University exceeds fund-raising goal for Imagine Campaign

Joseph Monaghan, a VIU alumnus who is conducting research in the Applied Environment Research Laboratories, says moving to the new Health and Science Centre has expanded opportunities for the world-class research facility.

0924 – From new equipment to learn on, to increased research opportunities, to dozens of new student scholarships, awards and bursaries – the impact of the Imagine VIU campaign has expanded beyond its initial goal of equipping and completing three new buildings on Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) Nanaimo Campus.  

Over the past two years, the Imagine VIU campaign raised $7.3 million – over and above the campaign’s initial goal of $5.5 million – to help create cutting-edge learning environments for students in the new facilities. Since their opening in 2018, the Dr. Ralph Nilson Centre for Health and Science, the Windsor Plywood Trades Discovery Centre and the District Geo-Exchange Energy System have transformed the experiences of students and faculty alike.  

“We are delighted by the support for VIU’s most ambitious fundraising campaign to date and are grateful to our community who have allowed us to dream. Each donor should know that they have made a difference in the lives of our students,” says Dr. Deb Saucier, VIU President and Vice-Chancellor. “Imagine VIU has enabled us to expand opportunities for students and faculty to realize their potential. Exciting things are happening at VIU.”

The campaign raised $2 million for new scholarships, awards and bursaries for students. Another million was raised for new equipment and other program supports in the trades, sciences and health-care areas. More than $1 million went to new research projects. Check out this video to learn more. 


“I would love to go to med school and become a paediatric neurologist. Going to a place that has a very strong chemistry program is really important to me and the fact that VIU has this building was an important factor for me coming here,” says Bachelor of Science student Katrin Hanneson. “The labs here are great and all the technology we have is so cool.” 

The new buildings have also helped VIU respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new Trades Discovery Centre, alongside the other new facilities, is allowing for physically distanced, hands-on training opportunities for students.  

The state-of-the-art labs in the new Centre for Health and Science enabled VIU to become a designated manufacturing site for topical hand sanitizer. It also houses the Applied Environmental Research Laboratories (AERL), which focus on measuring the chemical determinants of environmental and human health. Researchers in the AERL help to save lives affected by the opioid crisis, while others work to detect chemical spills in bodies of water quickly.   

 “Moving to the Centre for Health and Science has been a huge opportunity for me in the AERL,” says Joseph Monaghan, a VIU Bachelor of Science alumnus and PhD student at the University of Victoria, who conducts his thesis research in the lab. “The improved infrastructure has let us work faster, more safely and gives accessibility to more students. VIU and the AERL really give undergraduate students an unparalleled research experience in terms of access to infrastructure and supportive faculty members.” 

On top of an enhanced student experience, the District Geo-Exchange Energy System has allowed VIU to become a green technology frontrunner. The system has reduced energy needs at the Centre for Health and Science by 75%, helping the building achieve LEED Gold certification. 


To learn more, visit

VIU Colloquium series lectures live streaming this fall

Terri Doughty, a VIU English Professor, will use Swedish artist Elsa Beskow’s work to illustrate how children’s picture books can contribute to a shift in perspectives in the plant-human relationship, during her Colloquium Series lecture. Photo: Vancouver Island University

The show will go on for Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) popular Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series this fall.

 “The Colloquium committee is excited to be able to continue the Series in this academic year,” says Dr. Cathryn Spence, committee chair. “We have a great lineup of amazing lectures, and we are thrilled to be able to use Zoom technology to deliver these. Not only does this allow us to continue showcasing the fascinating and valuable research being carried out by members of our faculty, but it also allows us to gather together virtually and help maintain our connection between VIU and the wider community.”

To receive a Zoom presentation invitation, please email Spence at All lectures are free to attend.

The series kicks off on Friday, September 25 with Making Kin with Plants: The Picture Books of Elsa Beskow, presented by Terri Doughty, a VIU English Professor. Doughty will discuss how humans view plants as lower life forms and how “fostering more respectful relations between humans and plants requires a cognitive shift in humans to reject species hierarchies and recognize plants and humans are interconnected in webs of kinship.” 

 Doughty will use Swedish artist Elsa Beskow’s work to illustrate how children’s picture books can contribute to this type of shift in perspectives. Beskow’s work blurs the boundaries between humans and plants and often represents plants as intelligent beings living in complex communities.

“I started this project because I was interested in the role Beskow’s work has played in establishing a strong human-nature culture as a key element of Swedish identity, but I’ve become even more interested in her treatment of the plant-human relationship, which is less studied than the human-animal relationship,” says Doughty. “Plants can live without humans, but it would be much harder for humans to live without plants. Amidst our climate crisis, we need to learn to live co-operatively on this planet of finite resources.”

On October 23, Dr. Whitney Wood, VIU’s Canada Research Chair in the Historical Dimensions of Women’s Health, presents Understanding Women’s Pain in Canadian Medical History. Wood will discuss how pain is a universal experience but how individuals experience and express their pain is historically and culturally specific. She’ll draw on various sources to demonstrate that “nineteenth and twentieth-century ideas about the varying levels of pain women experienced in giving birth were a product of mounting gender, class and racial anxieties during a key period of social and cultural change.” 

Wood says these ideas continue to shape women’s encounters with the Canadian health-care system today.

 On November 27, Dr. Sarah Crover, a VIU English Professor, presents ‘Behold the Wonder of this Present Age, A Famous River now Becomes a Stage’: Pageantry on the Frozen Thames. Crover will draw from the sci-fi series Doctor Who, which dedicates an episode in Season 10 to London’s last Frost Fair in 1814, to illustrate the “danger and beauty of the frozen Thames.” When the London Thames River froze over from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, elaborate frost fairs were set up. 

 “These fairs had something for everyone, from personalized postcards to bawdy houses,” she says. “Alternately horrified and gleeful, early modern accounts reflect Londoners’ hopes and fears about who they were and where they fit in the larger world.”

 The Colloquium Series began in 2009 with the aim of creating reflective and intellectually engaging presentations that demonstrate how important the arts and humanities are to understanding today’s world. Learn more on the Colloquium Series website.

VIU researcher studying antibiotic resistant bacteria

From left, Scott Britney, Dr. Mercedes Hernandez, Nicolen Johnson and Andre Gauvin have been conducting antibiotic-resistant gene research to determine how common they are in urban environments. (Please note that this photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.) VIU photo

0901 – NANAIMO, Antibiotic resistance in bacteria is a worldwide problem and where previously these bacteria were more commonly found in hospitals, now they can be found in everything from the food we consume to the soil beneath our feet, says Dr. Mercedes Hernandez, a Vancouver Island University (VIU) Biology Professor.

“This is not something to be scared of. It doesn’t mean that you need to get paranoid,” says Hernandez, adding that people can take steps to help control the spread of antibiotic resistance, which includes not taking antibiotics if they don’t need them.

Hernandez first started looking for Staphylococcus aureus carrying the Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) gene in public places in 2002. Then in 2012 she started collaborating with Dr. John Amaral, a VIU Biology Professor, who passed away in the fall of 2019, and they extended the search to include other antibiotic-resistant genes of interest. Since that time, Hernandez, Amaral, and VIU students have been conducting antibiotic-resistant gene research to discover how common such genes are among bacterial strains in urban environments. They’ve detected a variety of antibiotic-resistant bacterial genes in Nanaimo sewage samples; soil samples from public parks, trails and farmland in the Nanaimo region; and some meat products available in local supermarkets.

Some of the research projects examined samples for the Extended Spectrum B-lactamase (ESBLs) genes, which give bacteria resistance to many different antibiotics. The soil sampling research discovered that some of these genes were present in a variety of soils samples from the Nanaimo region.

For the meat sampling study, Hernandez and her team found that locally raised samples of meat were negative for ESBLs, but several samples from other regions were positive.

“When you are processing meat in your kitchen, some of the bacteria might contaminate your cooking implements and surfaces,” says Hernandez, adding that avoiding cross contamination by ensuring that raw meats and vegetables are processed separately, cooking your food thoroughly, and cleaning your kitchen well after you prepare food are important steps to help prevent and control the spread of bacteria, especially antibiotic-resistant ones, to other areas of your home.

The current research project with VIU student Andre Gauvin involves testing kitchen sponges for the presence of both ESBLs and the MecA gene, which is typically associated with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. The project is still in the initial stages and no data has been compiled yet. 

Hernandez and the student researchers use a molecular technique to identify the antibiotic-resistance genes in bacteria. It’s a safe method for detecting the genes because researchers don’t have to grow the bacteria in the lab, which would require stringent biohazard controls. Hernandez says it’s similar to forensic work where scientists identify DNA markers. With this method the researchers don’t identify which bacterial species actually carry the genes, but look specifically to see if the antibiotic-resistant genes are present among bacteria in the environment. 

Overuse of antibiotics causes a selection pressure on bacteria that favours survival of antibiotic-resistant strains. And, bacteria can acquire DNA from other bacteria, says Hernandez. As long as antibiotics are being released into the environment, the antibiotic-resistant genes will be maintained in bacteria. Hernandez says some scientists believe that if antibiotic use decreases then there will be less bacteria carrying the antibiotic-resistance genes because they will no longer need them to survive. 

“With lower selective pressure of antibiotics in the environment, there is less reason for bacteria to hold on to these extra genes. Unless they’re needed, it’s a burden to keep these genes, and there is an opportunity for bacteria that aren’t resistant to proliferate and compete more efficiently,” says Hernandez. “With the use of antibiotics, people have to be conscientious about it. We are creating a selection pressure and are starting to see its effects because some of our neighbouring bacteria are now carrying these genes.”

VIU welcomes new students with virtual orientation

0825 – Post-secondary education will look a little different this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with many students and professors learning and teaching primarily online.

That isn’t stopping the Rock VIU: Welcome to Campus committee from planning a virtual orientation event that allows students to participate from the comfort of their living rooms, or wherever they are. This year’s event will take place the week before classes are set to begin – from August 31 to September 4 – with a soft launch the week before during which peer mentors will connect with incoming students for casual “beach fire chats.”  

“Rock VIU usually takes place on our campuses over the course of a single day,” explains Maria Clemotte, Rock VIU Student Event lead in the Office of Co-Curricular Engagement & Learning (OCCEL). “When VIU moved to a hybrid model of education delivery, we knew we had to do things differently and our team rose to the challenge, designing a series of events that will help students get to know the university, each other and their profs even though we can’t all be together face-to-face.” 

The series of events start off on Monday, August 31 with an Opening Ceremony featuring campus culture speaker Blake Fly. From there, events are staggered throughout the week, including a talent showcase, the Rock VIU Final Jam (featuring Aaron Pritchett and Box of Beats from LA), virtual escape rooms, study tips and tricks, a connect fair to learn about VIU supports and services, and block party socials hosted by each faculty.

One unique element of this year’s event is that many of the events will be recorded and accessible to students to watch when they are able through the new Co-Curricular Involvement App, which can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play store. A desktop version is also available at

“Students will be divided into groups based on area of study so they get to know other students in their own programs,” says Omar Karim, Coordinator of the OCCEL. “Coming to university for the first time can be nerve-wracking, but it doesn’t have to be. This is your chance to build relationships with profs, make new friends and start feeling a bit more comfortable with how to access services and navigate university life. Also, we want to remind returning students that they are more than welcome to join in any of the events.”

One new feature that will continue throughout the fall is the peer mentorship aspect. Each incoming student who chooses to participate will be connected with a student peer mentor, who will follow up with students throughout the fall to make sure their questions are answered, and they are settling in well at VIU.

“The Office of Co-Curricular Engagement and Learning is also launching a new rewards/points program run through the Co-Curricular Involvement app to recognize students’ participation and engagement. This provides an opportunity for students to earn prizes and swag for their participation in events at Rock VIU and other upcoming activities,” says Nate Priest, Rock VIU Student Project Lead, OCCEL. 

For more information, visit the Rock VIU website.

Program helps VIU students develop commercial enterprises

VIU CETP graduate Anthony Martin is carving his way with a new business venture - Anthony's Workshop. Photo: Vancouver Island University

0825  – Vancouver Island University’s Co-operative Entrepreneur Training Program provides students with disabilities the skills they need to develop robust business plans and secure funding to launch their business initiative.

Entrepreneurship is one option for persons with disabilities to make a better life for themselves and their families, and to contribute to their local economy rather than rely on government assistance. However, the idea of entrepreneurship is often dismissed based on the challenges faced by being self-employed. CETP was designed to address those barriers and provide opportunities for people with disabilities to develop their unique skills and start their own business. 

The 30-week full-time program offered remotely this September will be a combination of academic courses focused on business, marketing and mentorships within the community and is fully funded for qualifying applicants with the aid of a BC provincial government grant.

Four graduates from the 2019 program, despite extraordinary challenges created by COVID-19, persevered with faculty and community support to launch their new business ventures.

Anthony Martin, owner of Anthony’s Workshop, started carving cedar with chainsaws as a hobby after becoming disabled in his former career. To turn his new passion into a sustainable business, Martin enrolled in the CETP program. 

“I was hesitant about returning to school as a mature student, but the level of support I received gave me the confidence and skills that have brought my business to a level beyond my expectations.”

Jonathan Bugley, another program participant, created Bugley Entertainment, a party and event performance company.

“I’m leaving the program with a researched business plan, a great marketing plan – including my own website and social media – and I have been able to access funding to get my business started. Bugley Entertainment is only the beginning, and I am excited that I can follow my passion to bring joy into the world.”

The small class developed close connections with each other that sparked collaboration amongst the students. Jordan Becker, who started his own music education and therapy business, Harmony and Dissonance, also became a partner in Bugley Entertainment. 

“There were so many opportunities that emerged in CETP,” says Becker. “I now have a better eye for how my business can provide value in the marketplace. I feel like I have really grown as a professional, and I am more confident and capable of achieving my dream of self-employment.”

Nick Therriault, who is a graduate of the Workplace Essential Skills and Training (WEST) program, which supports people with disabilities gain workplace skills, enrolled in the CETP with the goal of creating a business which would help other people with disabilities. Therriault created Nick on Sports, a subscription service for people with cognitive disabilities. 

“With a love of professional sports, I write feature stories about hot topics in sports that give people with cognitive disabilities applicable conversational topics. As a person living with autism, I have found that sports help me connect with people. I want to give the same experience to others.”

Amy Woermke, the lead instructor in the program, connected students with entrepreneurs and supports across Vancouver Island, including the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Innovation Island and Community Futures. Working with Kelly McBride, Business Development & Credit Officer with Community Futures, the students were able to secure start-up funding through the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities program.

“I was really impressed with the quality of the students’ business plans, and it was such an honour to work with such amazing, motivated students,” she says. “When members of the disability community rise to the entrepreneurial challenge, we should rally around them in support. It’s not just good for their business, it benefits us all.”

The CETP is open for applications for the September 2020 intake. For more information on the program, please contact

Sayers appointed chancellor of Vancouver Island University

Dr. Judith Sayers

0810 – A prominent local Indigenous leader, sustainable development advocate and passionate educator will be Vancouver Island University’s (VIU’s) next chancellor. 

Kekinusuqs, Dr. Judith Sayers, is President of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council – a non-profit society that provides a wide variety of services and supports to 14 nations with about 10,000 members. Sayers holds a business and a law degree, as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws, from Queen’s University. She practiced law for 18 years in both Alberta and British Columbia, working in international forums and lobbying governments and other agencies for the promotion and protection of First Nations rights and title.

“One of the reasons I am attracted to VIU and to this position is how closely the University has worked with the Snuneymuxw First Nation and other Nations,” says Sayers. “I would like to see those kinds of partnerships continue to grow and flourish. VIU takes its commitment to reconciliation seriously, and I am excited to work with President Dr. Deb Saucier, who is also Indigenous, to continue implementing Indigenous ways of knowing and being.” 

For many years, Sayers focused on self-determination and capacity-building within Nations. As Chief of her Nation – Hupacasath First Nation – for 14 years, she was instrumental in the development of a run-of-river project that boosted economic growth, a woodlot that operated with high environmental standards and eco-tourism canoe tours. She also secured both a land use plan and cedar use strategy to bring more certainty for the rights of the Hupacasath. As President of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council since 2017, she has taken on a similar advocacy role.

“A lot of my life has been spent in advocacy, fighting on the front lines for many different causes,” says Sayers. “Higher education is my next area of focus. I’d like to take on a major role in promoting innovative ideas and better understanding through education.”

Dr. Deb Saucier, VIU President and Vice-Chancellor, says the University is honoured to have Sayers as the next chancellor, following in the footsteps of Louise Mandell Q.C., one of Canada’s foremost Indigenous rights lawyers, and Shawn (A-in-chut) Atleo, former Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

“Dr. Sayers’ accomplishments in advancing Indigenous rights and promoting capacity-building sustainable development projects set an example for our students and community members about what is possible when you put your passion and education to work,” she says. “I’m looking forward to working with Dr. Sayers to further advance the Indigenization of VIU and I am excited to watch the inspiring effect she will have on students. 

For her many accomplishments, Sayers became a member of the Order of Canada in 2019, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by Clean Energy BC and was named to Canada’s 2016 Clean50 for being an outstanding contributor to clean capitalism. She has been a finalist for the Buffett award for Indigenous leadership and was twice awarded the Woman of Distinction from the Alberni Chamber of Commerce. In 2009, the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business inducted Sayers into the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame.

In her new role, Sayers intends to push the boundaries of what a university education entails.

“We need to be more open to working with students to do the kind of research they want to do in their own way,” she says. “So much of Indigenous history has never been written properly. When you see our students going out and exploring these areas, for me, it’s very exciting. We need to tell our own stories.” 

Another goal is to continue working towards making the University a place where all belong and can participate equally.

 “I would like VIU to be leading the charge to eradicate racism in any form and make the University a safe place – one where all students and employees see themselves reflected and respected and feel they belong,” she says. “The new challenge that COVID-19 has brought us is how can we change the way we learn and teach and participate going forward in a way that ensures all can participate without limits.”

VIU provides funding for COVID research projects

Vancouver Island University’s Research Award Committee is supporting nine COVID-19 research projects that will help gain a better understanding of the virus’s impact on society and how to improve responses for potential future pandemics.

The pandemic has impacted every sector of society and resulted in rapid and unprecedented responses and co-ordination efforts by government, the health-care sector, the private sector, not-for-profits, philanthropic organizations and the public. VIU recognized the need for immediate research to gain a better understanding of the situation.

VIU researchers were invited to address a range of issues, including public health response; understanding family and community adaptions, attitudes and behaviour changes; understanding the role of recreation, leisure and travel during the outbreak and changes caused by public health advisories; cultural and historical dimensions of the epidemic including its impact on vulnerable groups and more. The committee reviewed 13 projects and awarded a total of $40,782.

“The response that VIU received for this special call demonstrates the commitment of our faculty to apply their research skills to address the far-reaching impact of COVID-19 in society,” says Dr. Nicole Vaugeois, Associate Vice-President of Scholarship, Research and Creative Activity. “We look forward to learning what these researchers discover and sharing those insights with others.” 

Projects supported by the VIU Research Award Committee include:

Dr. Michael Lait, Tracking the Social Impacts During the COVID-19 Crisis: Quality-of-Life and Housing Surveys of the Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo and Powell River Regions.

Lait’s project will explore how people’s quality of life and housing situations have been affected by the pandemic. His community-based research project will also ask respondents if their aspirations or future plans have been affected by the crisis.

Dana McFarland, Creating a Selective Web Archive of Central and North Vancouver Island Community Information during COVID-19.

Since 2017, VIU Library has extended curation activities to non-traditional collections, including archiving we-based content. McFarland will curate a web archive related to COVID-19 impacts for central and north Vancouver Island. Materials gathered will be made available for open access for scholars and citizens.

Dr. Marian Riedel, Alternative Delivery in K-12 Schools: COVID-19 Experiences and Possibilities.

The COVID-19 crisis required teachers and communities to shift suddenly to alternate, online and remote learning for students. This meant rapid and drastic change in the way teachers teach and students learn. The research undertaken by Riedel and her interdisciplinary team explores the experiences of this shift for teachers and school employees in both public and independent schools in the central Vancouver Island and coastal BC region. Working collaboratively with six community partners, the research will help support planning for future alternate K-12 delivery and inform post-secondary programming.

Dr. Marla Morden, The Psychosocial Impact of COVID-19 on Canadian Adults, Including the Behaviour and Birth Outcomes of Pregnant Women.

Morden will assess the psychosocial stressors associated with COVID-19 in pregnant and non-pregnant Canadian adults, the birth preparation behaviours of pregnant women and explore the experiences of giving birth during COVID-19. 

Dr. Shannon Dames, A COVID-19 Response and Recovery Effort: Working Across Sectors to Aid Healthcare Providers Suffering from Mental Illness.

Dames and a multi-agency and multidisciplinary team aim to respond to and promote recovery from the debilitating mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The team plans to develop a patient-orientated research pilot program that integrates ketamine assisted psychotherapy with evidence informed resilience curriculum for health-care professionals struggling with treatment resistant depression and or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. Lauren Mayes, Provincial Corrections: Re-entry, Recidivism and Re-incarceration During COVID.

Mayes will examine if or how COVID-19 is impacting the process for people exiting and re-entering correctional centres during the pandemic. She says this is especially important because many of the nation’s most vulnerable people – Indigenous people, people with substance use and mental health issues and people with histories of trauma – are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and correctional centres. Mayes’ research aims to identify issues that are potentially contributing to re-entry and provide information to help direct resources into areas of pressing concern for those living in correctional facilities.

Dr. Alana Devereaux, Acute-Care RNs’ Experiences During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Devereaux says registered nurses (RNs), as the largest body of health-care professionals, are significantly impacted by pandemics but there is little research about RNs working on the front lines during these types of crises. Devereaux will interview RNs to learn how they were impacted professionally and personally while working front line during COVID-19 with the aim of identifying practices that can protect these health-care workers from identified concerns, and to help promote quality nursing practice during future pandemics.

Dr. Aggie Weighill, Leisure as a Mechanism for Coping with Stress Related to Public Health Interventions due to COVID-19.

Weighill says physical distancing measures have drastically altered leisure behaviours of Canadians, including limiting access to public spaces, activities and people. She intents to examine how Canadians are using leisure to cope with stressors associated with COVID-19 and the consequences of related to public health guidelines.

Dr. Gillian Anderson, The Burden of Care: Exploring the Gendered Impact(s) of COVID-19 on Mothers’ Caring Labour.

Anderson says the boundaries between home, family, school and work have been blurred and struggles to combine paid labour, child care and schooling have taken a particular toll on women as mothers. The gender-based research project will examine the impact on mothers on the mid-Island: Nanaimo, Ladysmith, Parksville and Qualicum Beach through an online questionnaire. The project’s research results could help in the development of social supports to help mothers with caring labour and help guide the creation of future pandemic policies and responses.

VIU President gets Indigenous Women Leadership award

Dr. Deborah Saucier

0724 – Vancouver Island University is proud to announce that our President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Deborah Saucier, is the 2020 recipient of the Indigenous Women in Leadership Award from the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) and TD Bank Group. 

Building on a history of promoting women’s and Indigenous people’s success, Saucier has championed these priorities at VIU.  

“I am humbled to receive this award,” says Saucier. “My focus since arriving at VIU has been to advocate for access to education, and promote how education leads to a good life.” 

“CCAB is honoured to present the Indigenous Women in Leadership Award to Dr. Deborah Saucier,” said Tabatha Bull, president & CEO, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. “Economic empowerment starts with a solid education that celebrates Indigenous identities and cultures. Dr. Saucier’s work is ensuring that the next generation of Indigenous entrepreneurs, visionaries, and leaders get the support and education they need to be successful for themselves and their communities.”

The award will be presented on September 16 at CCAB’s Business Recovery Forum, a live virtual conference and unique experience to discover innovative ways to network, collaborate and exchange ideas to rebuild businesses and prosper in this new reality and uncertain economy.  

For further information, please see this CCAB Press Release highlighting the reasons why Saucier was chosen for this prestigious award. 

VIU creates a new office of community partnerships

William Litchfield has been named Associate Vice-President, Community Partnerships.
Photo: Vancouver Island University

Vancouver Island University (VIU) is excited to announce the creation of the Office of Community Partnerships, which will focus on connecting community members and organizations to the university to build partnerships that will result in impactful and relevant projects and initiatives within the region.

“We know that many great ideas for projects or research come directly from community members, but often people don’t know how to connect to VIU’s resources or expertise at the university,” says Dr. Deb Saucier, VIU President. “The Office of Community Partnerships will facilitate these relationships – connecting community to our faculty, administrators and our resources to support innovative projects and research that will have a direct impact on local communities.”

VIU has become known across Canada for taking the lead on social innovation projects. For example, VIU was the first university in BC to introduce the Tuition Waiver Program for former youth in care and continues to mentor universities across the country to adopt similar tuition waiver programs. VIU is also the only university in Canada that has a Canada Learning Bond Co-ordinator, whose main role is to raise awareness about this federal education savings initiative and encourage families to sign-up for the program.

William Litchfield, who has served as Executive Director of the VIU Foundation and VIU’s Chief Advancement Officer, will take on the role of Associate Vice-President, Community Partnerships.

“I’m excited to take on this new focus,” says Litchfield. “I am passionate about working with local communities and bringing people together to build initiatives and projects that have real and lasting impacts on people’s lives and their communities. I look forward to working with my team to build and expand on the work VIU is doing in this area.”

The first step for the new office will be to bring together a Community Advisory Network from across the region to provide VIU with advice and guidance on how the university can serve communities more effectively.

For more information or to connect,  contact Litchfield at

VIU researcher gets grant to study health care stress

Professor Dr. Shannon Dames receives a federal government grant to fund the development of a psychedelic medicine-assisted therapy and resilience training program. Photo: Vancouver Island University

0612 – A Vancouver Island University (VIU) Nursing professor developing a psychedelic medicine-assisted therapy and resilience training program has received a sizeable federal government grant.  

Dr. Shannon Dames has been awarded a $50,000 Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Knowledge Synthesis grant to support her research, which aims to help health-care providers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or treatment-resistant mental health issues related to depression.  

 The CIHR grant is part of the government’s rapid research response to COVID-19 and is aimed at addressing and improving mental health outcomes during the pandemic response and beyond. 

By age 40, 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Dames says health-care professionals are at greater risk of experiencing psychological stress due to their trauma-laden careers. 

“Rates of depression and PTSD were already high amongst front-line caregivers and international trends are showing us that the COVID-19 pandemic is contributing to widespread emotional distress for those on the front lines,” she says. 

Dames is working with a multi-disciplinary team of health professionals, including the BC SUPPORT Unit Vancouver Island Centre, an initiative that supports patient-oriented research in the region, researchers from VIU, the University of Victoria (UVic), the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Numinus Wellness Inc. to develop what could be the first of its kind in Canada ‒ a publicly offered platform that combines resilience development programming with Ketamine-assisted therapy. Ketamine is commonly used by health-care professionals in a variety of medical settings, including for the treatment of depression. It is also currently the only legal medicine that produces psychedelic effects.

The current project’s foundation is a resilience-building program called Roots to Thrive, co-created by Dames with contributions from numerous academics and health professionals. The evidence-informed communities of practice program aims to enhance mindfulness and self-compassion to reduce stress and has resulted in significant positive wellness impacts for participants. Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is integrated into the program as a tool to address barriers, relax defenses and facilitate insight. 

“Psychedelics like psilocybin, also known as magic mushrooms, stimulate serotonin in the brain, which contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness,” says Dames. “They all promote non-attachment, which is the ability to recognize old belief systems and uncomfortable emotions as short-lived messengers, rather than as deep-seated threats. Administered in a supportive, therapeutic environment, it helps cultivate the self-compassion necessary to heal old wounds and work through current fears.”

With a $30,000 grant from a private philanthropist, matching funds from VIU’s Regional Initiatives Fund, and the CIHR operating grant, the research team is developing a program to deliver this innovative treatment to health-care providers suffering from PTSD and treatment-resistant mental health issues related to depression, anxiety, trauma and emotional exhaustion. 

The team hopes to build capacity and infrastructure within the BC Health Authority system for the program and once established it will be expanded to include people beyond first responders.

Dr. Wei Yi Song, a Vancouver Island-based Physician/Psychiatrist, says Ketamine infusion therapy has shown promising results for difficult to treat depression.

“However, this type of treatment requires critical care medical practitioners limiting its accessibility,” he says. “An innovative, effective treatment strategy that can be implemented outside hospital/acute care centres would improve access to this type of remedy for those who need it most.” 

VIU Psychology Professor Dr. Lindsay McCunn is also involved in the research. She says the project is an opportunity to use the applied and interdisciplinary body of environmental psychology literature in the development of a psychedelic-assisted therapy program and also examine some of the interactions between social and psychological factors of working in high-stress jobs on the front lines of the public health sector. 

“As an environmental psychologist, I study how individuals are psychologically affected by architectural features in places such as offices and hospital settings,” explains McCunn. “Exposure to nature is critical to human health and this project will allow me to study how people respond to an innovative form of therapy and to what extent certain aspects of the physical environment of a treatment facility as well as its surrounding natural features have an impact on them.”


Vancouver Island University (VIU) student researchers see a dramatic decrease in air pollution levels

Dr. Erik Krogh, a VIU Chemistry Professor and Co-Director of the Applied Environmental Research Laboratories, adjusts equipment on the roof of the Mobile Mass Spectrometry Facility, prior to a demonstration at VIU’s Nanaimo campus last year.
Vancouver Island University photo

 Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Restrictions imposed to help save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic have led to less people driving and flying, which has created a rare opportunity for Vancouver Island University (VIU) researchers and students to study the impacts of automobile and plane traffic on the environment.

“It’s impossible to do an experiment where you ask everyone in a neighbourhood or city to cut their driving by 75%, but that experiment is happening now,” says Dr. Erik Krogh, a VIU Chemistry professor and Co-Director of the Applied Environmental Research Laboratories (AERL). 

Student researchers taking Krogh’s atmospheric environmental chemistry class discovered that there was a dramatic improvement in air quality levels around British Columbia when they compared BC Air Quality Data from the first two weeks of March to the second two weeks in 2020. Students also examined data from previous years in the comparison. They discovered that fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, which can come from a variety of sources including vehicle emissions, decreased significantly.

“By the end of March, levels of these pollutants dropped by 30-60% in most areas,” says Krogh, adding that similar results have been observed elsewhere and can depend on local conditions and the composition of the transportation sector.

Before the pandemic, students in this class were working on group projects that involved collecting their own data, but needed to adapt their efforts because of physical distancing restrictions. Many students pivoted to an examination of publicly available air quality data from various locations across the province and the potential impacts on public health using the British Columbia Air Quality Health Index 

One of the students in the class, Annika Bouma, an alum who was completing her fourth year in a math and chemistry double minor at the time, chose to examine nitrogen dioxide levels at the Vancouver International Airport. Bouma says what she found most exciting about the project was interpreting the results, which included a decrease in nitrogen dioxide levels.

Bouma didn’t see a dramatic difference between March 2020 and 2019, but she discovered a 67% decrease in the average levels of nitrogen dioxide when comparing the first two weeks to the last two weeks of March 2020. 

“I think that COVID-19 can tell us a lot about air quality improvements as there is so much less air travel and vehicle travel occurring due to social distancing,” she says. “With this reduction we could possibly see how this affects our air quality and use the information to help improve air quality in the future.” 

Krogh says the research data allows scientists to assess how much air quality improves when vehicles are taken off the road.

“There’s a social and public health benefit to knowing that answer, whether it’s in terms of promoting electric vehicles, which don’t produce either particulate matter or nitrogen oxides, or public policy to fund public transit or pollution control measures,” he says.

Krogh says scientists around the globe have seen pollution levels dropping dramatically but noted that Nanaimo’s air quality is very good most of the time.

“People around the world are noticing for the first time how clean the air is. There are communities in Northern India that are seeing the Himalayas for the first time. Usually there is too much particulate matter that creates haze and poor visibility. I like to call this ‘2020 vision’ because it allows us to see what we have been missing,” he says.

Krogh and researchers from VIU’s AERL are also collecting air quality data of their own on the Nanaimo campus with the University’s Mobile Mass Spectrometry Facility, equipped to detect a range of air quality parameters including volatile organic compounds that are not routinely monitored but are known to play an important role. Researchers have been taking measurements since COVID-19 restrictions were put in place and Krogh says they will continue to collect readings throughout the summer to see the impacts on air quality as restrictions start to ease and people start travelling more.

Poor air quality is associated with poor health outcomes, including respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Improved air quality reduces stress on the health care system generally and has been “correlated with better COVID related health outcomes,” says Krogh.

Vancouver Island University alumni making a difference

VIU alumnus Slava Govorov is thankful to be giving back during the COVID-19 pandemic. VIU Photo

By Jenn McGarrigle
Vancouver Island University

0502 – March 2020 will go down in history as the month many of us had our lives drastically altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, from the swift shuttering of many businesses, to a mass transition to working and learning from home, to precarious or suddenly non-existent employment opportunities for the most vulnerable.

Many Vancouver Island University (VIU) alumni are on the front lines of the crisis, helping others respond to the changing world around them and adapting their business models to keep the local economy moving.

Slava Govorov, owner of the South Nanaimo and Ladysmith Panago locations, brought together all the mid-Island locations to offer first responders free small pizzas for the month of April.

“We gave away thousands of small pizzas to feed local health care workers,” explains the Business Administration alum. “It’s important to us to help in the fight against COVID-19, and as everyone loves pizza, it hasn’t been a hard task to achieve!”

Govorov has a long history of giving back to the community, supporting everything from minor sports leagues to local summer festivals to the VIU Mariners and student awards. He says his greatest wish is that all his employees and customers are staying safe at this time and hopes his business can continue to be a part of helping the mid-Island community recover.

When the Ministry of Education moved public education online in all public schools across BC, Laura Tait, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Programs with School District 68 (Nanaimo-Ladysmith), had a large task on her hands – helping to operationalize a plan for the district’s 15,000 students to continue learning from home.

“Everything has been fairly seamless in terms of video conferencing so far – there hasn’t been any major glitches,” she says. “I don’t take this lightly, even for a second. I think the only way we are going to get through this is to follow the rules. We all need to help each other get through this. 

Terence Fitzgerald and his team at Sheringham Distillery in Sooke shifted their business model to include production of hand sanitizer for people and businesses in the community. A portion of the proceeds for each bottle of “Sanette” goes toward those who are out of work due to COVID-19. 

“We are grateful that we could do something to give back during this difficult time,” says Fitzgerald, a Bachelor of Arts alum. “At times like this, it’s important we stick together and do what we can to help those around us.”

Tuesday, May 5, 2020, has been designated #GivingTuesdayNow – a global day of giving and unity as an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19. The VIU Foundation is using this day to highlight alumni, such as those featured above, who are making a difference in their communities, as well as celebrating the leadership of the VIU Students’ Union and VIU in providing emergency funds to students in need and launching a new tool to support families registering with the Canada Learning Bond.

“While many of us may feel uncertainty at this time, we are finding comfort in one unaltered truth: our VIU community is strong,” adds William Litchfield, Executive Director of the VIU Foundation. “Throughout the day, we will be sharing stories on social media and celebrating our community’s contributions. We are asking others to join us in recognizing the amazing work being done by our alumni, students and donors. If you are sharing a story, don’t forget to use the hashtags #TogetherVIU and #GivingTuesdayNow.”

One of the highlights to be shared on May 5 includes the VIU Students’ Union’s leadership gift of $75,000, which was matched by the Foundation, to the University’s emergency bursary fund to support students affected by COVID-19 crisis. Since then, VIU alumnus Jennifer Richards, Manager of Financial Aid and Resources, and her team have been working hard to get emergency bursaries into the hands of vulnerable students. In less than a month, the institution has distributed $437,500 directly to students and the Foundation is still raising money so more students can be helped. 

“It is times like this that define who we are and solidify why it is so important we pull together to support our students,” says Richards. “Our Financial Team is a passionate group working behind the scenes to support students. I feel blessed to work with such a dedicated, efficient, hard-working group.”

VIU will also be launching a platform to offer virtual live guidance and video chat walkthroughs for families who want to set up a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP). Starting on May 5, families can complete registration and have their questions answered about the Canada Learning Bond and other available education savings grants ‒ all from the comfort of their homes. With up to $3,200 of free, no-strings-attached post-secondary education savings money available, a 30-minute conversation can start the process and open the doors to higher education. For more information, families can head to

University welcome boost to bursary funds

The provincial government is providing $3.5 million to post-secondary institutions to boost their emergency bursary funds for students in need is welcome news for Vancouver Island University. 

“In these extraordinary times, we are so grateful that the provincial government has stepped up with this additional money,” says Irlanda Price, Associate Vice-President of VIU’s Student Affairs department. “This investment is going to help hundreds of VIU students meet basic needs so they can focus on finishing their semesters without worrying about where their next meal is coming from.”

The province’s commitment is a much-needed addition to VIU’s emergency bursary fund. Over the past week, the University’s Advancement, Student Affairs, Financial Aid & Awards, Finance and IT teams have pulled together to give out more than $150,000 to 600 students who applied for it, and VIU expects more students to come forward. 

Last week, the VIU Students’ Union and VIU Foundation partnered to launch a fundraising campaign to boost the amount of money available to students through the emergency fund. The campaign has now raised more than $175,000 of the $250,000 goal. An initial investment of $75,000 by VIUSU was matched by the Foundation, and then VIU President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Deb Saucier stepped in with a leadership gift from her family as well.

“While this is a difficult time for many, unfortunately, it’s more difficult for some," William Litchfield, VIU Foundation Executive Director. "If people feel they are able to donate at this time, please consider a gift to support some of our most vulnerable students to access basic needs.” 

To access emergency bursary funds, students can email

To learn more about the fundraising campaign, visit

Read the full provincial government news release:


Vancouver Island University COVID-19 status report

This week has seen lots of changes for our community as we made the decision to transition to alternate course delivery and assessment and moved most of our employees to a work from home model.

Understandably, this rapidly evolving situation is causing anxiety and stress for both students and employees. We wanted to remind everyone of the counselling supports that are in place for both students and employees and encourage people to reach out and access support if they find they are not coping. And, if you think someone needs help, please share this information with them. 

Finally, as we move into the weekend, we hope everyone will take a few moments to disconnect and do something to lift their spirits. We are all focused on trying to manage the impacts of this crisis, but it is critical that we look after ourselves so that we can, in turn, continue to look after each other, our community, and those in our community who are most vulnerable.

One way we are going to do this is by giving everyone a small break from the Daily Update so there will not be an update sent out tomorrow, Saturday, March 21. The next Daily Update will be on Sunday, March 22, in the evening.

However, we are still here for you. If you need something, please connect with us through

Please note: New information is in the New Items section; information that’s already been shared is in the Reminder section.

In both the ‘New Items’ and ‘Reminder’ sections, you’ll find information for both students and employees highlighted in green; information specifically for students is highlighted in yellow; and information specifically for employees is highlighted in blue.



VIU holding women's basketball championship tourney

VIU Mariners Women’s Basketball in season play versus Camosun College.
Photo by Northfield Photography

The top women’s university and college basketball players from across the country will be giving it their all in high-paced action at the 2020 Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Women’s National Basketball Championship hosted at Vancouver Island University (VIU) March 18 - 22. 

VIU Mariners women are going into the competition as this year’s Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST) BC champions with a 17-1 record and will be looking to earn a national gold medal for the first time since 1998. The women won provincial gold medals in 2013, 2016 and 2019 and are currently ranked the No. 2 team in the country behind Dawson College out of Quebec.

“It's hard to predict who will come out on top at this year’s tournament,” says Tony Bryce, VIU Mariner’s Women’s Basketball Head Coach, and 2020 PACWEST Coach of the Year. “We will have the top eight teams from across the country coming to Nanaimo and they rarely, if ever, get a chance to see each other until this event. From being there last year, I feel we are right there, and have as good a chance as anyone of winning it all. It should be exciting to see the matchups and battles over the three-day tournament.” 

The action gets under way Thursday at 1 pm for the quarter-final matchups with the Lakeland Rustlers taking on the Capilano Blues. The Mariners play their first game at 6 pm Thursday and have the home court advantage after a fourth place finish last year.  

“For us, it's just about trusting our preparation and playing our game,” says Bryce. “Last year heading to Quebec, I felt perhaps there was a bit of doubt. There is no doubt anymore, we know we belong, and so we will be confident and ready to get after it.” 

Since 2007, VIU has hosted CCAA National Championships on five occasions: men’s volleyball in 2007, women’s volleyball in 2012, women’s basketball in 2015, badminton in 2016 and men’s soccer in 2017.

“Vancouver Island University is honoured to be hosting this tournament and to have the opportunity to showcase both our campus and our varsity athletics program,” says Dr. Deb Saucier, VIU President and Vice-Chancellor. “It is no easy feat to maintain a good academic standing while being a member of a varsity team that is excelling at the national level, in addition to balancing other commitments. All of the competing athletes should be incredibly proud of their accomplishments.”

All games will take place in the VIU gymnasium, which was resurfaced in the summer of 2019.

“We are focused on delivering the best experience for all the student-athletes, coaches and fans at this tournament,” says Bryce. “Fans will see the incredible athleticism and talent that these young women possess. At the National level, the pace and intensity is ramped up to another level and you can truly feel it in the gym. Hoping hoops fans young and old come and take in the excitement and support your local Mariners.”

The tournament schedule can be found on the CCAA website.  The games will be live streamed on

PWST Champions – Mariners, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, BC
ACAA Champions - Mount Mystics, Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, Nova Scotia
OCAA Champions – Fanshawe Falcons, Fanshawe College, London, Ontario
ACAC Champions – Lakeland Rustlers, Lakeland College, Vermillion, Alberta
RSEQ Champions – Dynamiques, Cégep de Sainte-Foy, Sainte-Foy, Quebec
BC PWST Host – Capilano Blues, Capilano University, North Vancouver
ACAC Wildcard – Keyano Huskies, Keyano College, Fort McMurray, Alberta
RSEW Wildcard - Dawson College Blues, Dawson College, Montreal, Quebec

VI University opens recruitment office in Ecuado

From the Canadian Embassy in Ecuador - Tyler Wordsworth, Head of Commercial Affairs; Sylvie Bédard, Ambassador of Canada in Ecuador; Irlanda Price, VIU Associate Vice-President of Student Affairs; Carla Torres, VIU Alumni; Bruce Condie, VIU Director, International Marketing, Recruitment and Business Development; Daniela Asan, Vice Mayor, Municipality of Milagro; Pamela Cisneros, VIU Recruitment & Marketing Representative.
Vancouver Island University photo


Vancouver Island University (VIU) is enriching its international student population with the opening of a recruitment office in Quito, Ecuador.

“Reaching out to potential students across Latin America is a logical extension of what we have to offer,” says Bruce Condie, VIU’s Director of International Marketing, Recruitment and Business Development. “Canadian education, and our ideals and lifestyle, is valued in many Spanish speaking countries extending from Mexico into South America. They are also looking to expand their awareness and abilities in English, which will enhance their career prospects and VIU is well-positioned to provide a variety of programs to meet these requisites.”

A 2019 Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) report states the country has moved into a top five position among leading global study destinations and the number of international students studying in Canada grew by 73 per cent between 2014 and 2018. 

VIU has recruitment offices in China, India, Vietnam and Germany. In 2019, more than 2,600 international students from 93 countries came to study at VIU. 

“The university is attractive to international students because of the wide range of flexible and career-oriented credentials and programs we offer and they can obtain relevant and market-ready skills,” says Condie.  

As people become more mobile worldwide and students have considerably more destinations and institutions to choose from, having an agent positioned in emerging markets such as Latin America provides value-added services. 

VIU Recruitment & Marketing Representative Pamela Cisneros will be the Head of Operations for Latin America operating out of the Quito office.

“Being from Ecuador, she can offer assistance in a timely manner, in the first language of the Spanish speaking countries of Latin America, and students and parents appreciate having someone from their own culture being able to act as a facilitator,” adds Condie. 

The Quito office was officially opened February 5 at a special ceremony attended by Sylvie Bédard, Ambassador of Canada in Ecuador, along with a number of other notable Canadian government officials, local authorities, high school counsellors, prospective students and Irlanda Price, VIU Associate Vice-President of Student Affairs.

“The recruiting office in Quito is an opportunity for VIU to raise the profile of the University and encourage new relationships and collaboration with institutions in Latin American countries,” says Condie. “It also helps us focus our efforts on diversification of the student population which strengthens the quality of student and employee experiences in a global world.”