Famed Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk is taking his role as chancellor at the University of Calgary to new heights focusing his efforts on supporting and encouraging well-rounded, broadminded, high-achieving, creative thinkers.
He particularly enjoys visiting science fairs and the grade schools that form what he refers to as “the feeder network” for the university.
“I emphasize to students that ideal jobs do not fall out of the sky into our laps,” he says. "Rather, the secret to achieving life goals is a deep, broad education. My educational foundation, for example, was laid when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Calgary.”
The primary role of the chancellor is to be an ambassador for the University of Calgary and to act as an advocate for post-secondary education, so Thirsk has made it a priority to nurture and support partnerships and relationships between the university and Calgary’s various communities.
“I’ve visited business clubs, hospitals, alumni events and cultural expositions,” says Thirsk. “I remind Calgary organizations that the currency of trade for 21st century Canada is skills training. Continual upgrading of employee skills is the best way to reposition a business for future opportunities.” He also uses his position to draw attention to the fact that collaboration will advance individual careers, as well as the university and the city, far more effectively than any other means.
“My career as an astronaut has taught me that collaboration and teamwork are essential tools for success,” he says.
“You will notice in my blog that I highlight stories about the collaborative teams that are at the heart of our young, dynamic university.”
Thirsk is also passionate about the role of the Chancellor’s Club in propelling the university and some of its star students on to impressive careers. The club provides a forum for Calgarians to learn about priority programs and important initiatives at the university. It hosts three Chancellor’s Club events per year. The gala evenings have been held in spectacular settings such as the Energy Environment Experiential Learning (EEEL) building on campus and the atrium of The Bow tower.
“Each Chancellor’s Club event showcases a specific niche area of strength at our university,” says Thirsk. “For example, at one event last year we learned how the University of Calgary is addressing the increasing burden of chronic disease in our aging society. At another event, we profiled university research that will transition our society to a future of low-carbon energy production. Another event focused on the development of team leaders.”
The membership fees for the club provide financial support for many of the university’s most prestigious scholarships, which support 40 exemplary undergraduate students along with one graduate student.
“The student beneficiaries of the Chancellor Club scholarships are known as Chancellor’s Scholars,” says Thirsk. “These scholars not only demonstrate academic excellence, but also community involvement. For instance, some of these students have helped raise money to fight poverty and homelessness. Others have built health clinics in third world villages and have performed medical research. These extraordinary students raise the quality of learning and our standard of excellence at the University of Calgary.”
This program helps the university keep high-achieving students in Canada, he says, while the financial support gives the recipients the opportunity to focus on their educational path and take advantage of leadership and learning opportunities.
“I meet with them regularly and have introduced them to esteemed colleagues who are wonderful role models. My colleagues share personal stories with the students as well as career experiences and unique insights,” says Thirsk. “These future leaders impress me with their enthusiasm, thoughtfulness and potential.”
The University of Calgary is helping secure the future of the city by investing in stellar students with the foresight and potential to ensure Calgary is positioned to compete globally and sustainably.