a direct impact on our Black students and colleagues. It is important that we support the Black Lives Matter movement and our community members, and uphold the obligation to address racial discrimination. We are committed to listening, learning and acting to address anti-Black racism and all forms of racial discrimination.

As a university, we have a unique position in society to provide space and engage our community in discussions about racial inequality and inequity. The recent protests have emphasized the reality racial discrimination plays in our lives and the impact it has on our racialized communities. There is a significant need for real change.

We are engaging in more discussions on anti-Black racism and continue to support our many student advocacy groups in our community and on campus. We have also convened a Confronting Anti-Black Racism Advocacy Group that will provide support, awareness initiatives and resources to equip our students, colleagues and the broader Edmonton community to understand and confront anti-Black racism. More information on this group will be available soon.

We always welcome ideas, advice and participation. You can share your ideas and provide information directly to our human rights office by emailing Irfan Chaudhry, director of the Office of Human Rights, Diversity and Equity at You can also find more information about the work we do at


Planning updates and campus changes

The adjustment to an online and virtual platform has shown us just how innovative and creative our students, staff and faculty can be when it comes to staying connected. We have seen online concerts and events, virtual group meetings, and new and enhanced online collaboration as just a few examples. While some temporary changes to operations and programs are inevitable with the current pandemic, we will continue to support each other and find new and exciting ways of connecting virtually or safely in person.

Fall online delivery

Thank you to our faculty for the past months of hard work shifting to online delivery. Thank you for continuing to adapt, change content, find new ways of delivering your programs, and for supporting each other as we move into another term of online delivery for the Fall term. I know that, at times, this shift has not been easy and I appreciate the long hours spent. Thank you also to our staff behind the scenes who are ensuring that students have access to the resources they need, supporting our online delivery requirements and adjusting to our new way of working remotely so seamlessly.

I am confident that together we will continue to leverage our expertise and experience as we prepare for Fall term. With our plans to move forward in place or in development, I look forward to continuing with focus and commitment as we begin to feel a sense of comfort in knowing more about what the future may hold.

MacEwan’s relaunch strategy

As we begin to plan for a predominantly online Fall term, students and staff will start seeing changes across the campus. Our own relaunch will continue to not only ensure the safety of everyone on campus, but also ensure students can access services on which they rely. Our campus buildings will begin to re-open this summer, welcoming faculty, staff and students back to a safe, physically distanced campus. As we reopen, we will do so under the guidance of Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, and will continue measures to keep our university community safe.

COVID-19 recovery remains our top priority and the MacEwan Relaunch Strategy Team is working with areas across the university to create detailed plans and communications about all aspects of returning to campus. The MacEwan Relaunch Strategy Team will be instrumental in providing a coordinated approach as we develop our detailed academic and operational plans. It is made up of the university executive team, including academic and non-academic associate vice-presidents, other key personnel, and has the support of planning groups representing university academic and services units. The group will prioritize the health and safety of our community and continue our commitment to respecting faculty and student voices in planning and executing those plans. As more detailed information becomes available, it will be shared with the university community.


Campus development

There are a few exciting projects underway to enhance our campus and better connect us to our community.

The move from Alberta College Campus (ACC) to the fifth floor of Allard Hall continues, and is on schedule. Staff have moved out of ACC and the Edmonton Public School Board, who will be leasing the building from MacEwan, will begin to retrofit the building to suit their needs late this summer. The fifth floor of Allard Hall will be ready for staff to move in ahead of the Fall term.

Extensive renovation work has begun in the library. The library upgrades, designed with input from students and staff, will enhance the existing space for student work and study areas, as well as flow through access on the second floor. The renovations are expected to be complete for Fall term.

And finally, renovations on the science labs are being done in two phases with the mechanical work to be completed this summer and a more substantial renovation in 2021. Lab renovations are also on schedule for completion for the Fall term.

Many thanks to our staff who are moving buildings or working around the construction, and to our facilities team for their hard work on keeping these projects moving on schedule.

Long service recognition

We know that MacEwan's employees are integral to the university's success. Each year we recognize employees who are retiring and those who are marking years of service, beginning at five years and at every five-year increment after that. This year, in response to both the budget and impacts of COVID-19, our formal annual recognition program has been postponed. We are also considering changes to the program to reflect our current circumstances.

Even though things are different, I would like to extend congratulations to everyone who is this year receiving a recognition of their service. Our university's reputation and history has been built by the great work of our employees and their dedication to our students.


I would like to extend my congratulations to the Class of 2020. And thank you to our faculty and staff who have spent many hours shifting our programs to an online delivery format to ensure that students could graduate as planned. Our Convocation Committee has worked hard to come up with a new way to recognize our graduates, called Curbside Convocation. At the end of June, each member of the Spring Class of 2020 will receive a package to celebrate graduation from home. On July 15, graduates will be encouraged to celebrate virtually, sharing pictures on social media with the hashtags #MacEwanCurbsideConvocation or #MacEwanGrad. More information on this celebration can be found on our website.

Thank you to those involved in creating this unique and exciting way of recognizing the success of our students.

Governance update

This spring saw changes to our Board of Governors membership. New student representatives from SAMU include Sean Waddingham, SAMU president, and student body representative Myles Dykes, who were appointed for terms to expire on April 30, 2021. We also welcomed new public members, including Linda Banister who has been appointed for a term that expires on April 21, 2023. Robin Julian Martin and John Stelter were appointed for terms that expire on June 27, 2023, and Jasmine Nuthall and Cameron Barr were reappointed for terms that also expire on June 27, 2023.

These recent appointments make the board membership current except for two alumni representatives that are expected to be appointed in late summer or early fall, and the chancellor, who we expect will be nominated and installed by spring 2021.

I would also like to extend our thanks and well wishes to Lisa Jane Garcia and Alexandria Fisher who have completed their terms on the board.

Strengthening our governance

In 2019, amendments to the Post-secondary Learning Act established MacEwan as an undergraduate university and granted authority for a full bi-cameral governance model. With that change, MacEwan was also given the authority to grant honorary degrees, establish a full General Faculties Council and appoint a chancellor.

We continue to implement these changes and to ensure we have an effective governance structure in place. The University Governance Office and General Faculties Council continue to work on finalizing their bylaws and on creating a subcommittee structure and terms of reference for each committee.

Appointment of MacEwan University’s first chancellor

The university is now also moving forward with the exciting next steps to appoint our first chancellor. As per the structure set out in the Post-secondary Learning Act, a joint committee is being formed that will nominate a candidate for the Board of Governors’ consideration and appointment. The chancellor will serve as a ceremonial head of the university to represent and promote the university publicly and at events, such as convocation. The chancellor will serve a four-year term. We expect our first chancellor to be in place for spring convocation 2021, at the same time the university plans to award its first honorary degree.

Faculty and Academic Affairs news

Awards and recognitions

Congratulations to Dr. Diane Symbaluk who received the 2020 3M National Teaching Fellowship in February. Dr. Symbaluk is a professor in our sociology department and much of her work focuses on teaching resources, mentorship and student-led research. Her passion for teaching and continued commitment to our students is evident and we are incredibly proud to have a member of our faculty awarded such a distinction.

My congratulations also go out to Terri Suntjens, director of Indigenous initiatives, who received the 2020 Esquao Award in March. Terri’s vision and leadership in kihêw waciston and the programs and events supporting our Indigenous initiatives across campus is a great asset to our students, staff and university community. Terry will receive her award at a ceremony this fall.

2020 Board of Governors Research Chairs

Congratulations to Dr. Cristina Anton and Dr. Fernando Angulo-Ruiz who were recently named Board of Governors research chairs. This program recognizes our faculty members who are committed to engaging our students and community within their research, and mentoring and leading our next generation of researchers and scholars. With these appointments, we will have four current research chairs, including Dr. Shelley Boulianne and Dr. Erin Walton, whose terms run from 2019 to 2021. Congratulations!

2020 Distinguished Teaching and Research Awards

Last week, Tanya Heuver (assistant professor, nursing practice), Dr. Samuel Mugo (associate professor, physical sciences), Neeraj Prakash (sessional faculty member, English) and Dr. Andrea Wagner (assistant professor, political science) were announced as the recipients of the 2020 Distinguished Teaching Awards. Chosen through nominations from students, staff and faculty, these awards recognize the heart, effort and commitment to teaching and supporting our students. I am very pleased to congratulate all of the recipients on this award.

Dr. Christopher Striemer, associate professor in the Department of Psychology, was also awarded the 2020 Dr. Sherrill Brown Distinguished Research Award. Nominated by peers, this award represents leadership and a demonstrated commitment to their research program. Congratulations, Dr. Striemer.

Academic leadership changes

I would like to acknowledge and thank all of our faculty members who are stepping into new roles to lead our schools, faculties and programs over the 2020/21 academic year and beyond. I know that with our leadership core focused on our students and the student experience, MacEwan is well positioned to continue as an institution focused on supporting our students, their learning experiences and in developing graduates who will work to shape the future of Alberta.

Bachelor of Science – Chemistry major

We are very pleased to have received confirmation that the Ministry of Advanced Education has completed its review of our proposal for a new chemistry specialization in the Bachelor of Science program for implementation on July 1, 2020. This new major will be offered beginning in the Fall term, enhancing our Bachelor of Science program and offering students more choice in their focus of study. Thank you to Dr. Matthew Ross, Dr. Samuel Mugo and their colleagues in physical sciences, as well as Naomi Beke, who coordinated the request in the Faculty of Arts and Science dean’s office, for their work to have the chemistry major approved.

Public Relations diploma

As part of our efforts to enhance our offerings, the Public Relations Diploma program, which currently resides within the School of Business, will move to the Faculty of Fine Arts and Communication (FFAC) effective July 1, 2020. Graduates of this diploma program may be granted up to 63 credits to MacEwan University’s Bachelor of Communication Studies program, which resides within FFAC. The decision to move the program was made to align communications programming and better support students in their continuing studies.

Athletics program announcement

While the recent announcement of the cancellation and delay of athletics programs by Canada West is disappointing, we support the decision knowing that it is in the best interest of our student athletes and athletic staff. We are continuing to work through the specifics of those decisions and make plans for our athletics programs for fall. My thoughts are with our student athletes and the staff who support them, who have worked so hard to get to play a sport they love at a university level. We remain committed to our athletics program as we make plans for future play. More information will be provided as we work through the plans for the 2020/21 season.

Operational updates

On July 1, the university will revert to the structure that was in place prior to me assuming the acting president role last summer. I will continue as vice-president, Resources and People and acting president until Dr. Trimbee arrives in early August. With this transition, Human Resources will return to the vice-president, Resources and People portfolio, which also includes Campus Services, Facilities, Information Technology and Finance.

Upon my retirement this fall, the portfolio will be renamed Finance and Administration. An executive search is currently underway and we hope to fill the vice-president, Finance and Administration and chief financial officer role in late fall. Upon arrival, the new vice-president will bring their perspectives on process improvement and continued realignment of the financial management functions and will take on the leadership of this transition.

Functional reviews

Several functional reviews were undertaken this past year as part of efforts to look at efficiencies in operations and enhance service delivery in areas such as financial management, administrative support services, technology support and student advising.

Financial management review

Implementation of the recommendations from the Financial Management Review has taken more time than expected as a result of the complexity of the COVID-19 situation and the decision to move forward with the recruitment of a vice-president, Finance and Administration and chief financial officer, who will be responsible for the financial portfolio.

To date, some of the operational and functional recommendations by the consultant have been made, including confirmation that the expense, procurement and contract services will remain within Finance to enable greater integration of the procure-to-pay processes with the university's overall financial management function. In May, the university’s payroll function transitioned to Human Resources and is now integrated into the Employee Services team.

Student advising review

The Student Advising Model Review is in its final stages and the new advising model will be in place for July, ahead of the Fall term. Karen Ravagnolo has accepted the position of manager, academic advising, reporting to the associate vice-president, Students and Teaching. Karen has served as faculty school advisor in the Faculty of Arts and Science, holds both an honours BA and a master’s degree from the University of Alberta, and served as the administrative professional officer for the Centre for Teaching and Learning at U of A.

Currently, work is underway to define the processes and procedures that will ensure that advisors have the support they need to be successful. The new model focuses on the student experience, as always, and we will continue to evaluate and make adjustments over the next several months to ensure that both advisors and students are supported.

The new model will operate with a central general advising office for students while program-specific advisors will remain within most schools and faculties. The central general advising office will provide a wider range of student support in a centralized location for students, including those in general studies. The new central general advising office will be located in the former kihêw waciston space in Building 7, Room 7-131.

My thanks to everyone who has been a part of these reviews and who have worked to enhance and align our functions across the university.

Students Association of MacEwan University executive changes

It is a pleasure to extend congratulations to the new Students’ Association of MacEwan University (SAMU) executive members, Alycia Stewart, Ruan Bouwer, Stephanie Ouellette and Myles Dykes, as well continuing members Aubrianna Snow as vice-president, student life and Sean Waddingham in his new role of SAMU president.

I would also like to thank the outgoing executive members, Cole Baker and Andrea Turner. It has been a pleasure working with them both and it is our hope that their time with SAMU has been a valuable experience they will continue to build on. We thank them for their contributions to their fellow students and to the university community as a whole. We wish them all the best in their future endeavors.

The university senior executive team is very proud of the work that we have done together with SAMU, including the opening of the Students’ Association of MacEwan University Building. We look forward to continuing to work in collaboration with SAMU and the new and returning executive members.


Around campus – looking back

Over the last several months there have been many accomplishments and reasons to celebrate. It is easy to forget the many exciting things that happened, so I would like to take a look back at some of the highlights.

SAMU building

As I mentioned earlier, in February the Students’ Association of MacEwan University (SAMU) hosted the official grand opening of the SAMU building. The vision of what is now the SAMU building formed in 2015, the official groundbreaking took place in April 2017 and after almost five years of hard work and dedication from past and present SAMU executives, our Facilities teams and the university, the vision of our outstanding student leaders came to life. The open, flowing design of the building has become one of the most integral parts to our campus, ensuring that SAMU and our students are physically connected and at the heart of our campus. The university is very grateful to have been a part of this project and to see all the great support that SAMU will continue to offer our students with this new space.

TV Studio launch

February also saw the opening of our very own TV studio – an important tool that will enhance students’ learning experiences and provide a place for hands-on learning in digital media production and storytelling. The studio will also allow for practical skill-building opportunities with students covering live events and producing public affairs shows and documentaries that engage the whole university and the larger community.

Citizenship ceremony

On February 14, MacEwan hosted a citizenship ceremony organized by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship at the City Centre Campus. Myrna Khan, vice-president of University Relations, was on hand to provide remarks on behalf of the university. We were very proud to have hosted the ceremony on our campus and to have been a part of welcoming some of our newest Canadian citizens!

Pride Week

On March 2, our senior leadership team and I joined in the opening ceremonies for MacEwan’s Pride Week. I am very proud of the strides we are making towards inclusion on our campus and in our university community. We remain committed to providing ongoing education and support in developing our future leaders with the perspectives, openness and acceptance for our peers. Thank you to the organizers, including Dr. Kristopher Wells, for their dedication to and support for our LGBTQ2S+ students, staff and faculty.

Moving forward

Our priorities

As we move into the next phase of planning and working within our new structures, along with COVID-19 recovery, we are focusing on succession planning and leadership, financial planning and ongoing organizational effectiveness within our operations. We will also work within our Campus Master Plan to continue to improve teaching and learning spaces for students.

As you may be aware, this fall the Ministry of Advanced Education is scheduled to begin a review to develop a renewed strategy for post-secondary education in Alberta entitled, Alberta 2030: Transforming Post-Secondary Education. The outcomes for the review will likely see some changes for the post-secondary sector, and possibly to institutions themselves. Along with providing input into the review, I will recommend that Dr. Trimbee consider a review of the university’s academic programs that aligns with the provincial system review.

Additionally, as Dr. Trimbee begins her role and gets to know MacEwan, I am sure she will begin to shape our priorities to align with a renewed vision for the university’s next five years.

MacEwan’s 50th anniversary

2021 is the 50th anniversary of MacEwan University, a significant milestone in our history, which will bring many reasons to celebrate our past, our present and our future. The work we do today will shape the next 50 years and set forth many opportunities to grow and develop as a community, an institution and as an integral part of Alberta’s future.

Plans are underway to develop a celebration and recognition of our history, and to leverage this important milestone in a way that strengthens the university’s position as Edmonton's downtown university, engages alumni and leaders to support student success, and provides opportunities for donors to invest in the institution and our current and future students.

In closing

This fall will bring an exciting new chapter in MacEwan’s history, and with it a new path forward in a world that has seen much change over the past several months. In this time of transition, we can reflect on the many great things that we have learned and build on our strengthened connection to our university community, whether as a student, alum, faculty member or staff member. There are many great things to come for MacEwan as we continue to build our legacy and work to contribute to the revitalization and recovery of Edmonton and Alberta.

As I close, I would once again like to thank our faculty and staff, students, alumni and friends for their patience, understanding and most of all for their support over the last several months. I know many of us are feeling the effects of an unprecedented start to 2020. I hope that you have a restful summer, and take time to reset, recharge and spend time with family and friends while staying safe.

As always, please be well,

John McGrath
Acting President

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