SFU Surrey Gala Remarks

October 12, 2012

Edited Remarks
SFU Surrey Gala Dinner

Dale B. Regehr Grand Hall
SFU Surrey

Andrew Petter
Vice-President and Chancellor

I’d like to thank you for joining us this evening to celebrate the 10th anniversary of SFU Surrey.

Ten years!  A decade seems both improbably short and impossibly long in the life of a new university campus.

It’s hard to believe that SFU Surrey has come so far in such a short time – that we have been part of transforming this community even as we have extended our academic offerings and research endeavours.

At the same time, it’s hard to remember when this campus was not part of a thriving hub – a defining new Surrey City Centre.

But two things about this campus have been consistent over time. First, from the outset, SFU Surrey has been a living example of what it means to be an “engaged university.”

Some of you may recognize that term from SFU’s new Strategic Vision, which makes it our mission to be “the leading engaged university defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research and far-reaching community engagement.”

That Vision resulted from one of the most extensive consultations ever undertaken by a Canadian university – a consultation in which many in this room participated. 

In that process, you told us that you appreciated SFU for its energy, for its openness and, most especially, for its readiness to engage the communities it serves.  

Which leads me to the second point – it is hard to imagine a community more ready to engage, more enthusiastic, more supportive of this university than the people of Surrey and the South Fraser.

The City of Surrey has been tireless – and steadfastly optimistic – in blazing the trail of our establishment and expansion. 

From the moment architect Bing Thom proposed the crazy idea placing a university on top of a struggling shopping mall, Surrey politicians and planners have shown vision and courage in helping to make that dream a reality.

The Surrey business community has shown similar enthusiasm and commitment.  Any university – anywhere in the world – would be envious of the relationships we enjoy with the Surrey Board of Trade, the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association, and countless local business owners and entrepreneurs.

And the community-at-large has beaten a path to our door.  We have become a community institution in every sense of the word.

Our success would not have been possible, of course, without the strong backing of the provincial government, which financed the original $70-million capital development, and that of the federal government working alongside the Province to fund research and infrastructure.

Thanks to their joint support, this past year we were able to open Podium 2, a $10-million expansion that houses this campus’s first science teaching labs, as well as labs for research in areas ranging from gerontology and kinesiology to criminology and interactive arts.

SFU staff, faculty and students have also been key contributors to our success.  One person whose role has been pivotal over the past decade is SFU Surrey’s Executive Director, Joanne Curry.  Joanne was recently appointed SFU’s Associate Vice President External Relations.

As a reminder of where we began – and how far we have come – we asked Joanne to put together a short video for you. I hope you enjoy itClick to view video.

I think that video says it all.  Why we are so proud of SFU Surrey – and our engagement with this community – and why we are so deeply grateful for your continuing support.

So, where do we go next?  I doubt there are many in this room who question the need for a major expansion of post-secondary education capacity in this region.

Why?  Because you know, as I do, that education is key to unlocking our potential -- as individuals, as communities, and as a province.

Let me share some statistics that tell the story. Over the next eight years, there will be one million new jobs in BC.  That’s good news. But here’s the thing:  80 per cent of those jobs will require a post-secondary education.  Eighty per cent!

We have a huge challenge ahead if we are going to fill those jobs. 

Every year, students who work and get the grades are turned away from this campus.  We just don’t have the space. 

One third of BC high school graduates come from the South Fraser region, including Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford and Delta.  Yet in this region there are only 13 university spaces for every 100 students between the ages of 18 and 24 … less than one-third the provincial average.

Given the pressure on admissions at SFU Surrey, we now have to turn away more than twice as many qualified applicants as we did in 2007, and the grade-point average to get into undergraduate programs has risen by 10 per cent.

It’s nice to say that we have high standards, but it’s heart-breaking to turn away qualified students – to deny young people in this region the opportunity to achieve their full potential. 

We put that case last year to BC Legislature’s Select Standing Committee on Finance last year.  The Surrey Board of Trade made the same case.

The response was heartening.  The Committee, which included two Surrey MLAs – Dave Hayer and Bruce Ralston – gave its unanimous support for doubling funded spaces at SFU Surrey from 2,500 to 5,000 full-time equivalents.

If government accepts and acts on this report, the actual student population at this campus would rise to over 10,000.  That’s thousands more young people able to realize their dreams and give back to their communities – young people who will feel, first-hand, education’s transformative power.

I see that power every day in our students.  Students like Jessica Fan – a double-major in Business and Interactive Arts and Technology.  Jessica shares a $30,000 grant from “The Next 36,” an organization supporting student entrepreneurs.  With that funding, she is using her entrepreneurial skills to address, in her words, “the bigger social problems we face.” 

Jessica’s projects thus far include a Mandarin- and Cantonese-language home-care service for the elderly, and a Hospital Bedside Arts Program, which seeks to improve the experience of patients through art and music.

Students like Fahad Yasin – a business student – and Dulce Nunez – an International Studies student – who completed co-op terms in Mumbai last year on behalf of the Surrey Board of Trade.  While there, Fahad and Dulce researched and identified joint venture opportunities for BC clean energy companies.

Students like Sarah St. John – a Health Sciences major who is this year’s BC Rhodes Scholar.  In 2010, Sarah was a summer intern with the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association, where she worked on the Association’s internal safety audit and helped develop sustainability strategies for Surrey restaurants.

When students like Jessica, Fahad, Dulce and Sarah succeed, we all succeed.  That’s the most important thing we need to understand about today’s economy.

Young people are our most valuable asset. To compete and thrive, we have to out-educate the world. 

That means, when our students work hard and get good grades, we need to ensure there are spaces for them at universities and colleges – here in Surrey and throughout BC.

It means that no one should be denied an opportunity to get an education because they can’t afford it. 

And it means that, in a world where ideas drive economic prosperity and social progress, we must stay ahead of the curve by investing in cutting-edge research and innovation – so we have the capacity, for example, to strengthen health services and to expand clean energy industries here in Surrey. 

I said at the beginning – and I’ll say it again – that the experience of SFU Surrey over the past ten years points the way forward.  That experience stands as a powerful example of what can happen when a university and a community come together in common purpose.

Your foresight produced this transformative campus.  And your foresight is now paying huge dividends for young people, for Surrey and for British Columbia.

Today our resolve burns brighter than ever.  We are unwavering in our commitment to be “Canada’s most community-engaged research university.”

With your help, SFU will achieve its vision! 

With our help, Surrey and the South Fraser will realize its dreams!!