Honorable Grad Student Greeting

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Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt addresses the audience at the 2016 Athabasca University "Research Without Borders" Graduate Student Conference [photo credit: Heidi Staseson, 2016]

Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt at the 2016 Athabasca University Graduate Student Conference [photo credit: Heidi Staseson, 2016]

Last weekend, the Faculty of Graduate Studies and the Athabasca University Graduate Students’ Association (AUGSA) held the fourth Graduate Student Conference to showcase AU students’ and faculty’s innovative research.

Held at the Holiday Inn Conference Centre in Edmonton South, the popular event comprised AU grad students, faculty members and multiple volunteers, moderators and facilitators, who worked tirelessly over the past year to plan the successful two-day conference.

With a theme entitled Research Without Borders, research was presented either in-person, virtually, or via poster — evidencing a clear-cut platform on which students benefited by receiving critical feedback of their work in a “supportive yet scholarly environment of colleagues and faculty members.”

Honorable Greetings

Providing an opening greeting to the attendees on Saturday was Alberta Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt, who offered his congratulations to the AU graduate students “who have managed to get their papers accepted for this conference.”

“I was never that successful when I was a grad student myself, so your accomplishment is something to be proud of,” Schmidt joked, adding that his work consulting with Alberta’s graduate students and their respective associations represents a significant focus of his time in office.

Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt addresses the audience at the 2016 Athabasca University "Research Without Borders" Graduate Student Conference [photo credit: Heidi Staseson, 2016

Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt addresses the audience at the 2016 Athabasca University “Research Without Borders” Graduate Student Conference [photo credit: Heidi Staseson]

Speaking at his third AU-related event in recent months, which included the university’s June convocation ceremonies, as well as providing welcoming remarks to the institution’s incoming eighth president, Dr. Neil Fassina, Schmidt thanked event organizers for their efforts and offered well wishes to the student and faculty research presenters.

“I wish all of the grad students success in their presentations during the conference and in your studies in the future … thank you very much for having me today,” he said.

“Historically, grad students have been focused more on their work than clinical advocacy, but I’m pleased to say that’s changing — that grad students at all the universities have formed an umbrella organization that we’ve been consulting with.”

He noted upcoming “important changes” his ministry is considering to the legislation related to labour relations and grad students’ associations.

“Those consultations are ongoing right now and I’m pleased to be able to work with the Athabasca University Grad Students’ Association, as well as all of the others, to make sure that we have labour relations legislation that flies with the constitution — but also brings fairness to labour relations on campuses all across the province.”

Schmidt also reiterated the government’s unwavering support for Athabasca University in its future role as a leader in post-secondary education.

“This government is committed to making sure that Athabasca University is a successful university for the foreseeable future, and that it will remain in Athabasca so that it can serve that community, as well as the worldwide community that it serves online,” he asserted.

Historically, grad students have been focused more on their work than clinical advocacy, but I’m pleased to say that’s changing — that grad students at all the universities have formed an umbrella organization that we’ve been consulting with.” ~ Alberta Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt

He also pointed to last Wednesday’s appointment of five new public members to the Board of Athabasca University — something he explained was equally demonstrative of the government’s “commitment to stable and predictable funding for the university system across the province, as well as bringing stability to the Board of Governors and the administration for this university.”

Dr. Pamela Hawranik, dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies, thanks Alberta Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt at the 2016 Athabasca University Graduate Students' Conference

Dr. Pamela Hawranik, dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies, thanks Alberta Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt at the 2016 Athabasca University Graduate Students’ Conference [photo credit: Heidi Staseson]

Changing times, changing place

After his opening remarks, Athabasca University spoke with Minister Schmidt about the changes to AU administration, the recent Board of Governors appointments, and the future of AU.

Here is part of that conversation.

AU: Minister Schmidt … you came to our convocation, you spoke at Dr. Neil Fassina’s announcement – and now, here today. And you keep saying the same thing but in different ways. And I think it’s really helped bolster the confidence of the community at Athabasca, and I thank you for doing that. [Can you] give a couple comments on … the importance of bringing on a new president and wishing interim President Peter [MacKinnon] well?

MS: Well there’s no question that the last couple of years for Athabasca University have been turbulent, and I think Peter has successfully, you know, navigated those turbulent times, and served in the capacity of president much longer than he was expecting.

So I thank him for his service to the university and to the post-secondary system in Alberta, and wish him all the best in whatever comes next for him.

And it’s so important that the new president begins to work quickly on dealing with the issues that face Athabasca University. Knowing that we have a permanent president in place, as well as a new, revitalized board, I think is a positive step forward for Athabasca University.

This government is committed to making sure that Athabasca University is a successful university for the foreseeable future, and that it will remain in Athabasca so that it can serve that community, as well as the worldwide community that it serves online.” ~ Alberta Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt

AU: Can you … talk a little bit about the board appointments?

MS: We just appointed five new public board members just this past week. And you know, we’ve got some quality community members, people with tremendous sets of experience and skills, and most importantly, a commitment to the success of Athabasca University.

So I am looking forward to working together with them, to tackling the issues that Athabasca faces, and coming up with a path forward for making sure that Athabasca is sustainable for the future.

AU: That’s excellent. Thank you very kindly for that. Do you agree with the notion the past is the past and let’s [move forward]?

MS: Well you know … with new administration and new board members on the Board of Governors, it’s time for everybody to come together.

And I know speaking to all of the stakeholders at Athabasca University that everybody shares a common commitment to the success of this institution. And it’s important right now that everybody keeps that as their single overarching goal. … we need to focus on making sure that this institution is successful and that the students they serve can be successful, because this institution is successful. ~ AU

Stay tuned to AU Newsroom for more detailed highlights to come of the 2016 Athabasca University Graduate Student Conference

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