SFU honours six changemakers with honorary degrees

June 10, 2019

During the spring 2019 convocation ceremonies June 11-14, SFU will grant degrees to almost 4,900 students. As well, the university will grant honorary degrees to six distinguished individuals whose inspiring accomplishments are making a difference in the world. 

Dava Sobel

Doctor of Science, honoris causa

Tuesday, June 11, 9:45 a.m. ceremony


Dava Sobel is an award-winning former science reporter for The New York Times and an author whose many best-selling books have made an outstanding contribution to the public’s understanding and appreciation of science, and of women in science. Her books include LongitudeGalileo’s Daughter and The Planets. Her latest book, The Glass Universe (2106) shines a light on women in astronomy. Sobel’s books have inspired an Emmy-winning “NOVA” TV docudrama, two plays produced in England, and a made-for-TV movie. She has shared her knowledge and love of writing and science during several stints as a visiting scholar and writer-in-residence, and has lectured at many prominent institutions, including NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, the Smithsonian Institution and the American Academy in Rome. She holds many awards for her ability to engage the public’s interest in science.

Joe Schwarcz

Doctor of Science, honoris causa

Tuesday, June 11, 2:30 p.m. ceremony


McGill University professor Joe Schwarcz is an award-winning chemist whose passion for his subject, and for science in general, extends to informative and entertaining public lectures, media appearances and books on topics ranging from the chemistry of love to the science of aging. As director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, he strives to separate sense from nonsense. He has received numerous awards for teaching and for interpreting science to the public and is the only non-American to win the American Chemical Society’s Grady-Stack Award for demystifying chemistry. He holds the 2010 Montreal Medal from the Canadian Chemical Institute for his lifetime contributions to chemistry in Canada, and the 2015 Balles Prize for critical thinking from the U.S.-based Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. An amateur magician, Schwarcz often spices up his presentations with a little magic.

Chief Robert Joseph

Doctor of Laws, honoris causa

Wednesday, June 12, 2:30 p.m. ceremony


Chief Robert Joseph, O.B.C., O.C. is a peace-builder who has devoted his life to promoting reconciliation among Canada’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. A hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation, he is a survivor of the residential school system and helped found Reconciliation Canada, for which he is now an ambassador. He sits on the National Assembly of First Nations Elders Council and chairs the Native American Leadership Alliance for Peace and Reconciliation. He is also peace and reconciliation ambassador with the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IFWP), where he engages with international leaders to learn from and share his understanding of faith, hope, healing and reconciliation. He holds many awards and honours, including SFU’s Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue.

Ruby Peter (Sti’tum’at)

Doctor of Laws, honoris causa

Thursday, June 13, 9:45 a.m. ceremony


Ruby Peter (Sti’tum’at) is a Coast Salish elder and one of the last remaining native speakers of her ancestral language, Hul’q’umi’num’. For six decades she has shared her cultural traditions as a language teacher and linguistic researcher.

She began her career as a translator and over the years has taught language students at all levels from pre-school to post-secondary. Since earning her diploma in indigenous languages in 1975, she has been documenting her language, creating lessons, stories and a dictionary. She is well-known as a public speaker, story-teller and language advocate. She is currently the lead consultant on four Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grants. At age 86, Peter still maintains a full schedule, assisting students in the SFU language proficiency programs and mentoring graduate students, training a new generation of language teachers.

Jennifer Wade

Doctor of Laws, honoris causa

Thursday, June 13, 2:30 p.m. ceremony


Jennifer Wade, who co-founded Vancouver’s Amnesty International chapter in 1974, is a justice advocate devoted to human rights, social justice and education. In the 1960s she worked in the American Civil Rights Movement alongside Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta, investigating civil rights cases. While living in Pakistan she strove to improve conditions in rural villages. And in Vancouver, she became a public spokesperson and champion for those unable to speak for themselves, including prisoners, children-in-care and immigrants and refugees. Now a retired university lecturer, she has funded several awards and scholarships for post-secondary students in need, as well as an annual award for SFU Scottish Studies students who have demonstrated community service. She has received a number of awards and distinctions, including the Order of B.C. 

Norman Armour

Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa

Friday, June 14, 9:45 a.m. ceremony


Norman Armour is a cultural visionary and dedicated arts advocate who has spent the past three decades creating a vibrant arts community in Vancouver. An alumnus of SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts (’86), he is an accomplished actor, performing arts curator, festival director, producer and interdisciplinary artist who has collaborated on more than 120 works for the stage and other media. He co-founded Vancouver’s Rumble Theatre and later established Vancouver’s popular PuSh International Performing Arts Festival to champion local, national and international artists and their works while also promoting local creative partnerships. He has served on the boards of many prominent Vancouver arts organizations and is currently a board member with the BC Arts Council, as well an external advisor for the City of Vancouver’s Creative City Strategy.