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.”