SFU PEOPLE IN THE NEWS - September 3, 2010

September 3, 2010

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A look at how Simon Fraser University and its people made news: August 27 to September 3, 2010.


  • Pete McMartin, a columnist with The Vancouver Sun, wrote a great profile about new Simon Fraser University student Afraj Gill. The piece comes with the appropriate headline: “Perfect grades and a perfectly nice kid.” Gill graduated this year from Enver Creek secondary school in Surrey, scoring a perfect 100 per cent in all seven courses he took. He was also class valedictorian, president of the school’s student council, and president of the graduation committee. In each of his four years of high school, his final grade average was either 99 per cent or 100 per cent. Also, Gill won 16 scholarships, totaling almost $100,000, including the Simon Fraser University Award, which is worth $34,000 by itself. Gill and his family immigrated to Canada from Chandigarh, India, 10 years ago and he saw the opportunities and challenges before him. Despite getting bullied in school and the language barrier, Gill pushed himself to succeed. "When I first started in school here – in Grade 2 – I was an ESL student. I could speak fundamental English but I still had a lot of problems. My grades were only so-so through elementary school, in the ’70s and ’80s." Gill did volunteer work and participated in extra-curricular activities in school. Then he would go home and do homework for 5-6 hours nightly and go to be at around midnight. "It was a lot of hard work," Gill said. "It was just having that constant feeling of wanting to do my very best. I'm having a lot of fun when I'm pushing myself to the furthest limits." He will be studying business this fall with an eye on getting his MBA from Harvard. Read McMartin’s column here:


  • The creation of five new regional universities in B.C. has not hurt SFU’s enrolment figures this year, Nancy Johnston told The Vancouver Sun. “Even in this highly competitive environment, we’ve done very well,” said SFU’s executive director of student affairs. “We’re ahead of our own projections.” The article said students seeking bachelor of arts degrees still favour research-intensive universities, while only 20 per cent choose smaller “teaching-intensive” universities, including the newcomers – University of the Fraser Valley, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Vancouver Island University, Capilano University, and Emily Carr University of Art and Design. According to the Student Transitions Project, “One-third of B.C. students who graduate from Grade 12 are eligible for university, and the percentage of those enrolling in bachelor-degree programs within a year of graduation has risen steadily over the past decade, to 55 per cent in fall 2009 from 44 per cent in 2002.” The provincial government established the project to collect and analyze data on B.C. public education. Research also showed Chinese and Punjabi students are more likely than their peers to enrol directly into post-secondary education after high school, with immediate-transition rates of 75.7 and 81.8 per cent, compared with 52.2 per cent for all students in 2008-09. Also, their participation rates in the years after high school continue to be above average. Johnson is not surprised. "We have a campus in Surrey and have many connections and good relationships with the Indo-Canadian communities,” she said. “And if you walk up to our Burnaby Mountain campus, it's just like walking through Metrotown." Another interesting note from the research shows students are losing interest in arts and sciences. Areas with significant enrolment growth include: business/management, construction/production, recreation, tourism and hospitality, and health/nursing.

  • The Province reports this fall could see a record number of students attending B.C. universities and colleges. According to the article, Ministry of Education figures show a record number of students – more than 440,000 – enrolled in public post-secondary schools last year, and those numbers are expected to increase this year. SFU registrar Kate Ross told the newspaper that recessions are “generally good” for post-secondary institutions, and there seems to be an overall increase of students going straight from high school to college or university. “More and more students are realizing that having a post-secondary education is important in terms of their long-term employablity,” said Ross. She added that SFU’s enrolment numbers are up one per cent compared to last year. Read the article:


  • While more than 30 million sockeye salmon are predicted to return to the Fraser River this year, SFU fish biologist John Reynolds continues to advise people to be cautious with their optimism. "I think the most prudent thing to do is to call this an anomaly, because clearly, we've never seen anything like it in anybody's lifetime," he said in the Coquitlam NOW. “What people should not take from this is any kind of sense that we're out of the woods with the Fraser sockeye. Every year is independent of the year before, and so it's not over. But what this is showing is that you can still have incredibly good news." Commercial fishermen have had a banner season so far on the Fraser. In comparison, only about 1.7 million sockeye returned last year. It’s still unclear as to why the fish are in huge numbers in 2010. Even with the recent good news, Reynolds said the federal government has to continue ensuring the sustainability of our fish stocks. "There is so much we don't understand about what governs the returns of these fish that I don't see any obvious way to very quickly assess where things are going to head," he said. "Unfortunately, we have to ride out each year as it comes, but make sure we are precautionary in the way we treat these fish, and that we safeguard their habitats." Reynolds was also interviewed by The Globe and Mail, CKWX, The Canadian Press, The Daily Townsman (Cranbrook, B.C.), and Broadcast News.


  • Cellular distraction: SFU communications professor Richard Smith disputes a report’s claim that cellphone conversations while driving can be detrimental to relationships. In a Postmedia News story, it says a report published in Family Science Review suggests “increased use of cellphones behind the wheel in recent years has led to similarly heightened perils to household harmony – given that many cellphone calls are to family members. The problem is that your attention is split between driving and talking and both suffer.” Paul Rosenblatt, a University of Minnesota professor, is also quoted in the article and says divided attention often leads important details to be missed during conversations and can result in “serious fallout” for couples in vulnerable relationships. While Smith agrees that most people cannot multi-task effectively, he sees the benefits of cellphone conversations while behind the wheel, believing that these calls are “making more relationships than breaking them.” In fact, he adds: “For every story of people being distracted, you have another of people making some vital connection over the phone.” The story also cites a recent poll of 2,252 people that found only 11 per cent of adults believed new technologies had negatively affected the closeness of their families. This article was published in several Postmedia News papers, including The Vancouver Sun, Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal, Calgary Herald, The Star Phoenix (Saskatoon), Leader Post (Regina), and Windsor Star.

  • Honoured: James Douglas is one of 53 people receiving the Order of Canada this week. According to a news release on, Douglas, who was instrumental in the founding and design of SFU’s publishing program, is a pioneer in book publishing in British Columbia and had a “profound influence on the industry as a whole.” He was also “a driving force behind the Association of Canadian Publishers (and) he worked tirelessly to promote Canadian writers and to urge businesses to think and aim beyond our borders.”

  • Two Port Coquitlam churches plan to help Tamil refugees who arrived in Canada illegally after a three-month ocean voyage from Sri Lanka last month, reports the Coquitlam NOW. Some believe there are terrorists – members of the Tamil Tigers organization – amongst the refugees and Canadian officials continue to process them. SFU international security expert Andre Gerolymatos doesn’t think there is any harm in the community providing assistance to the refugees. If anything, it will show Canadians are compassionate. "I think it's a really good plan. I'm sure that the government will be looking after housing for them, so they may not have to worry about paying their first month's rent. Maybe they could focus the money on getting them clothes and some things like that. I'm sure they'll be in need of that," said Gerolymatos. "I think it's a very good idea. It certainly shows that we are a welcoming community. I think that it will make them feel good, make them feel wanted." And if there were Tamil Tigers aboard the ship, officials still need to determine their level of involvement with the group. "But maybe those people are not terrorists as such, but just members of an organization which itself is terrorist. The majority of them are probably honest people who are trying to jump the queue and get to Canada. It's a loophole in our immigration policy. Right now, they're a drop in the bucket," Gerolymatos said. "I believe there are better ways for us to handle this, both for us and for them. These people spent three months on a leaky boat. Maybe it would have been better for them if Canada had set up a processing centre in their country.” This article was also published by The National Post, Victoria Times-Colonist, The Vancouver Sun, Leader Post (Regina), Maple Ridge Times, and Surrey NOW.

  • No worries: Gloria Gutman, research associate with SFU’s Gerontology Research Centre, told the Edmonton Sun that Canadians need not fear aging baby boomers will be a burden on the health-care system. The article referenced a Canadian Medical Association survey that says 80 per cent of Canadians “worry about the effect of the so-called silver tsunami. They're concerned that the quality of health care will drop due to the strain on the system by boomers. In addition, more than three-quarters of Canadians believe they'll have to pay more taxes so that the health-care system can provide services to boomers and 73 per cent of them don't think they'll have enough money to maintain their health as they age.” Gutman said it’s all a myth – the so-called “silver tsumani” does not exist. She points to new drugs and treatment procedures that are being developed which will help Canada’s seniors, but the elderly need to adopt healthy lifestyles and remain active. "If we can get the right messages to the right people so that they'll take more responsibility for their own health, then they should be able to go into old age being healthier,” said Gutman. "Don't expect," she warns, "that you can just take some kind of miracle pill that's going to keep you healthy."

  • Foot mystery: Another human foot was discovered in the Pacific Northwest this week, said The Globe and Mail. A tourist strolling along a beach on Whidbey Island in Washington state made the gruesome find – a foot with no shoe or sock that was complete with the exception of a few missing bones. This is the ninth human foot to be found in the area since 2007, the story said. Some previous feet have been linked to missing people. SFU forensic entomologist Gail Anderson told the newspaper “there has never been any credible indication that the feet could be linked to foul play and are more likely (to have) been found because media reports have made people more vigilant about the possibility of finding feet.” Anderson’s research has included submerging pigs in seawater to study the process of decomposition in the ocean. “The basic thing is that bodies disarticulate naturally in water due to animal activity and wave action and so in most cases when remains are found like this, it’s most likely a result of a sad accident or some other kind of tragedy rather than foul play,” said Anderson.

  • SFU evolutionary biology professor Bernard Crespi is quoted in The Globe and Mail article about how scientists have linked genetic “typos” to schizophrenia. The research is part of a multi-million dollar Canadian project to “identify hundreds of genes essential to communication between brain cells (and it) has led to the discovery that random mutations not inherited from either parent play a role in schizophrenia.” According to the article, the scientists’ work could lead to prenatal screening for schizonphrenia and also autism. Schizonphrenia affects one in 100 Canadians, while one in every 110 children have autism or a related condition. “This is showing us the first clear picture of new, quite bad genes entering the human genome and what they are and what kind of effects they have,” said Crespi.

  • A National Geographic ran a story about an archaeological find in Israel involving a burial feast for a mystery woman who was a member of the Natufian culture, which flourished between 11,600 and 15,000 years ago. Research shows the woman was the world’s earliest known shaman. The article said the woman was “considered a skilled sorcerer and healer, (and) she was likely seen as a conduit to the spirit world, communicating with supernatural powers on behalf of her community.” Mourners had a large feast of roasted tortoise meat and then placed the empty shells in the open grave located inside a cave. Other items, including a severed human foot, pelvis from a leopard, and a wing from a golden eagle, were also found. This discovery could show researchers the beginnings of such feasts and how the ritual has evolved today. Further investigation revealed the woman suffered from a deformed pelvis, which is consistent with historical accounts of shamans worldwide – in many cultures, shamans often had physical handicaps or suffered from some form of trauma. "It's not uncommon that people with disabilities, either mental or physical, are thought to have unusual supernatural powers,” said SFU archaeology professor Brian Hayden.


  • SFU public policy analyst Doug McArthur was kept busy again this week with media inquiries regarding the latest development in the HST battle. The heat on the provincial government was turned up when an FOI request revealed communications showing the HST was discussed with Ottawa bureacrats prior to the last election, contrary to what the B.C. Liberals claim. “The B.C. government clearly was looking at the HST before the election and voters do not believe the premier’s claim that it was not,” McArthur said on CTV News. “These kinds of misleading statements contribute to the decline in the trust of government and have been the main reason for the government’s loss of support in the polls, which has dropped in half.” CKNW, CBC-TV News, CBC-Radio’s B.C. Almanac also interviewed McArthur.


  • The RCMP defended itself in the Kamloops Daily News after four Mounties and three staff members were accused of watching two women have sex in a jail cell last month. Global BC reported the incident lasted almost an hour. Although Insp. Yves Lacasse would not confirm the incident occurred, he said: "When matters come to our attention, we don't turn a blind eye. We cannot sweep these things under the carpet. If our people do things wrong, (we) will not turn a blind eye." The media spotlight has been on the Kamloops RCMP detachment following a few other incidents recently, including one where two constables shot and killed someone “during a traffic stop gone bad.” Earlier, Rob Gordon, director of SFU criminology, told The Province the accusations levied against the Kamloops detachment are “more than simply bad luck.” He added: "Certainly in the last month there's been a couple of major events … which suggests that there is some sort of structural problem, or supervision problem, or some other difficulty at the Kamloops detachment.” According to the article, Lacasse said his detachment is a “model organization” and one that other B.C. police forces should follow. In response to Gordon’s comment, Lacasse said the criminologist’s statement was “unprofessional” and added, “his comments are out of line and ill-informed.” This article also appeared in The Vancouver Sun. also interviewed Gordon.

  • Gordon also commented on a story about the Vancouver Police Department reporting that sexual assaults in Vancouver increased by 21 per cent this year. VPD chief Jim Chu said 246 sexual assaults have been reported so far in 2010, up from the 213 in the same period last year. Despite the increase in statistics, Gordon said the number of reported sexual assaults is still low for a city of Vancouver’s size. "The statistics indicate a nasty little percentage increase, but the raw numbers are not that huge," he said.

  • Get tough: Former B.C. solicitor general Kash Heed and Gordon both agree changes must be made if the RCMP’s policing contract with the province is to be renewed two years from now. According to, Heed said local Mounties should answer directly to B.C. and not necessarily Ottawa, including the local communities they serve. He suggests the RCMP should be governed by the B.C. Police Act and report to community accountability boards. Gordon supports replacing the current “antiquated” structure but admits it will be difficult to get the Mounties to change their ways. "If they want to provide those services, then that's what they'll have to do. If they don't, then leave and we'll start our own provincial police service," Gordon said.


  • The Province reported philanthropist Djavad Mowafaghian donated $4 million to SFU’s new School for the Contemporary Arts at Woodward’s. When the campus opens later this month, it will have the 350-seat Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema and the Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre. “Mowafaghian made his fortune as a developer in Iran before he moved to Vancouver in 1987. His foundation has supported many projects in B.C. and around the world, including B.C. Children's Hospital,” said the article. The Vancouver Sun also had an article about the donation.

  • SFU associate professor Arne Eigenfeldt is excited for the fall semester when classes start in the Woodward’s building. In The Vancouver Sun, he said the new facility provides students with opportunities for a wide array of performances. "Our students are immensely creative and resourceful - they are trained to work with artists in other disciplines. You can bet that they are going to take full advantage of the incredible opportunities that our new building presents, with its many new performance spaces and exciting locations,” he said. An open house for the public is scheduled for Sept. 24-26


  • Corner office: Vancouver Sun columnist Malcolm Parry paid a visit to Burnaby Mountain and interviewed Andrew Petter. He profiled SFU’s new president who said this job is the biggest challenge he’s ever faced. Petter started his new job with some good news: Mowafaghian’s $4-million donation by Mowafaghian. Parry hinted that an even larger funding announcement is on the horizon. One of Petter’s priorities is to continue building relationships with communities. “This is a university that came down from the mountain to bring huge economic and academic benefits to the whole community,” said Petter, whose vision is to promote SFU as a comprehensive university known for teaching and research. “If we do that, it will be seen as the leader it has become and will continue to be.”

  • Social-media blitz: The Vancouver School District has big plans to connect with the public using social media, according to an article by The Vancouver Sun. School trustee Mike Lombardi says the district will use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs to “disseminate useful information, celebrate successes and spark conversations with parents, students and others about issues such as school closures, calendar changes and program innovations.” The school district hopes to be a leader in the K-12 sector, which has been slow to embrace social media. Post-secondary institutions, on the other hand, are much further ahead in the game and realize social media tools are necessary to reach their audiences. SFU web strategy manager Steve Ray said social media allows students to connect with real people. As for university staff, they are encouraged to let their personalities shine through in cyberspace. “We talk about other things besides just the school or education,” said Ray. SFU has more than 3,000 Facebook friends, almost 2,500 followers on Twitter, and 274 videos on its YouTube page.


  • The North Shore News profiled four SFU football playersfor the upcoming season. Gabe Ephard, Bo Palmer, Ryan Schwartz, and Jonathan Roney all hail from the North Shore and are competing for jobs at the team’s skill positions. Veterans Ephard and Palmer will help lead the attack. “They are 10s out of 10. As Gabe and Bo go, will go our offence. We’re very young at receiver so we’re going to lean on those two players,” said SFU coach Dave Johnson. "Both (Bo) and Gabe have the ability to score from anywhere on the field," he says. "Those guys have the element of speed and both of them will play and are going to make huge contributions to our team this year." There are five quarterbacks on the roster and both Schwartz and Roney are competing for the starting job. Johnson is confident both North Shore products have the ability and leadership to take control of the offence. Schwartz is the only one of the five QBs that was with the Clan last season. "Ryan is awesome, extremely athletic. He's become much more accurate and has really developed his arm strength,” said Johnson. “This year, more than all that development, he has really stepped into the role of leadership of our team. Being one of the few returning players -- and of course he's competing for the starting job -- he's been just tremendous for us in our locker room." As for Roney, he joins the Clan after transferring from the University of Waterloo. Back in high school, he led Handsworth secondary to a Double-A provincial football championship in 2007. "Jon certainly has the physique -- 6-5, 225 pounds, strong arm. He's played some college football so he has some experience," says Johnson. SFU starts the 2010 football season this Saturday against Western Oregon on Burnaby Mountain. Kickoff is 4 p.m.

  • Howard Tsumura from The Province wrote a preview of the SFU football team as it prepares to play its first game in the NCAA’s Division II. He compared head coach Johnson’s preparation for the football season to explorer Simon Fraser. “In a manner of speaking, you could say that Dave Johnson -- like Fraser some 200 years before him -- has been on his own kind of historic journey, mapping a path through uncharted territory while selling potential recruits on the dream of joining the first non-U.S. program in the history of the collegiate sports giant known as the NCAA,” he wrote. Johnson lost many players from last year’s squad and is coaching more than 50 new faces this year, including a number of American students who came to Canada for a chance to play in the NCAA. It was an amazing recruiting job by Johnson and his staff who sometimes had to explain where Vancouver was on the map. "They didn't know how to spell 'SFU' or where it even was," Johnson said of his recruiting trips across the border. "But the Olympics came at a perfect time. It was 'Oh, you don't know where Vancouver is? Oh, well just turn on NBC.' We were all over the news. Vancouver was showcased so nicely via the Olympics, so we banged that drum a bit and it worked nicely."

  • USA Today covered the quicker-than-expected transition for SFU’s move to the NCAA from the Canadian Interuniversity Sport system. SFU athletics director David Murphy explained the school is playing in the NCAA two years earlier than it should because it was expelled by the Canadian athletic conference it previously belonged to. "It was 'see you later, and don't let the door hit your butt when you're walking out,' " Murphy said of the Canada West action in USA Today. " That's why we're very happy to be where we are."


  • The Georgia Straight looked into the issue of privacy and social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. It reports Jennifer Stoddart, Canada’s privacy commissioner, has been investigating social media sites and their privacy policies, especially the practices of Facebook. According to the article, Stoddart’s office conducted two investigations and gave the popular social-media service a Sept. 1 deadline to make its privacy settings less complicated and easier for Canadian users to understand. SFU communication student Angela Cho is mentioned in the article, recalling her experience with Facebook’s privacy settings. She took a closer look to see who could see information and was surprised when her status updates were brought up by a friend. “I felt a little awkward about it, actually,” Cho said. “Sometimes Facebook is really convenient, but sometimes I don’t want to open up all my information to random people.”


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