Western Alumni

In Brief

A collection of brief news stories highlighting key moments at Western over the past year.

In Brief

Research targets COVID-19 variants of concern

Corby Fink
Postdoctoral fellow Corby Fink, PhD, works inside the Level 3 biocontainment lab as part of Western's ImPaKT facility.

Using state-of-the-art imaging capabilities, researchers at Western’s Imaging Pathogens for Knowledge Transmission (ImPaKT) Facility are using fluorescent markers attached to the COVID-19 virus in animals to learn how variants of concern grow and hide in the body.

This work will help inform how new vaccine derivatives and therapeutics can be used to strengthen our protection against all forms of COVID-19.

The ImPaKT team is one of a handful in Canada working with the live COVID-19 virus, and their findings will be shared with the Coronavirus Variant Rapid Response Network.


Western launches new climate change major

There is no planet B
Photo by Markus Spiske/Pexels

The climate crisis is one of the most urgent challenges of our lifetime, and one of the biggest concerns for today’s youth.

“It’s going to be a big part of their lives because they’ll be the ones responding to it,” said professor James Voogt, chair of the department of geography and environment. “But they’re energized to take action.”

A new major at Western, Climate Change and Society, aims to harness that passion.

First of its kind in Canada, the program concentrates on the human dimensions of climate change and the associated consequences, challenges and responses. The wide-ranging impact of climate change will be studied across many disciplines, including anthropology, biology, economics, history, philosophy, political science and sociology.


New EDI initiatives supported with $6-million investment

Middlesex College
Middlesex College (Photo by Andrew Campbell)

Western is investing $6 million to support new equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives.

“This funding signifies Western’s deep commitment to pursuing meaningful, systemic change as we work together to embed EDI principles into the institutional structure of the university,” said Sarah Prichard, acting provost and vice-president (academic).

Initial funding of $4 million has been earmarked for the recruitment of Black and Indigenous faculty members.

A one-time allocation of $1 million will support the EDI Pathways program, which aims to enhance instructors’ skills in inclusive education.

With the remaining $1 million in funding, the Office of Indigenous Initiatives will create a library of resources accessible to all faculty, and a new Indigenous curriculum developer role will facilitate the respectful integration of these resources into courses.


‘Perseverance’ pays off

NASA's Perseverance rover
NASA's Perseverance Rover (Illustration by NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Raymond Francis, PhD’14 (Engineering), is part of the NASA team that successfully landed the Perseverance space rover on Mars earlier this year.

“I’ve been very fortunate to work on such exciting projects,” he said. “Even if you operate planetary missions on a daily basis, a Mars landing isn’t an everyday event.”

Since its landing, Francis and the other engineers on the science operations team have been directing the rover in its quest to collect rock and soil samples that can be sealed and stored for a possible return to Earth.


$5.5 million gift expands entrepreneurship opportunities

Pierre L. Morrissette
Pierre Morrissette (Photo by Geoff Robins)

Western students in every faculty can now benefit from entrepreneurial support and education thanks to a visionary gift of $5.5 million from the Pierre L. Morrissette Family Foundation.

The gift brings two decades of entrepreneurship research, education and programming created at Ivey Business School to students in all disciplines, and to entrepreneurs at every stage of their journey. The Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship will create a single ecosystem, leadership structure and brand across campus – all under the guidance of a consolidated advisory board.

“Entrepreneurship has been very successful at Ivey,” said Pierre Morrissette, MBA’72, LLD’10, executive chairman of Pelmorex Corp. “Now we’re going to take that energy and enthusiasm for entrepreneurship across all faculties, providing an opportunity for students in engineering, in health sciences, in music, to create businesses, to commercialize knowledge and to convert that energy into realizable success.”


Interactive dashboard tracks COVID-19 cases in schools

Prachi Srivastava
Prachi Srivastava (Photo by Nicole Osborne)

Education professor Prachi Srivastava launched an interactive tool to report and map confirmed school-related cases of COVID-19 in Ontario.

The tool, dubbed the COVID-19 School Dashboard, connects real-time case data with other school-specific data.

“The effects of COVID-19 are more severe on high-risk communities, populations and schools,” said Srivastava. “Visualizing COVID-19 case data with data on school social background characteristics will give us a better understanding of the composition of affected schools.”

Learn more about Western’s multi-disciplinary COVID-19 research: westernu.ca/covidnext


Creating more work experiences for students

Business and Higher Education Roundtable
Photo by Geoff Robins

Western has joined The Business + Higher Education Roundtable (BHER), a national consortium of business, university, college and polytechnic partners aiming to create more work experience opportunities for young Canadians. President Alan Shepard will serve as the university’s representative on BHER.

“Students have been profoundly impacted by the loss of job opportunities and work-integrated learning placements throughout this pandemic,” said Dave McKay, MBA’92, LLD’19, president and CEO of RBC and chair of BHER. “In response, we have a historic opportunity in front of us to take a more progressive approach to lifelong learning and keep reinventing our higher-education system – better linking workplaces and classrooms.”


Honouring the lives of Madiha Salman and Salman Afzaal

Afzaal family
Photo by Rachel Lincoln

Madiha Salman was an accomplished engineer, fiercely committed to equality and devoted to her family. She was working towards her PhD in civil engineering, having arrived at Western in 2009 to complete her Master of Engineering Science.

Her husband, Salman Afzaal, filled with similar determination to succeed, earned his master’s in health sciences from Western in 2010.

Together, they had come to Canada from Pakistan with hopes of a better future for their family.

The entire Western community and all of Canada expressed shock, anger and grief following a hate crime on June 6, 2021 that claimed Madiha’s and Salman’s lives, along with those of their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna, and Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother.

In July, Western announced the establishment of two scholarships to honour their memories: the Madiha Salman Memorial Scholarship in Civil and Environmental Engineering will go each year to a full-time female graduate student enrolled in a civil and environmental engineering doctoral or master’s program; and the Salman Afzaal Memorial Scholarship in Physical Therapy, to be awarded each year to a full-time graduate student enrolled in a doctoral or master’s program in health and rehabilitation sciences. Preference will be given to a student involved in leadership, research and/or innovation in physical therapy.


Western moves up in world rankings

Middlesex College
Middlesex College (Photo by Steve Anderson)

Western has moved well into the top 200 of the QS World University Rankings, which assesses institutions based on reputation, teaching, research/scholarship and global outreach.

The 2022 rankings, released in June 2021, placed Western 170th worldwide – advancing by 33 spots from its previous position among more than 1,300 universities from 90 countries.

The Times Higher Education’s Impact Rankings, released in April 2021, positioned Western in the top five percent of more than 1,100 universities from 94 countries and regions, based on their commitment to sustainable development.


Former York exec named Western's VP, University Advancement

Jeff O'Hagan
Jeff O'Hagan (Photo by Geoff Robins)

Alumnus Jeff O’Hagan has been appointed Western’s vice-president (university advancement).

O’Hagan, BA’93, began his university advancement career at Western – first as director of gift planning and then as director of development at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. He then went on to become chief executive officer of the Sunnybrook Foundation and vice-president of advancement at York University.

“The thrilling part about working in advancement,” O’Hagan said, “is working for the next generation of leaders who will change the world.”