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Fall convocation a special season

Sept. 3, 2010

Fall convocation will be a special time at Memorial. Not only will four outstanding individuals be recognized with honorary degrees, but Dr. Gary Kachanoski will be ceremonially installed as Memorial’s president and vice-chancellor at a special session of convocation on Thursday, Oct. 21, at 3 p.m.

Regular sessions of fall convocation in St. John’s take place on Friday, Oct. 22, at 10 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

The Grenfell College session of convocation takes place in Corner Brook on Friday, Oct. 8, at 10 a.m.

During the special convocation featuring the installation of President Kachanoski, honorary degrees will be awarded to Dr. Michael Asch, anthropologist and professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, and Peter MacKinnon, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan and a noted legal scholar.

During the Corner Brook session, an honorary degree will be awarded to community volunteer Minnie Vallis.

Dr. Pamela Björkman, Max Delbruck Professor of Biology at Caltech, will receive an honorary degree on Friday, Oct. 22.

Fall convocation will also see several accomplished Memorial professors presented with the designation professor emeritus: Dr. Adrian Fowler, English, Grenfell College; Dr. James G. Barnes, Faculty of Business Administration; Prof. Shane O'Dea, English; Dr. Phil Heath, Mathematics and Statistics; Dr. Colin Higgs, Human Kinetics and Recreation; and Dr. James K. Hiller, History.

The title of professor emeritus is a distinction accorded only to retired members of the faculty. To be eligible, a person must have served at least 10 years as a regular full-time faculty member and must have held the rank of professor upon retirement. The prime criterion for nomination is sustained, outstanding scholarly work and/or service to the university.

Of course, several hundred students will also be receiving degrees at the five sessions of convocation. For more details on convocation, see www.mun.ca/convocation.

Dr. Michael Asch
Dr. Michael Asch, an anthropologist and musician, is professor emeritus at the University of Alberta and a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Victoria.

His principal work as an anthropologist has been with First Nations communities. Among his books are Home and Native Land: Aboriginal Rights and the Canadian Constitution (1984) and Kinship and the Drum Dance in a Northern Dene Community (1988). In that work he has achieved some considerable distinction, having been given the Weaver-Tremblay Award by the Canadian Anthropology Society and being made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

At the University of Alberta Dr. Asch, in conjunction with Dr. Kachanoski, developed the FolkwaysAlive! Project, the university’s partnership with Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in Washington, D.C. The project is home for the more than 2,000 Folkways Records donated to the university by company founder, Moses Asch, Dr. Asch’s father.

Dr. Asch maintains an active association with his father's legacy, Folkways Records (now called Smithsonian Folkways Recordings), and is chair of its advisory board. Folkways not only recorded all the greats of 20th century American folksong, but also three albums of Newfoundland songs from the 1950s and 1970s.

He serves on the board of the Smithsonian Institution’s Folk Life and Culture Centre.

At the University of Victoria, Dr. Asch’s research concerns Indigenous rights and aspects of treaty relations in Canada both historically and at present.

Dr. Asch graduated with a BA, majoring in anthropology, from the University of Chicago and a PhD in anthropology from Columbia University.

Dr. Asch will receive an honorary doctor of letters degree at the special convocation at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 21.

Dr. Pamela Björkman
To recognize the importance of her work to medicine, Dr. Pamela Björkman will receive an honorary doctor of science degree at the 10 a.m. session of convocation on Friday, Oct. 22.

Following her PhD at Harvard in 1984, Dr. Björkman did postdoctoral work there and, subsequently, at Stanford before joining the Biology Department at Caltech (California Institute of Technology) in 1989.

Her postdoctoral work on protein structures using x-ray crystallography led to a significant discovery: that the structure of protein HLA-A2 provides the information that T lymphocytes need to determine whether or not a cell is sound or diseased and, if diseased, to destroy it.

However, in autoimmune diseases these cells misread and destroy sound cells.

When she established her own lab at Caltech in 1989, she began to look at relatives of class I major histocompatibility (MHC) proteins, the class to which HLA-A2 belongs and has, over the years, identified the structures of numerous proteins.

These include a neonatal receptor that transports maternal IgG (antibody) across the placenta to passively immunize fetal and newborn mammals against antigens to which the mother has been exposed; and, a protein which promotes fat loss and therefore wasting in cancer and AIDS patients.

One of Dr. Björkman’s current projects is to make antibody-like reagents against HIV. Her work has brought her considerable recognition: election to membership in the US National Academy of Science (2001), the Gairdner award (1994) and the L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science Award (2006). In 1999 she was asked, both as a distinguished scientist and as the daughter of a Newfoundlander (her mother was a Forsey from Grand Bank), to give the David Hawkins lecture in Memorial’s medical school.

Dr. Björkman also holds a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from the University of Oregon.

Peter MacKinnon
Peter MacKinnon has been president and vice-chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan since July 1999. He was appointed in October 1998 and following a review, reappointed in December 2002. Following a review in May 2008, he was reappointed for a third five-year term which began July 1, 2009.

Originally from Prince Edward Island, he has lived in Saskatoon since 1975. He previously served the university as acting vice-president (academic) (1996), dean of law (1988-98) and assistant, associate and full professor of law (1975-98).

Educated at the University of Saskatchewan, Queen's University and Dalhousie University, Mr. MacKinnon articled in Kingston and was admitted to the Law Society of Ontario in 1975 and to the Law Society of Saskatchewan in 1979. He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1990.

His national appointments include the Science, Technology and Innovation Council of Canada (2007 and continuing); Canadian Judicial Council Chairperson’s Advisory Group (2006 onwards); Confederation Centre of the Arts, Charlottetown, PEI (director, 2005 onwards); Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (director and chair, 2003-05); Advisory Council for the Order of Canada (2003-05); Council of Canadian Law Deans (president, 1994); Canadian Association of Law Teachers (president, 1981-82).

He is a co-editor of three books and author of many articles, commentaries and reviews in Canadian and international legal journals; numerous speeches and conference presentations.

He is the recipient of many professional and service awards including the Canadian Bar Association Distinguished Service Award (Saskatchewan Branch) (2005); the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal (2005) and the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002).

He will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at the special convocation at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 21.

Minnie Vallis
To recognize Minnie Vallis’s selfless and unceasing contribution to the well-being of our citizens, she will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at the Corner Brook session of convocation on Friday, Oct. 8, at 10 a.m.

A woman who has spent a lifetime in the service of her multiple communities, Ms. Vallis has been a teacher (she started at 14); a mother of six; a councillor, deputy mayor and mayor; an advocate for seniors, abused women, caregivers, people with disabilities, seniors; a volunteer on hospital boards and on the Status of Women Council.

She has been active in youth organizations such as 4-H and Girl Guides. She was involved in municipal politics for 14 years and was mayor of the town of Meadows in the west coast of Newfoundland. She has served on the executive of provincial and national organizations for persons with disabilities, advocates against sexual violence, and is an honorary member of Corner Brook Status of Women.

One of those people who perform as well behind the scenes at unsung labour as on the front lines in the media, Ms. Vallis has well deserved the numerous awards which have been conferred upon her including Senior of Distinction, Queen's Jubilee Medal and the Newfoundland and Labrador Volunteer Medal.

Ms. Vallis was born in Ramea on the south coast of Newfoundland and now makes her home in Corner Brook.