media release

New student centre named for 98-year-old mentor

October 10, 2012

Rummana Khan Hemani, Student Success, 778.782.4396;
Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.9017/604.209.5770;

Thelma Finlayson
Photos on Flickr


Note: Thelma Finlayson can be available for interviews during Thursday’s opening.

Enriching the student experience is at the heart of Simon Fraser University’s new Thelma Finlayson Centre for Student Engagement, to be unveiled Oct. 11 in the Maggie Benston Centre at the Burnaby campus.

Named for the 98-year-old former SFU biology professor who spent nearly four decades after retirement advising as many as 8,000 struggling learners, the space will be devoted to student success.

The centre is fittingly named given Finlayson’s “boundless generosity and compassion towards students” as a volunteer advisor, says Rummana Khan Hemani, director of Student Success. It was inspired by SFU’s strategic focus on improving the overall quality of the undergraduate student experience.

The centre’s official opening, to be attended by Finlayson, will take place on Thursday from 3-5 p.m. in MBC Room 2000. “I was so surprised to learn that they were naming the centre after me, I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “All I know is, this will be good for the students.”

Finlayson helped establish SFU’s first Academic Advising Centre and worked along with staff to support the welfare and academic success of students. “I think students today need our help, more than ever,” she says.

SFU President Andrew Petter agrees. “We’re here to educate and engage students and help them to become not only job-ready, but life-ready,” he says.

The new centre will provide a highly visible, centralized and welcoming space where students can receive personalized information, guidance and advice on academics and co-curricular learning opportunities, notes Tim Rahilly, associate V-P, students.

“We’re excited about opening the centre and enhancing our engagement with students,” says Rahilly. “The space and its programs and services will offer more opportunities for students and support student-led initiatives.”

Trisha Dulka, a 20-year-old world literature major, will be one of several student engagement peers working at the centre. She says peer support will offer students an opportunity to speak to someone “in the same shoes” and who can relate to them.

“Most students just want to find someone who’ll listen,” says Finlayson, who graduated with honours from the University of Toronto in 1936 and was one of the first women scientists to work with the federal government’s research branch.

“Often when students begin university they feel lost, they’re away from home, everything is different, and it’s not always easy to cope.

“The students all share a similar desire to do well. I tried to help them feel a little more confident. I never judged, I just listened, and showed them some options. I told them, ‘you’re adults now, it’s up to you to choose.’”

A renowned entomologist and a founder of SFU’s pest management program, Finlayson made the twice-weekly post-retirement trips to campus – by taxi when she could no longer drive – until three years ago when, at 95, she was no longer physically able to do so.

“Helping others makes me feel good,” adds Finlayson, a member of the Order of Canada, who received a YWCA Women of Distinction award in 2007 and an honorary degree from SFU in 1996. “I’ve always thought more about others than myself, I’ve just never doubted doing that. I was born that way.”

Simon Fraser University is Canada's top-ranked comprehensive university and one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 120,000 alumni in 130 countries.


Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.

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