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Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk elected university chancellor

New University of Calgary chancellor to play pivotal role in engaging community in bold journey to 2016 and beyond
May 12, 2014
Robert Thirsk received an honorary degree from the University of Calgary in 2009 during a live satellite uplink with the International Space Station, where he lived and worked for six months. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Robert Thirsk received an honorary degree from the University of Calgary in 2009 during a live satellite uplink with the International Space Station, where he lived and worked for six months. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Former Canadian astronaut and University of Calgary alumnus Dr. Robert Thirsk has been named the University of Calgary’s 13th chancellor.

Thirsk, BSc’76, was unanimously elected to the position by members of the University’s Senate on Friday, and his four-year term as leader of the Senate and ceremonial head of the university will begin July 1, 2014.

During a long career with the Canadian Space Agency, Thirsk spent more time in orbit than any other Canadian. His passion for space, research and education has engaged many Canadian young people in science. One example of this engagement is Tomatosphere – a program Thirsk founded that sends seeds into space and then provides them to schools to use in experiments. Thirsk is also the co-leader of an international team investigating the effect of space travel on our nervous system and is an adjunct faculty member at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France.

“Robert Thirsk has been a hands-on member of our university community for many years,” said outgoing Chancellor Jim Dinning. “Bob’s long list of accomplishments, his integrity, and his passion for research and education will inspire students, faculty, staff and alumni for generations.”

Thirsk graduated from the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. In 2009, he received an honorary degree from the university during a live satellite uplink with the International Space Station, where he lived and worked for six months.

“My education at the University of Calgary gave me the solid foundation I needed for my career,” said Thirsk. “Serving as chancellor would be an honour and my way of showing my gratitude to students, faculty, staff and alumni. I think the best thing anyone can do is invest in education, and I am looking forward to helping find ways to make a great institution even better.”

Chancellors are passionate ambassadors for higher education who chair the University of Calgary’s Senate, work to enhance the university’s position in the community, represent the public’s interest at the university, and encourage the pursuit of excellence and recognition of the university’s essential role in society.

The chancellor represents the university at ceremonial occasions, presides over convocation ceremonies and confers degrees on behalf of the Senate. The chancellor is an ex-officio member of the university’s Board of Governors.

Elizabeth Cannon, University of Calgary president and vice-chancellor, said Thirsk will play a pivotal role in celebrating the university’s 50th anniversary in 2016 and in supporting our Eyes High strategic direction.

“I am thrilled that Bob is the University of Calgary’s new chancellor and look forward to seeing how his incredible personal accomplishments and deep commitment to this planet’s young people will inspire our entire university community,” said Cannon. “He will make an excellent community ambassador for our university’s bold and ambitious journey through 2016 and beyond.”

The president also thanked current chancellor Jim Dinning, who remains in his position until July 1. “It’s been a pleasure to work with Jim over the past four years,” said Cannon. “I want to express the deep appreciation of the entire community for his enthusiastic support of the university and his dedication to advancing post-secondary education.”

Cannon expressed her appreciation to the members of the chancellor search committee for their work. The committee was chaired by Jill Tynan and was comprised of:

Three members of the General Faculties Council (appointed by the GFC):

  • Allan Bell
  • Jennifer Hatfield
  • U.T. Sundararaj

Three members of the Alumni Association (appointed by the Alumni Association):

  • Lawrence Bailey
  • Adam Legge
  • Justice Patricia Rowbotham

One member of the Students’ Union (appointed by the SU):

  • Raphael Jacob

One member of the Graduate Students’ Association (appointed by the GSA):

  • Sarah Akierman

Three elected members of the Senate (appointed by the Senate):

  • Gord Currie
  • Susan Ditchburn
  • Jill Tynan

Visit the website for more information about the University of Calgary Senate and Chancellor.

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