Patty Wellborn



Wendy Wong, UBC Okanagan Professor of Political Science.

Every time a person opens an app, gives a thumbs up to a social media post or interacts digitally, data about them is collected and updated.

Digital data is everywhere and is constantly being modified and used to create algorithms that can impact what lands on our digital platforms. Do we have control over personal data? Should we be worried about who is collecting and using it?

And what role does artificial intelligence play in all of this?

UBC Okanagan’s Wendy H. Wong is a Professor and Principal’s Research Chair in Political Science and an expert on personal data. Her latest book, We the Data: Human Rights in the Digital Age has been shortlisted for the 2024 Lionel Gelber Prize—an international award for the best non-fiction book in international affairs written in English. The prize, issued by the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, was founded in 1989 by Canadian diplomat Lionel Gelber and seeks to deepen public debate on significant international issues.

Dr. Wong’s book, the lone Canadian selection and one of five contenders this year, explores how technology companies play a pivotal role in governing our lives by leveraging the countless amounts of personal data generated in our everyday interactions online.

While AI is now a common term and people have adapted and embraced tools like ChatGPT, changes seem to take place daily. But should people be concerned? Or accept that, even if we try to protect it, our data is being mined and AI is part now of our everyday lives?

Your book focuses on understanding how big tech companies are mining, storing and profiting from our data. Why is this so important?

We have to start understanding the role that private corporations play in the governance of our everyday lives. We interact daily with platforms that are not subject to the same responsibilities as governments. Yet, we are often more than happy to, or at least, more comfortable with, ceding access to data about us to corporations than to the state.

I think it is time we’re more skeptical about how these data are treated. This is not to say corporations are bad. But we don’t tend to think of them or hold them accountable in the same way we do governments, which must protect and enforce human rights.

Should we be concerned about how quickly AI has been integrated into education, health care and general society?

AI is a shiny new technology. And we’re trying to integrate it when we don’t understand that the human data that powers AI doesn’t go away easily—it’s sticky. Data’s stickiness affects us in our everyday activities—it’s time policymakers and technology creators reckon with how AI changes humanity through the human rights values of autonomy, dignity, equality and community. We’re all stakeholders in data, and we need to explicitly acknowledge not just how data affects us, but how we can influence data creation.

We the Data is the only Canadian book to make this list for a Canadian book prize. Is that significant?

It’s particularly nice to represent Canadian authors and Canadian scholarship. This prize is open to all English language books on international affairs, so the field is quite large. I think it’s important that views from Canada are present in debates on global politics because we have so much to offer policymakers and the public.

Were you surprised by this prestigious nomination?

You never write a book thinking it’s going to be recognized by an international jury as a contender for a major award! It took a day for me to let it sink in. It is truly a wonderful affirmation of how centrally we need to discuss human rights when we consider AI and data about human beings.

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A photo of people on a wharf viewing the McDougall Creek wildfire from across Okanagan Lake.

UBCO’s Dr. Mary Ann Murphy discusses the emotional recovery after the trauma of experiencing a wildfire.

A year after the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire, a team of UBC Okanagan researchers reached out to people who had lost their homes in the fire. Some 25 Okanagan families were interviewed, sharing their emotional journey of recovery after the wildlife.

Mary Ann Murphy, an Associate Professor of Sociology at UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and with the School of Social Work, has become an expert on the emotional aspect of recovering from trauma—especially the devastation of wildfires.

Dr. Murphy, along with fellow UBCO researchers David Scott, Fern Helfand and Penny Cash, took the information gleaned from those interviews and created a Kelowna Museum exhibition titled The Meaning of Home. The exhibition included fire science and artifacts, along with images depicting the primary themes of impact and loss identified by both the families and first responders.

What the researchers learned 20 years ago resonates today as the communities of the Central Okanagan continue to deal with the reality of the Grouse Complex Wildfire which caused damage in Kelowna, West Kelowna and Lake Country and continues to burn today.

What did you learn when you interviewed those who had lost their homes in 2003?

There was a profound sense of guilt felt by those who left behind simple but irreplaceable mementos that represented deeply embedded memories—children’s trophies and stuffed animals, family heirlooms and old, inexpensive keepsakes that most represented what they cherished about their home and history.

They grieved, had sleepless nights, health problems and worked to help their children adjust to new neighbourhoods and friends. And, they mourned about living with the incredible loss of what was more than a structure—as every comfort, every family routine and ritual, everything familiar was turned upside down. They struggled with the loss of something that many people work, sacrifice, tend to and care about. Many said it was not a house, but a home—a place that is a welcoming safe harbour, a site of shared history, comfort, celebrations and traditions.

Why did you feel it was important to tell the stories of those who had lost their homes?

We wanted to share the depth and significance of their loss. We captured the very personal impact of the fire and related their stories. The exhibition included fire science and artifacts, along with images depicting the primary themes of impact and loss identified by both the families and a number of the FortisBC power line technicians who were among the first to enter the fire areas.

Museum visitors left familiar reflections on the depth and significance of what was lost: “…seeing the fire was … [eerily] awesome. The most heart-breaking sight was watching the people drive by with all of their belongings in their vehicles. The most wonderful thing was hearing how your community came together.”

How do the people who live in the Central Okanagan brace for the future?

It has been an astonishing 20 years since the historic 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire—an event that destroyed more than 25,000 hectares of parkland, forced more than 33,000 people to evacuate and levelled 238 homes. At the time, it was one of the largest wildland-urban interface fires in Canadian history. It forever changed our landscape and our psyche.

We could never have anticipated that 20 years later, almost to the date, we would be living under a provincial state of emergency, evacuations, homes destroyed, smoke-filled skies and hundreds of fires would become what we are told may be our “new normal.”

To prepare for the future, find information about making your home as fire smart as possible. And keep in mind, at any time, you may have short notice to evacuate. Know where those important documents are and keep a list handy of things you would need to take with you.

What message would you give to all those who have been affected by this wildfire?

Remember, things will get better.

However, don’t suffer alone. Advice from previously impacted families is to reach out for help, continue to share how you’re feeling and doing with friends and neighbours as well as look next door to see if anyone from your street might still need help. Talk with your children in case they feel guilty about what was left behind and let them know that this turmoil is normal.

As we heal and move forward, you will learn that this was one of our region’s “finest and darkest hours” and that the simple outpouring of concern from everyone far and wide is entirely sincere. Get back to the people you haven’t heard from in ages who expressed concern. Let them know how you are truly feeling. Families previously impacted have said this can be a great opportunity to reset your priorities.

And finally, try to be patient. The fires aren’t fully under control and some sites simply aren’t safe yet. But we will get through this. We are a resilient and caring community. In all, take great comfort from all of those—including first responders—who have cared for us and avoided the loss of life.

A photo of people on a beach viewing the McDougall Creek wildfire from across Okanagan Lake.

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Back to school can be exciting but with each new year comes change, especially for students entering middle school. UBCO experts provide some tips for parents to navigate those middle years.

Long before children are ready for middle school, their parents have heard the horror stories.

Online bullying, gender identity, social media, vaping, drugs, sex and dating…the list of potential pitfalls and obstacles can feel overwhelmingly endless.

It’s enough to disrupt even the most stable of households when a child shifts from the safety and security of the known into the uncertainty of a new school—especially if it’s around a milestone like the first day of middle or high school.

UBC Okanagan’s scholars and researchers want to help. Experts from across disciplines provide a few tips to help parents successfully navigate this new phase of their journeys.

“Make a plan,” says Dr. Stephen Berg, Associate Professor, Okanagan School of Education 

The start of another school year is an exciting and sometimes nerve-wracking time for everyone in a family. New activities and routines begin, so taking the time to plan and communicate with everyone in the family can help ease anxiety and nervousness going into the year.

Along with this, it is so important for children and youth to have proper nutrition. Having them take a water bottle to school—if allowed—helps maintain hydration and planning for healthy snacks and lunches helps with alertness and self-regulation in the classroom.

Of course, being physically active throughout the day is just as important. Even if there are no activities planned, something like going for a walk or other cost-effective activity gets children outside and can also be a great way to communicate and connect with each other.

“Encourage kindness,” says Dr. John Tyler Binfet, Associate Professor, Okanagan School of Education

A previous study involving 191 Grade 9 students from Central Okanagan Public Schools demonstrated that when the teens were encouraged to be kind, they surpassed expectations.

Within one week, more than 940 acts of kindness—sharing school supplies, giving compliments, helping with chores or encouraging others—were accomplished. As the bulk of the kind acts took place at the school, the findings show positive effects on school climate, student-to-student relationships and student behaviour.

I think adolescents can be misperceived, especially in schools. And if educators and parents can model kindness or provide examples of kindness, it will make being kind easier for adolescents.

“Keep the big picture in mind,” says Dr. Jessica Lougheed, Assistant Professor, Psychology, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

For kids and teens in middle school and high school grades, back to school can be an especially challenging time. Often, tweens and teens are experiencing developmental changes in many domains at the same time—these include puberty, with more intense and less predictable emotions, as well as new activities, peer groups and schools.

Relationships with primary caregivers, understandably, can become more strained. The back-to-school season is yet another change. When routines change in such a big way, we typically see a period of less predictable daily dynamics in the household before everything settles into a new routine. Often, what’s going on in one area, such as your child’s school or social life, will influence other areas including their emotions or how they relate to family members.

If you notice a lack of balance in your household dynamic at the start of the school year, it might be helpful to keep the bigger picture in mind. Change is hard, and your tweens and teens are navigating an acute change to their daily schedules and activities at the same time as all of their other developmental changes. Irritability might be directed at you, but it might not be about you.

Check-in with your child when things are quieter and calmer, and it might be easier to make a connection then.

“Communicate well, and communicate often,” says Dr. Shirley Hutchinson, Lecturer, Psychology, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Transitioning back to school, especially a new school, can be hard for both students and parents. Much of the anxiety stems from uncertainty and one of the best ways to deal with uncertainty is to try and collect as much information as possible.

Communication is key.

Parents should talk to their children and explore the new or returning school environment together. Talk about what the children are excited about and what they may be nervous about. And most importantly, talk about what worries are within their control and which ones are not. Knowledge goes a long way to reducing uncertainty and easing anxieties.

“Get those steps in and keep active,” says Dr. Ali McManus, Professor, School of Health and Exercise Sciences

Physical activity is just another word for movement and it can look like anything including riding your bike to school, cleaning your room, mowing the grass, walking the dog or playing sports.

The easier way to keep active is to get your steps in. In Canada, the recommended daily steps are 13,000 for adolescent boys and 11,000 for girls. But in middle school steps tend to decline and across Canada less than 10 per cent of our teens meet these guidelines. Here are four easy tips on ways to get more active: start small, make it social, do things you enjoy and make time in your day, every day, for activity.

“Provide a non-judgmental space to chat about the risks of vaping and smoking,” says Dr. Laura Struik, School of Nursing

Vaping has become common in school environments, with youth stating that the commute to school, school washrooms, recess and lunch are contexts where they are frequently exposed to vaping. Having open discussions about vaping with your child can help if they are feeling pressured, or even curious, about vaping.

Parents might also get some empty vape devices, free of charge at a vape store, to start the conversation and address the curiosity that frequently contributes to trying vaping. Role play can also help prepare a child to proactively think about how they might manage peer pressure situations that could make vaping tempting. And parental or family disapproval can play a strong role in preventing uptake of vaping among children and youth.

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Wildfire suppression planes work on a fire in the Okanagan earlier this spring.

This week, the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations downgraded many evacuation orders to alerts—but every resident in the region knows the wildfire situation continues to evolve and will leave a lasting impression both on the landscape and in the Okanagan’s collective psyche.

While fire crews continue to work the frontlines, a team of UBC Okanagan experts can provide information on fire growth, habitat loss, post-fire spreading and even the emotional turmoil of being evacuated due to wildfire.

Mathieu Bourbonnais, Assistant Professor, Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Areas of expertise:

  • Wildfire risk,
  • Wildfire suppression and mitigation
  • Firefighting and use of satellites for wildfire detection and monitoring

Tel: 778 583 0272

Greg Garrard, Professor of Environmental Humanities, Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies

Areas of expertise:

  • Environmental literature
  • Culture and climate change (including skepticism)
  • The cultural ecology of wildfire
  • Political polarization 

Tel: 250 863 2822

Karen Hodges, Professor of Conservation Biology, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Areas of expertise:

  • Conservation biology
  • Habitat loss
  • Extinction risks
  • Wildfires and wildlife
  • Climate change and wildfire
  • Endangered species
  • Boreal forests
  • Mammals
  • Birds

Tel: 250 807 8763

Alessandro Ielpi, Assistant Professor, Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Areas of expertise:

  • Watershed processes
  • Rivers and floodplains
  • Post-fire flooding
  • Stream widening and bank erosion

Tel: 250 807 8364

Mary-Ann Murphy, Associate Professor, School of Social Work and Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Areas of expertise:

  • Dealing with the emotional trauma of wildfires
  • Lessons from evacuees
  • What to pack when evacuating
  • Caring for seniors in extreme heat
  • Aging and demographics

Tel: 250 807 8705

David Scott, Associate Professor, Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Areas of expertise:

  • Effects of wildfire on hydrology and erosion
  • Evaluation of fire site rehabilitation methods in terms of controlling erosion and sedimentation


John R.J. Thompson, Assistant Professor, Data Science, Mathematics, Statistics, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Areas of expertise:

  • Statistical fire growth modelling and simulation
  • Fire image analysis

Tel: 289 776 9678

Babak Tosarkani, Assistant Professor, School of Engineering

Areas of expertise:

  • Supply Chain Management
  • Operations Management
  • Sustainability and Circular Economy
  • Risk Management
  • Strategic Sustainable Development

Tel: 647 551 7732

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UBC Okanagan became a temporary shelter for hundreds of firefighters who were in Kelowna battling wildfires near the campus.

Last week when the flames of the McDougall Creek wildfire jumped Okanagan Lake, UBC Okanagan’s Robyn Boffy sprang into action.

In her previous life as an RCMP officer, Boffy executed a tabletop simulation—almost exactly 10 years to the date—with police and fire officials about a potential fire in the Clifton area. Suddenly, late that night, the McDougall Creek wildfire brought that exercise vividly to life, with embers landing in Clifton and sparking a second massive fire in the Kelowna region.

Boffy—now the campus Community Safety Manager—knew exactly what could happen with the fire and where it could spread. And she knew the result might not be good.

Within half an hour, UBCO’s security managers—Boffy along with Troy Campbell and Doug Hufsmith—arrived on campus to observe the fire activity. From a parking lot at the edge of campus, the trio watched the fire descend the hill towards Glenmore landfill and continue to inch closer to UBC Okanagan.

“Hand-sized pieces of branches and bark were falling all over campus, so we grabbed our water tanks in case there were spot fires we needed to tackle,” explains Boffy. “We’ve been patrolling campus for days because the falling debris has been relentless.”

Since that first night of uncertainty, the Campus Security team has been a constant 24/7 source of support for the entire campus community, explains Shelley Kayfish, Director of Campus Operations and Risk Management at UBCO.

Whether it’s providing information on how to safely travel to Vernon or Kamloops to escape the flames, answering general questions about evacuations and left-behind items, or speaking with other university departments to understand how to keep the campus afloat, the team hasn’t left UBC Okanagan since the start of the fire.

“This is despite the fact that many members of the team are first responders in other capacities and have been working double shifts by helping to support local fire departments or assist the Central Okanagan Search and Rescue that was carrying out evacuation orders notices, then coming to campus to ensure security and safety,” explains Kayfish, who was on scene even though she and her family had been evacuated. “Even campus dispatchers—who have experienced their own harrowing evacuations—have been working 12-hour shifts to support callers ranging from students to on-campus accommodation guests.”

During this time, they have also supported the many different fire departments and the more than 500 firefighters housed on campus to ensure each one of them is comfortable and safe.

“While students, faculty and staff evacuated campus with help from First Transit, we assisted the RCMP in clearing the academic and administration buildings. That meant walking into every single room and space on campus to ensure people were evacuated. We even secured unlocked properties in the residence area, since a lot of people left in a hurry and didn’t shut their doors.”

Working at the Kelowna RCMP Detachment’s command room, Insp. Beth McAndie had heard the Glenmore landfill was burning and knew the UBCO was in the line of fire. She quickly connected with people in the Emergency Operation Centre and then with Kayfish.

“We have a close collaboration with UBCO’s leadership and security team. I reached into our contacts, and through established relationships, was able to quickly notify those in positions to make critical and timely decisions to start evacuating the campus,” says Insp. McAndie. “There was a lot of teamwork taking place and everyone’s goal was to ensure the safety and security of the students.”

Campbell spent Saturday checking in on students who were evacuated to Prospera Place, reassuring them that campus was still standing and that once safe, they could return. The rest of the security team has been patrolling campus to prevent theft and vandalism, ensuring that everyone has a safe space to return to.

While the campus may be missing its usual vibrancy and life, Boffy has found one silver lining of the wildfire situation through the majestic wildlife that has flooded campus.

“They’re fleeing the fires too and there’s a sense of peace seeing them eat and rest here.”

Kayfish echoes Boffy’s sentiment of pride, knowing her staff ensure that all UBCO students, faculty and staff continue to have a safe place to teach, study, learn and work.

And Boffy knows the campus and its residents will rebound.

“Our pride for this campus is unwavering. And we are so thankful the evacuation went as smoothly as it did and the students were ready and prepared to leave,” Boffy adds. “It was nice to see everyone working together, and that’s what UBC Okanagan is all about. Supporting one another and ensuring our community’s safety is the most important thing.”

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UBCO celebrated the class of 2023 this week including the top academic students and medal winners.


This week UBC Okanagan celebrated the graduating students of 2023. As part of graduation, the top academic students are recognized for their accomplishments which often include high academic grades and community service.

Governor General’s Gold Medal

A passion for research, a personal connection and the desire to help a population often overlooked by researchers took Sarah Lawrason down a path that eventually led to one of UBC Okanagan’s top accomplishments.

Dr. Lawrason has been named UBCO’s 2023 winner of the Governor General’s Gold Medal. She completed her PhD in Kinesiology, spending several years researching people who live with incomplete spinal cord injuries (SCI). Her research led to the design, implementation and evaluation of a mobile-based physical activity program for people with an SCI who walk. The goal was to support this particular population to become more physically active.

“Physical activity is so beneficial for health and wellbeing, but there is little research and resources to support people with SCI and even less for those with an SCI who can walk,” she says.

Dr. Lawrason admits there is a personal side to her drive. Her brother sustained an SCI in 2016—helping him live the best life he can became part of her mandate.

The Governor General’s Gold Medal is awarded to the student who has achieved the most outstanding academic record as a doctoral or master’s student completing a dissertation or thesis.

While working on her PhD, Dr. Lawrason conducted five studies with the ambulatory SCI population—a growing segment often referred to as the “forgotten ones” because they have been completely overlooked in health research and promotion, she says. Her research engaged with the SCI community and tech-industry partners to achieve significant breakthroughs and help pave the way for further scientific and clinical applications.

She conducted her research under the supervision of Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis, who describes Dr. Lawrason as someone with an exemplary record of high-impact, novel, interdisciplinary, community-engaged research who has made diverse and considerable contributions to society.

“Sarah has established an outstanding reputation for research leadership and conducted her PhD research with unwavering commitment to using community-engaged methods and improving the health of people with disabilities,” says Dr. Martin Ginis. “Of the 13 PhD students I’ve supervised, she ranks among the top in terms of breadth and depth of skill and is more than deserving of this recognition.”

Governor General’s Silver Medal winner

Solomon Thiessen, described as an “exceptionally gifted” School of Engineering student, has been named the winner of UBC’s Governor General’s Silver Medal. It is awarded annually to the student who has achieved the highest academic standing of all students in their graduating year. UBC awards three silver medals each year: one in arts, one in science and one for all other faculties including those at UBC Okanagan.

Thiessen recently completed his Bachelor of Applied Science with UBCO’s School of Engineering, impressing his professors by earning a final mark of 100 per cent on 12 of his engineering courses.

He has a keen interest in computer engineering and he minored in computer science. During his studies, he worked on a variety of projects including a portable MRI device with Drs. Rebecca Feldman and Sabine Weyand as well as a wireless sensor node network with Dr. Dean Richert. Despite his heavy course load, he also volunteered as a tutor in math, physics, applied science and computer science through the student learning hub and worked as a teaching assistant in the automation lab.

Within the School of Engineering, he was held in high esteem among the teaching staff, says Dr. Dean Richert, an Assistant Professor of Teaching in Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering

“It has been an absolute pleasure to witness Sol’s progression throughout his degree and I am delighted to see him being acknowledged as a recipient of this award,” says Dr. Richert. “Sol not only possesses exceptional academic prowess but also demonstrates an outstanding work ethic and professionalism, distinguishing himself as one of the most exceptional students I have had the privilege of working with.”

Thiessen has been accepted to the computer science master’s program at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. Following his studies at ETH Zurich, he plans to pursue a PhD in artificial intelligence. In the meantime, he is “tinkering” on a few software projects while working as a contractor for the Western Canadian Learning Network.

Lieutenant Governor Medal Program for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation

A well-travelled and active member of the UBCO campus community, Haja Mabinty (Binta) Sesay has been named the winner of the Lieutenant Governor Medal Program for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation.

Sesay has just completed her degree in International Relations and has been recognized for her leadership and dedication to helping make UBCO a more inclusive campus community. During her four years of study, she volunteered with the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office during back-to-school celebrations and spent two years volunteering with African Caribbean Student Club. She also held an executive role with the UBC Black caucus team and UBC’s Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force.

Sesay started her schooling in The Gambia and moved to the United Kingdom for part of her high school education, completing her last year in Jerusalem. She came to UBCO in 2018, having been attracted to the close-knit campus and knowing the programs were academically strong.

Although she applied for the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal, she had no expectations of winning the recognition and was surprised when notified she was the winner.

“Just getting the email to apply for the award made me feel accomplished,” she says. “I was super shocked when I got the email saying I was selected. I am so passionate about all the work I have done and never expect anything back, but it also feels nice to be recognized. I feel very honoured.”

The Lieutenant Governor Medal Program for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation recognizes students who have distinguished themselves through their post-secondary education with outstanding contributions to the promotion of inclusion, democracy or reconciliation.

Madison Tardif, who worked with Sesay at the UBC Equity and Inclusion Office, says she has played a key role in leading and working within various groups and committees to advocate for a more anti-racist and inclusive institution, with a particular focus on supporting the Black community.

“Binta has dedicated herself to the promotion of anti-racism across the university and in the broader community, advocating for changes that will continue to shape and improve the experiences of Black students, faculty and staff at UBC,” says Tardif. “Binta’s commitment to addressing structural inequities and advocating for a more inclusive campus shines in her leadership roles and her consistent desire to show up for and in solidarity with diverse communities.”

Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize

Madyson Campbell, who received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree Thursday, is the winner of the Pushor Mitchell Gold Medal Leadership Prize. Knowing she eventually planned to go to medical school, Campbell came to UBCO from Thunder Bay wanting to experience a few years living in a different province and knew the Okanagan would suit her lifestyle.

While working on her degree she participated in several multidisciplinary undergraduate research projects in health and worked on a student-led project to develop a pilot curriculum on a restorative approach to improve the experiences of patients who have been harmed within the health care system.

Campbell is a proud citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario and works to advocate for and ensure the voices of Métis youth are heard at the provincial and national levels.

“The support provided by this award is immeasurable, as it allows students like myself to continue our academic and leadership goals after graduating from UBC. This award has allowed me to pursue a research opportunity this summer at the University of Toronto. I cannot understate how deeply honoured I am to have been chosen by this committee. I will carry this recognition with me as I move forward in my academic and career pursuits.”

As a winner of the Pushor Mitchell award, she receives a $10,000 scholarship which she says will support her journey as she enters the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Thunder Bay this fall.

The Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize recognizes a top graduating student who has excelled academically and has shown leadership while earning their degree.

“Pushor Mitchell LLP is thrilled to support another exceptional graduate at UBC Okanagan with our Gold Medal Leadership Award, as they make their way to become the next generation of great leaders in our community, both in the Okanagan and beyond”, says Joni Metherell, Managing Partner for Pushor Mitchell. “We congratulate Madyson and all of UBCO’s 2023 graduates on their success.”

Heads of Graduating Class

University of BC Medal in Arts
Samantha Barg

University of BC Medal in Education
Isabela Richard

University of BC Medal in Engineering
Solomon Thiessen

University of BC Medal in Fine Arts
Josie Hillman

University of BC Medal in Human Kinetics
Melina Marini

University of BC Medal in Management
Aurora Gardiner

University of BC Medal in Media Studies
Amanda McIvor

University of BC Medal in Nsyilxcn Language Fluency
Sheri Stelkia

University of BC Medal in Nursing
Kayla Petersen

University of BC Medal in Science
Harman Sohal

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Students in the class of 2023 will graduate in six different ceremonies at UBCO this week.

This week, UBC Okanagan will celebrate the graduating class of 2023. And while hundreds of students will cross the stage to accept their degrees, there will still be a series of unique firsts.

On June 8 and 9, UBCO will confer more than 2,300 degrees during six graduation ceremonies. On Thursday, the first-ever Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency degree graduates will receive their degrees.

“Graduation provides us the opportunity to recognize and congratulate our students and their successes,” says Dr. Lesley Cormack, UBCO’s Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. “I am incredibly proud of all of our students, with particular note for those receiving our first degrees in Nsyilxcn Language Fluency.”

The Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency degrees will be conferred by UBC’s Chancellor, the Honourable xwĕ lī qwĕl tĕl Steven Point. Chancellor Point will also confer honorary degrees on suiki?st Pauline Terbasket, Executive Director of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, and Lindsay Gordon, Point’s predecessor as UBC Chancellor. Interim UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Deborah Buszard, who is the former UBCO Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, will share the stage throughout the six graduation ceremonies with Dr. Cormack, the current campus Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

There are three ceremonies on Thursday, the first beginning at 8:30 am, and three on Friday morning with the first also starting at 8:30 am.

Of the more than 2,320 degrees being presented this week, more than 450 students will earn their master’s degree, and 60 are being conferred as PhDs. These students have reached the highest level of achievement in their disciplines, says Dr. Cormack.

She also notes the students graduating this year continued their studies during the COVID-19 pandemic, and pivoted to online courses as the university quickly adapted to online and remote delivery of classes in 2020.

“I offer the UBC Okanagan class of 2023 my warmest congratulations for their remarkable achievements,” says Dr. Cormack. “These students persevered through an unusual time none of us could have predicted. They stayed dedicated to their studies as they not only transitioned to online learning, but back onto campus last year to complete their studies in-person. I am so grateful for this group of students as they showed grit and passion and worked through an extraordinary time to complete their studies. With these experiences, we know they have the ability to realize their highest ambitions, both personally and by shaping the world they’re entering as UBC alumni.”

The 18th annual graduation celebration happens Thursday and Friday inside the UBC Okanagan gymnasium. Parking is free during the day.

Quick facts:

  • 2,320 students will cross the stage during six graduation ceremonies
  • Two honorary degrees will be conferred, one each day
  • Thursday, 8:30 am, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science
  • Thursday, 11 am, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Science
  • Thursday, 1:30 am, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies**
    ** Including the Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency
  • Friday, 8:30 am, Faculty of Health and Social Development*
    * Including nursing and social work
  • Friday, 11 am, Faculty of Education: Okanagan School of Education and the Faculty of Management
  • Friday, 1:30 pm, Faculty of Applied Science: School of Engineering
  • Parking is free both days

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UBCO Professor Wendy Wong is one of two professors who will discuss the government’s role in the ever-changing digital era at a public talk Friday.

As artificial intelligence starts acting more human, could it change the way governments understand their relationships with citizens?

This is one of many questions up for discussion on Friday night, says Dr. Wendy H. Wong, a Professor of Political Science in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Dr. Wong is a world-renowned author and researcher who has organized a public talk called Virtual Realities: States and Territory in the Digital Era. On Friday, she and fellow AI researcher Dr. Louise Amoore will discuss government’s role in the digital era.

Why are you hosting this event?

I’m the founder of the Governance of Emerging Technologies group, which is primarily a collection of scholars who’ve been brought together through a shared interest in the political and social impacts of technology, and how those impacts might be managed.

We understand that the public has an important stake in these issues as well as scholars, so this event is about creating a space where we can all have honest conversations about the impacts of technology.

What is the goal of this event?

Our goal is to educate the public on how the logics created by deep learning technologies—like ChatGPT and other forms of artificial intelligence—impact the way governments are able to understand themselves and their relationships to citizens. For example, what are the social benefits and costs of either “leading” or “falling behind” on AI?

Can you tell us about the evening’s guest speaker Dr. Louise Amoore?

Dr. Louise Amoore is a widely celebrated scholar of political geography from Durham University in the United Kingdom. Dr. Amoore has published several books on technology and algorithms, most recently one called Cloud Ethics. Her work is wide-ranging and showcases how changing technological landscapes can impact our political futures.

What can people expect?

Guests can expect a brief, publicly oriented lecture by Dr. Amoore, followed by a conversation between myself and Dr. Amoore. I will ask exploratory questions that follow up on her lecture. I expect Dr. Amoore to explain how AI changes the way that governments think about themselves in relation to their citizens.

This shift in the “logic” of sovereignty means that there is potential for states to change the way they govern. How do existing rules apply when the logic of AI, which runs on extensive data collection and high levels of computing power that run sophisticated algorithms, becomes part of what government does?

Are states more or less powerful as a result?

As this talk is designed to be open-ended and broad, guests can also expect discussions on AI-related topics like data and data collection. Following the presentation, there will be a Q&A session.

Who is welcome to attend this event?

Thanks to sponsors, this event is free and open to everyone. Due to space restrictions, pre-registration is required.

The event takes place, Friday, May 5 at 5 pm at the Kelowna Innovation Centre, at 460 Doyle Ave. To register or find out more, visit:

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The above image was generated by Midjourney, an AI visualization program, using a simple prompt:
“create an image showing how AI is positively and negatively affecting the world.”

In an environment of increasing polarization, debates can serve as a way of bringing worlds together. This belief is behind UBC Okanagan’s venture to champion civil discourse.

“At UBC Okanagan, we believe that debate is an antidote to polarization,” says Lesley Cormack, UBC Okanagan’s Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor and host of the marquee event. “Universities can facilitate tough conversations and convene opposing perspectives, and UBC Okanagan Debates will serve as a lively and engaging platform to examine tough topics in an illuminating way.”

The inaugural debate on May 3 will tackle artificial intelligence—one of the most defining issues of our time. Debaters will present either an optimistic or skeptical perspective of AI and discuss whether we should take a step back and press pause or embrace this potentially disruptive technology.

The debate will be moderated by Nora Young, radio personality and host of CBC’s Spark—a show devoted to digital technology.

“We have the luxury of living in the information age, but the downside is that we are drowning in information,” says Marten Youssef, Associate Vice-President of University Relations at UBCO. “Quantity of information isn’t just the problem, but it’s the quality of it too. This is why debating artificial intelligence is both urgent and important.”

On Wednesday, May 3, UBCO will convene four leading thinkers in artificial intelligence to debate the optimistic and skeptical sides of this topic. How it will impact our human connections, our creativity and the way we work. The debaters are:

On the optimist side:

Kevin Leyton-Brown—a Computer Science Professor who likes to play games with machines. He teaches them how to learn, cooperate and compete in complex environments such as auctions and markets.

Madeleine Ransom—a Philosophy Professor who likes to explore how we perceive the world. She investigates how our senses, cognition and technology shape our understanding of reality and art. She is philosophical about AI: it’s going to change the world for the better.

On the skeptic side:

Bryce Traister—Dean of the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, he has expertise in early American literature, culture, religion and science fiction. He is also a master debater who can challenge any professor to a verbal duel. He loves sci-fi and is proud to be a nerd.

Wendy Wong—a Professor and Principal’s Research Chair of Political Science. She has written a book about data and human rights that will be published in October 2023. She thinks AI poses a threat to our social and political frameworks, and it is time to empower the stakeholders in AI discussions.

Hosted by Dr. Cormack, the event takes place at UBCO’s Commons theatre at 7 pm. The event is free and open to the public but registration is required. More information, and a registration link, can be found at:

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UBCO students will debate if a temporary wealth tax could help with Canada’s affordability crisis.

What: Roger Watts Debate: Be it resolved that Canada’s affordability crisis justifies a temporary wealth tax
Who: UBC Okanagan student debaters
When: Wednesday, March 29 at 5:30 pm
Where: Mary Irwin Theatre, Rotary Centre for the Arts, 421 Cawston Ave., Kelowna

In a world of division, debate matters.

As many Canadians struggle with the rising costs of food, gas and accommodation, some wonder if the government should or could do more.

These struggles are at the centre of this year’s Roger Watts Debate, a community event where top UBC Okanagan student debaters take the stage to argue for and against a timely, controversial topic: Be it resolved that Canada’s affordability crisis justifies a temporary wealth tax.

Debate organizer Dr. Julien Picault, an Economics Professor in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, says he’s looking forward to the return of the in-person debate.

“It’s going to be a really fun evening,” says Dr. Picault. “We try to choose topics that Canadians are thinking about, and this year is no exception as inflation and housing costs are weighing heavily on the minds of many.

“We all endure the effect of the affordability crisis in Canada, and many have strong feelings about whether or not a temporary wealth tax would be viable or even fair. That’s exactly why this debate is necessary, so we can all understand the differing perspectives and arguments at hand,” he adds.

Student debaters will be evaluated by a panel of community judges and a $1,000 prize will be awarded for first place, with $500 for the runners-up.

The annual debate is named after the late Roger Watts, a respected member of the Okanagan’s legal community.

This event is free, open to the public, and supported by local donors and community sponsors.

To register or find out more, visit:

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