Since its establishment in 1967, the University of Lethbridge has been building a reputation for research excellence around the world while maintaining its focus on giving its students the tools they need to achieve success.
“It’s all for our students,” says Dr. Dan Weeks, U of L Vice-President (Research). “The reason we, as faculty members, do research is to teach our students how to do research.”
Spanning numerous disciplines across five faculties that include Health Sciences, Arts and Science, Management, Fine Arts and Education, the U of L provides more than 75 undergraduate programs and graduate degrees at both the Master and Doctoral levels for a student body of about 8,600.
“The U of L is excellent in a wide range of fields from the humanities to the sciences,” says Weeks. ”Having faculty members that are highly regarded in their field really benefits the student because they have access to so much more information than what is available just from lectures and textbooks.”
Also, he notes the majority of research projects require funding to proceed, and these research dollars directly benefit the student because of the supplies, equipment, or travel opportunities that they may provide. Many U of L undergraduate students are involved in research activities often only available to graduate and PhD students at other institutions.
Research opportunities are available through research and independent studies, applied studies, co-operative education and internships.
Recently, the annual Maclean’s University Rankings for 2014 shows the U of L held its second overall ranking in medical/science grants received by faculty, resulting in a third overall ranking of 19 schools in the Primarily Undergraduate classification.
“We’re very pleased that the ranking indicators reflect many of the University’s fundamental priorities, notably our philosophy of creating a supportive atmosphere for our students in a setting that fosters academic excellence and engaging research opportunities,” says U of L President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Mike Mahon.
“All of this would not be possible without the contributions of our faculty and staff who have embraced the U of L’s vision and made the University a destination of choice for our students.”
The U of L is now ranked third in the percentage of its operating budget devoted to student services, rising three spots from last year’s rankings, while maintaining its strength as a leading undergraduate research institution.
The U of L also showed steady increases in some of Maclean’s underlying indicators, including the percentages of students coming to the University from outside of the province and country.
Weeks says the U of L is “a good fit for students from all over the world” because of its location in a rural, agricultural setting. The majority of the student body, greater than 70 per cent, come from outside the southern Alberta area, with more and more coming from outside the province of Alberta and beyond.
“Our rural setting lends itself to studies in water, energy resources and agriculture, as well as population health and health sciences,” he says. “Because of this, we are able to attract students from countries like India, China and Africa, just to name a few.”
With recent funding announcements from the provincial government and accolades coming in for several of its top researchers, the university has entered “an exciting time for research” as it nears its 50th anniversary, he says.
The provincial government announced in late 2013 that it would provide about $200 million for the Destination Project — a three-phase development that will realize the creation of a new academic/science building, new central utility plant and a revitalization of University Hall.
The Destination Project will bring an additional 35,000 square metres to the campus footprint. Once a site is selected, the rest of the planning funds will take the project through to the completion of schematic designs by December 2014. If all goes well, construction could begin 10 to 15 months later, eventually culminating with an opening date for the academic building sometime in fall 2019.
“The Destination Project will be transformational, the most significant development of our Lethbridge campus since University Hall was completed in 1972,” says Mahon. “Beyond the massive physical changes that will take place, the project is a means through which our collective aspirations can be realized. The new facility will be more than a teaching and research space, but a place for community engagement and outreach.”
By building new science facilities, Weeks says the University is further able to create links between high school learning experiences and those found at the U of L.
Already, through programs such as High School iGEM (which earlier this year finished first at an international competition for young synthetic biologists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, MA), the university provides valuable opportunities for high school students to take their learning to another level.
“The U of L’s iGEM program has introduced these world-class high school students to leading faculty, as well as graduate and undergraduate student mentors. This early exposure to University researchers helps students make smooth transitions from high school to post-secondary study and potentially to entrepreneurial endeavours,” says Weeks.
The Destination Project will allow the U of L to give even more Alberta high school students the chance to participate in outstanding research experiences such as these. Eventually, we will see graduates poised to flourish in Alberta’s ever diversifying economy.”
With so many faculty members involved in such a variety of research projects, the U of L recently launched a new website that serves as the public face of research at the institution.
“As one of Canada’s most influential research institutions, we are home to world-renowned researchers, and we are fostering the next generation of researchers and innovators,” says Weeks. “With this website, we are thrilled to be able to showcase the calibre of research that takes place at the U of L with audiences around the world.”
Aimed at an external audience (academia, government, industry, media, students and members of the general public), the new website will raise the profile of research at the U of L through digital storytelling. The site will feature stories on faculty and students while highlighting research news and connecting users to U of L faculty members via the Expert’s Database, which lists faculty members, their contact information and their areas of research expertise.
“We now have a tool to effectively engage stakeholders and tell the U of L’s research story,” says Weeks. “But this is just the beginning. The site will evolve as fresh content is continually added.
“We are incredibly proud to share the world-class work that is happening here with our stakeholders and with communities around the world.”
More information about research at the U of L can be found on its website at http://www.uleth.ca/research/ or http://www.uleth.ca/experts-database/.