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Top SFU News stories of 2021

January 04, 2022

Although the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect our lives, the availability of vaccinations and ongoing safety plans on campus allowed students, staff and faculty to resume in-person learning and sparked new life on campus this past fall.

2021 was full of many student achievements and world-leading research advances as we continued to build an inclusive, just and welcoming community at SFU.

To look back on an unforgettable year, here are some of the top stories we shared with the university community on SFU News in 2021.

Return to Campus

After 2020, a year of uncertainty and isolation, it was amazing to go back to campus in 2021, and see our friends and colleagues in-person again.

With COVID-19 vaccines and diligent safety plans, it wasn’t long before classrooms were buzzing, students were playing ping-pong and roasting marshmallows outdoors. We even held our first in-person convocation ceremonies since the pandemic began—one of the first universities to do so in Canada!

The pandemic is far from over, and SFU continues to follow the guidance of public health officials to protect our community.

Our faculty continue to play a leading role in COVID-19 research, which includes leading a new national infectious disease modeling network.


SFU tops rankings around the world

SFU continues to provide the best education possible and remains Canada’s engaged university.

The university was once again recognized as Canada’s top comprehensive university by Maclean’s Magazine, a ranking shared with the University of Victoria in 2021.

SFU has placed first in the comprehensive category for 13 of the last 14 years.

SFU was also named among the world’s Top 50 universities for our commitment to sustainability, and ranked in the Top 10 on climate action; sustainability cities and communities; and peace, justice and strong institutions by Times Higher Education’s 2021 University Impact Rankings.

SFU was recognized as a top employer by Forbes Magazine—and as a top family-friendly employer, as ranked by Mediacorp.


Royal Society honours and more

Eleven SFU scholars were named to the Royal Society of Canada (RSC), the country’s highest academic honour; the highest number of SFU faculty members to receive this accolade than any previous year.

SFU alumnus, researcher and adjunct professor Ron Ignace, former chief of the Skeetchestn Indian Band, was appointed Canada’s first Commissioner of Indigenous Languages, to support the work of strengthening First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages across the country.

SFU professor Birute Mary Galdikas, the world’s foremost authority on orangutans, received SFU’s Chris Dagg Award for Impact in International Sustainable Development. The famed anthropologist also marked 50 years of research in the field.


Advancing Reconciliation

Across Canada, 2021 was a somber reminder of the work we have to do as a society to get to true reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. The discovery of unmarked child graves at a former residential school in Kamloops spurred a national reckoning and the country soon announced a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30.

At SFU, we reflected on reconciliation with a week of activities.  In ceremonies across SFU’s three campuses, Indigenous youth, Elders and Indigenous community members shared personal stories of the effects of residential schools, the meaning of reconciliation and decolonization, and the persistence of Indigenous knowledge and culture.

Throughout the year, SFU News featured some of the many steps the university is taking towards reconciliation and highlighted Indigenous-focused research, including how we’re indigenizing convocation, reviving languages and working with local Indigenous communities to investigate other burial sites at residential schools.


Action on climate change

SFU took some big steps towards its commitment to sustainability this year while policy makers around the world gathered for the crucial COP26 climate summit. SFU was among universities to sign on to the United Nations-backed Race to Zero campaign, the largest global alliance of its kind. The initiative is dedicated to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. SFU is a leader when it comes to reducing the carbon footprint of its investments and the university committed to full divestment from fossil fuels.

One example of SFU’s climate action is the Corix biomass plant on Burnaby campus, which began operating in June. The $33-million plant is expected to reduce SFU’s greenhouse gas emissions from heating by 80 per cent, the equivalent of heating 900 homes every year.


Scarborough Charter addressing anti-Black racism

Creating a more equitable and inclusive university community is one of the SFU’s top priorities and 2021 was no exception, including signing on to the Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion in Canadian Higher Education along with 40 other Canadian post-secondary institutions.

Several actions in line with the charter’s principles are currently in progress, including the recent senate approval of a motion to hire at least 15 more Black tenure-track faculty members, the appointment of SFU’s first Special Advisor to the President on Anti-Racism (with a focus on anti-Black racism) and the planned establishment of a long-term dedicated support service for Black students, among other emerging initiatives.

The Scarborough Charter is one of many ways SFU is working towards inclusion. Going forward, our incoming Vice President, People, Equity and Inclusion, will help create and shape more equitable policies and practices.

This year also saw the arrival of the first Uggla Scholars, following an unprecedented $32 million gift from SFU alumnus Lance Uggla and his family in 2020, reflecting their deep commitment to social mobility, equity, diversion and inclusion.


More student housing, facilities on Burnaby campus

SFU’s evolution to a campus community was bolstered by the completion of two new student housing buildings this year. The new buildings feature 482 single-occupancy rooms, as well as community and learning spaces, that give more students the opportunity to enjoy life on campus.

The project marked the end of the first phase of a housing that plan will see student housing options at Burnaby campus expand to 3,250 beds by 2035. Phase two is already underway and will include 369 additional rooms and a housing services office, slated to open in early 2023.

In the fall, SFU students welcomed more changes— a brand-new Student Union Building and an expansive outdoor stadium for collegiate sporting events, along with renovations and updates at all three campuses.


SFU Football kicker becomes first female to play and score in NCAA

As SFU students continued to inspire and push boundaries, Kristie Elliott became the first-ever Canadian female to play and score in a NCAA college football game. Her football career may have started with a bet (she was challenged to kick a field goal by some team members in 2019), but her conversions have been a sure thing since she earned a football scholarship and took to the field in 2021.

Her incredible accomplishment was featured on TSN and Sportsnet in Canada and American outlets like USA Today. Elliott said the story has led to girls from all over North America reach out to her for advice and inspiration, and she hopes her story will inspire a generation of new female athletes to take a punt at playing collegiate level sports.

Way to go, Kristie!


Celebrating 50 years

We took a trip down memory lane with a story celebrating the 50th anniversary of SFU Continuing Studies. The story places readers in 1971, when bell bottoms were the hottest campus fashion.  It was also the year SFU opened the Division of Continuing Education, originally created to help school teachers complete their degrees over the summer.

Today, Continuing Studies attracts more than 5,000 learners a year to its flexible career courses, Liberal Arts and 55+ classes, and award-winning programs like the Writer’s Studio and the City Program. Check out the story to see where Continuing Studies has been and what the next 50 years have in store.

Also marking 50 years was the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, which had its beginnings in 1971 with a single course, “The Geography of Gender,” paving the way for the first women’s studies program in Canada.

And the Department of Archaeology also began celebrating its own 50th anniversary, placing first in Canada and 17th worldwide in the QS World University Rankings.


Support for our communities impacted by floods

The SFU community has always come together to support each other in times of crisis. We saw that first-hand in November as devastating floods, landslides and infrastructure damages impacted southern B.C. and Indigenous communities, leaving people without homes, basic necessities and livelihoods.

Our community stepped up in a big way. An extensive group of contributing and collaborating partners, including SFU’s three campuses, SFSS, GSS, clubs, faculty and staff groups, SFU Childcare, Highlands Elementary School, Point Church and the UniverCity Community Association, came together with local and regional agencies to support our impacted neighbours and identify areas of most need.

In addition to providing our community with a list of agencies accepting donations, SFU hosted a food, toy and toiletry drive, with drop-off locations at each campus. Our food service partners at Chartwells matched food donations from the community pound-for-pound and affected SFU students were offered immediate guidance and access to emergency resources.

THANK YOU to everyone who offered support for their care, compassion and action.