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University of Alberta names its 12th president-Dr. Indira Samarasekera

By Richard Cairney

November 5, 2004 The University of Alberta today named Dr. Indira Samarasekera as its 12th president. Samarasekera begins her five-year term in June.

Samarasekera was introduced to media and members of the campus community at a news conference this afternoon, which was held after the university's Board of Governors unanimously approved her appointment. At the event, Samarasekera said university presidents in Canada must promote increased funding levels, which have dropped dramatically in the past decade.

"Public funding for Canada's universities has been significantly eroded and must be restored," she said, pointing out that while funding to public universities in the U.S. has increased by 25 per cent since 1980, it has dropped by 20 per cent in Canada.

Samarasekera, who is currently the vice-president (research) at the University of British Columbia, said her priorities will be to address funding issues (which ultimately affect tuition and accessibility), enhance the undergraduate learning experience by taking advantage of the university's research strengths, and build on the university's "extraordinary research excellence."

She said she hopes to see a "creative climate where risk-taking and creative research is not only supported, but fostered." The university, she said, should be "a cauldron of new discoveries and new ideas."

A renowned engineer, Samarasekera also bemoaned the level of research funding in the arts and humanities. "My education, being an engineer, was sadly lacking in the humanities," she said, noting that the importance of the arts, humanities and social sciences cannot be understated. Well-rounded students are conversant in many disciplines, she said. The university will educate leaders of tomorrow and will be positioned as "a global think tank."

The university is on "an extraordinary journey," travelling along a road that most universities don't take. "It is a road marked by daring, discovery, and distinction," she said.

Jim Edwards, chair of the Board of Governors and the university's presidential search committee, said Samarasekera was a natural choice for president. "We are indeed fortunate that such an esteemed academic and administrator has agreed to lead our great institution," he said

And Samarasekera said there was no question in her mind that she wanted to come to the U of A. "It is one of the great Canadian universities. No other university has advanced so much in a decade . . . I'm trying to finds words that are appropriate to express what an honour this is but there aren't any."

Samarasekera will become the university's first woman president. She succeeds Dr. Rod Fraser, whose second five-year term as president draws to a close in June.

Dr. Martha Piper, president of UBC, called Samarasekera "a truly visionary leader".

Samarasekera has held the position of vice-president (research) at UBC since May 2000. During her term, infrastructure and funding for research at the university increased significantly. She has spearheaded several new initiatives to enhance the quality of support for researchers at the Point Grey and four hospital campuses.

A tireless advocate for research across all fields, Samarasekera has facilitated major research projects in the humanities, social, natural, applied and health sciences through the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the granting councils.

A strong supporter of graduate students, Samarasekera has also taken steps to enhance the participation of undergraduate students in research. She has also played a role provincially and nationally to enhance funding for research. Support for technology transfer has also expanded during her tenure.

A distinguished researcher, Samarasekera received her BSc honours in mechanical engineering from the University of Ceylon in 1974, an MS in mechanical engineering from the University of California in 1976 as a Hayes Fulbright Scholar, and a PhD in metallurgical engineering from the University of British Columbia in 1980.

A professor in the UBC Department of Materials Engineering, Samarasekera has served as the director for the Centre for Metallurgical Process Engineering. She was the first incumbent of the Dofasco Chair in Advanced Steel Processing at UBC. To facilitate knowledge-transfer to industry, Samarasekera has consulted extensively for industry and participated in 60 short courses on steel processing at companies around the world.

Samarasekera is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Mining Metallurgy and Petroleum. She is a recipient of numerous other honours, including the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship, the British Columbia Science Council New Frontiers in Research Award, the Dofasco Award, the Golden Jubilee Medal, the UBC Killam Research Prize, and 10 best paper awards with co-workers.

Samarasekera was a member of the Council of the National Research Council of Canada, a member of the National Advisory Board on Minerals and Metals, and NSERC's Reallocation Committee (1997). She was a vice-president of the Royal Society of Canada in 2003 and is a member of the Fellows Selection Committee for Applied Science and Engineering. She has also served on the Killam Selection Committee for the Canada Council for the Arts, the board of TRIUMF, the International Review Committee for the Ontario Challenge Fund, and is a member of the Science and Engineering Advisory Committee of the Alberta Ingenuity Fund.

Samarasekera is broadly engaged in fostering research and knowledge transfer and currently serves on the boards of Discovery Parks Inc., Genome BC, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, the Provincial Health Services Authority, the Canadian Microelectronics Corporation, The Stem Cell Network, and the Canadian Genetics Diseases Network. She is a member of Industry Canada's University Advisory Group and the Sustainable Development Technology Fund. Samarasekera is on presidential advisory committees at MIT and Carnegie Mellon University.

Samarasekera was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka and immigrated to Canada in 1977. She has two children, Dinesh, 25, and Anjalika, 22, both recent graduates of Queen's University.



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