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Six of Canada's finest to receive honorary degrees

May 29, 2008

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Nelly Auersperg
Doctor of Science honoris causa, Wednesday, June 4, 9:45 am         

With a medical career spanning more than 50 years, Nelly Auersperg has made major contributions to women’s health research concerning the causes and progression of cancers of the female reproductive organs.

A longtime UBC professor and one of the first Terry Fox research scientists with the National Cancer Institute of Canada, her internationally acclaimed research aims to understand the biology and pathophysiology of cancer cells in order to improve methods of cancer detection and treatment.

Among her major contributions to cancer research is the development of cervical cancer cell lines, which aided in the discovery of human papilloma virus (HPV) as the cause of cervical cancer.

Auersperg has also received worldwide recognition for the characterization of the normal precursor cells that give rise to epithelial ovarian carcinomas — the primary cause of death from gynecologic cancers in the developed world.

Still going strong, Auersperg’s current research involves analyzing the basis for pre-malignant changes in the ovary, using genetic manipulations. The work has led to the discovery of several potential early diagnostic markers.

In 2000, she was honoured with the establishment of the Nelly Auersperg Award in women’s health research. She was presented with UBC’s Faculty of Medicine lifetime achievement award in 2007.

William Gibson
Doctor of Letters honoris causa, Thursday, June 5, 2:30 pm

William Gibson is perhaps best known for the term "cyberspace," a term he coined in his 1982 story Burning Chrome and popularized in his wildly popular 1984 first novel Neuromancer, which earned him the prestigious Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick science-fiction literary awards and has sold more than 6.5 million copies.

The novel helped revolutionize the way society looks at the future. Rolling Stone magazine named Gibson science fiction’s hottest author and Wikipedia dubs him the father of the "cyberpunk" subgenre of science fiction. His ideas have been cited as "an influence on science fiction authors, in academia, cyberculture and technology."

Gibson himself says he has never had any special relationship with technology — and in fact wrote Neuromancer on a typewriter. But, as he reminds visitors to his Internet blog, "that’s what everyone used in 1977."


An avid writer, Gibson says he spends about "exactly as much time actually writing as the average person my age has spent watching television."

The author of numerous anthologies, Gibson has also written for the large and small screen and his works have been adapted to video games. His latest novels, Pattern Recognition (2003) and Spook Country (2007) have again placed him on mainstream bestseller lists.

Gibson, who was born in South Carolina, came to Canada in 1967 and earned a bachelor’s degree from UBC. He eventually settled in Vancouver where he still lives.

Rick Hansen
Doctor of Laws honoris causa, Friday, June 6, 2:30 pm

Rick Hansen wheeled through some of the world’s most trying peaks and valleys during his 1985-87 "Man in Motion" world tour. But for a time his biggest challenge was Burnaby Mountain — a training climb he often made with another Canadian hero, his friend Terry Fox.

"Terry and I used to wheel up Gaglardi Way from Lougheed Highway to the top of SFU," recalls the paraplegic athlete and activist whose Rick Hansen Foundation will host the 6th annual Wheels in Motion event June 8 in communities across Canada.

"We would do weights and shoot basketballs (at Chancellor’s Gym) before wheeling down together. It was a great facility and there were excellent people who accommodated us at a time when people with disabilities were still entering into the mainstream of society."

Hansen, whose foundation has raised more than $200 million for spinal cord injury-related programs and initiatives, feels a strong emotional connection and history with SFU because of the time he spent with Fox. "We shared common goals and endeavours and our friendship was deepened during the time we spent pursuing our athletics at SFU."

Long after his time at SFU with Terry, Hansen continued to train three times a week on the hill for track and wheelchair marathons.

"The hill to SFU is very symbolic to me for what it represents in terms of the potential we all have to reach our goals — the importance of stretching your boundaries and pushing yourself to reach your personal best."

Michael Kirby
Doctor of Laws honoris causa, Thursday, June 5, 9:45 am

Five years ago, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology under the leadership of Senator Michael Kirby, undertook the first-ever national study of mental health, mental illness and addiction.

The project’s final phase involved more than 50 meetings and more than 130 hours of hearings, with witness testimony filling more than 2,000 pages. Senator Kirby and the committee travelled to every province and territory to hear first-hand accounts — and supplemented the hearings with e-consultations that gathered hundreds of individual stories on the committee’s website.

The result was a revealing report called Out of the Shadows at Last: Transforming Mental Illness and Addiction Services in Canada. The committee reaffirmed the need for a mental health commission, which was formed in 2007 with Kirby at the helm.

Kirby said the announcement of the commission drew "widespread enthusiasm" along with numerous proposals for collaborations.

During the cross-country hearings, Kirby said he was struck by the stigma around mental illness, particularly in children, and expressed hope that the report would help policy makers and politicians understand the need to devote more resources to children’s mental health.

Before entering government in 1970, Kirby was a business professor at Dalhousie University and a faculty member of business schools at the University of Chicago and the University of Kent, in England.

Susan Point
Doctor of Fine Arts honoris causa, Wednesday, June 4 at 2:30 pm

Susan Point grew up in a family that actively celebrated its cultural heritage. Her parents used the Salish language Halkomelem at home on Vancouver’s Musqueam reserve. At 29, she decided to study jewelry making and serigraphy (silkscreening) and strongly identified herself as a Coast Salish artist.

At the time, traditional Coast Salish art had all but disappeared. Point joined a small group of artists who shared a common interest in reviving their culture’s design traditions — though little scholarly work on Coast Salish art had been done.

Point did her own research. As she writes in her artist’s statement, "I, a Coast Salish artist, devoted a great deal of time to researching, trying to revive the art form, attempting to educate the public and my children to the fact that there is another form of native art unique to B.C."

Considered sacred, Salish art had rarely been seen by outsiders.

Over the years, Point has been awarded numerous public art commissions. Her work welcomes visitors to Vancouver International airport and can be found in public and corporate buildings on both sides of the border.

In 2004, she was commissioned by the Government of Canada to create a gift to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the opening of the new National Museum of the American Indian. Her sculpture, The Beaver and the Mink, is in the museum’s front entrance area.

The following year she was commissioned to do a public art installation for the Seattle Children’s hospital, called Continuing Cycle of Life, which was installed in 2006.

Mossadiq Umedaly
Doctor of Laws honoris causa, Tuesday, June 3 at 2:30 pm

Mossadiq Umedaly, who chairs B.C. Hydro and Xantrex Technology Inc. and is a former chief financial officer and vice president of fuel-cell pioneer Ballard Power Systems, is a leader and innovator.

He transformed Xantrex from a small niche player to a world leader in advanced power electronics. Under his leadership the company’s revenue grew from $10 million in 1998 to an estimated $230 million in 2007.

In 2004, at the request of B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, Umedaly led an initiative to create a vision for a sustainable British Columbia. He was later appointed to lead the Alternative Energy and Power Technology Task Force. The government has since adopted most of the task force recommendations in the province’s Clean Air Initiatives and Energy Plan.

As part of the initiative, Umedaly formed and chaired the Power Technology Alliance, which was recently incorporated into the B.C. Technology Industry Association to bring B.C. power technology companies together to effect policy change and build a sustainable power-technology cluster in the province.

Umedaly came to Canada from Uganda in 1970 as a university student and later, as a refugee. Giving back to the community has always played an important role in his endeavours, including his involvement in organizations such as the Aga Khan Foundation, the B.C. Cancer Agency, Focus International, the Uganda Clubfoot Project and the Canadian Network for International Surgery.

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