Science Complex, Scholarships Named in Summerlee’s Honour

June 13, 2014 - News Release

The University of Guelph’s state-of-the-art science complex will now be called the Summerlee Science Complex in honour of Alastair Summerlee, U of G’s longest-serving president.

The announcement was made Friday during a campus-wide tribute and farewell to Summerlee, whose 11-year term as president will end June 30.

Hundreds of current and former faculty, administrators, students and staff attended the event, along with board members, government ministers, elected officials and members of the Guelph community.

“Alastair is a leader in transcending tradition and finding new directions,” said Dick Freeborough, chair of U of G’s Board of Governors.

“That philosophy is reflected throughout this campus, especially in the Science Complex, which synthesizes innovative teaching and research and promotes discovery. Alastair played a pivotal role in creating the Science Complex from vision to completion. Having this pioneering facility bear his name is the perfect capstone to his presidency.”

Also unveiled Friday was the Alastair Summerlee Scholarship in Civil Society. The $15,000 award will be given annually to a graduate student conducting international fieldwork aimed at changing lives. It’s provided by a $500,000 endowment made possible by donors.

“This is a fitting tribute to Alastair and his dedication to empowering students to help improve the world,” said Tye Burt, chair of the University’s BetterPlanet Project campaign, former vice-chair of the board of Governors and a U of G alumnus.

“At Guelph and beyond, Alastair has committed himself to humanitarian efforts, community engagement and participatory citizenship, all hallmarks of a civil society.”

The president was also granted “Honorary Alumni Status” by U of G’s Alumni Association and recognized for leading the BetterPlanet Project, which has exceeded its $200-million goal, it was also announced Friday.

During the event, Summerlee thanked the U of G community for “the support, care, love and understanding extended to me. This is a celebration about the institution the University of Guelph has become – that you are all part of,” he said.

Summerlee became the University’s seventh president – and the first internal candidate named to the post -- in 2003. His second term was extended by a year to coincide with the end of the BetterPlanet Project and the University’s 50th anniversary this year.

In a career spanning more than 40 years, he has gained respect as a scholar, professor, researcher and administrator.

He arrived in Guelph in 1988 as a biomedical sciences professor and moved through the administrative ranks – associate dean of the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC); dean of graduate studies; associate vice-president (academic); provost and vice-president (academic) -- before becoming president.

He continued to teach, supervise graduate students and conduct research while holding administrative positions, including as president.

Summerlee won a 3M Teaching Fellowship in 2003, becoming Canada’s first university president-elect and the first Guelph faculty member to earn the award as an administrator.

Among his other awards for academic and humanitarian contributions are the International Quality of Life Award from Auburn University, the “Award of Highest Honour” from Soka University in Japan and the YMCA-YWCA of Guelph Peace Medal. He also received an honorary degree from the University of Bristol.

Known as an innovator in curriculum development, Summerlee launched an extensive revision of the veterinary program at OVC and helped create the University of Guelph-Humber. He also established the Presidential Task Force on Accessibility to University Education, which was held up as a model in Ontario.

Among numerous social justice initiatives, he led the Making Poverty History symposium and the annual President’s Dialogues at U of G. He helped bring the Universities Fighting World Hunger summit to Guelph in 2011 for the first time in Canada, and chaired the campaign for the United Way of Guelph and Wellington County.

Summerlee led several international development projects, including the University’s “Bracelet of Hope” fundraising campaign for a new AIDS clinic in Lesotho and the “Shine a Light” project to improve education for girls and women in refugee camps in Kenya.

During his tenure, Guelph was the first university to partner with the Leave for Change program, which sees staff and faculty spend their vacation time volunteering for projects in developing countries.

As chair of World University Service of Canada, he championed programs to bring students from countries ravaged by war, disease and poverty to study in Canada. He also helped develop the new Botswana International University of Science and Technology.

On Friday, Summerlee said that his accomplishments at U of G and beyond are due to the support of students, faculty, staff, alumni and others.

“What has happened at the University of Guelph has been done by them; it has all been done by you,” he told the crowd.

“It has been my privilege at the end of the day to accept the accolades of the hard work, dedication and commitment of the people who, every day at this place, make it a special institution.”

Summerlee plans to spend a month this summer walking the Kalahari Desert in Botswana.

After an administrative leave, he will return to U of G to study cancer and anemia and continue with humanitarian projects, including serving as the volunteer chair of the Hunger Solutions Institute in Alabama.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338,; or Kevin Gonsalves, Ext. 56982,

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