Western President Alan Shepard shone a spotlight on the “Western plus London” connection Tuesday morning in a public address that drew a large audience of community leaders.
The Engage Western President’s Address and Breakfast brought more than 500 Londoners to RBC Place London to hear about Western’s latest successes and its crucial role as one of the city’s largest institutions, driving $2.5 billion in GDP and supporting life-changing research around the world.
“The Western community is energetic, accomplished, ambitious and striving for greater impact both locally and globally,” Shepard told the crowd.
“The idea of this whole event is to bring us closer together. It is human to think that we know our neighbours well, and sometimes we do, but the full picture of what’s happening just down the street can also be surprising – sometimes even better than surprising.”
Shepard emphasized the strong ties between Western and the city it calls home, dating back to the university’s founding in 1878.
“The university was woven into the fabric of this city and this region, and it still is today.”
Western showed off more than 50 projects, services and departments to guests via booths, highlighting everything from the Bone and Joint Institute to the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging to Community Legal Services and the new Wampum Learning Lodge.
There is so much happening at Western that may not be apparent to those outside its borders, leaders said.
“We’re the number one economic generator for the city; we’re the number two employer. It’s really important for us to make sure people understand the role we play in London,” said Peter White, executive director of government relations and strategic partnerships.
“This event really helped us bring Western to the community. It let us bring representation across all of our faculties, our research institutes, a number of very specialized areas and our affiliates, and allowed us to put together a great intersection, or as Alan calls it, ‘Western’s County Fair.’”
That, said White, provided the perfect stage to create connections, like introducing local manufacturers to Western’s Fraunhofer Innovation Platform, a partnership with the German Fraunhofer Institute of Chemical Technologies that develops and tests new lightweight materials for industrial use.
London Mayor Josh Morgan, BA’02, MA’04, a former staff member in Western’s local government program, introduced Shepard and praised the university for proactive outreach to the wider community.
“We could spend all day talking to (Western) researcher after researcher who has shaped not just our city, but the entire world. It is inspiring. I am so pleased to see Western spending time to reach out to the community to share this incredible work,” Morgan said.
Prior to Shepard’s keynote, a pair of highly esteemed Western researchers gave mini-lectures about their subject specialties.
Civil and environmental engineering professor Greg Kopp, lead researcher with the Northern Tornadoes Project, gave a presentation about the growing damage from severe storms and a simple, affordable tool that can mitigate those losses.
Canada has the second-highest number of tornadoes in the world, Kopp said, and property damage is rising. He gripped the audience with an explanation of hurricane clips, small metal pieces sold at hardware stores that, for just a few hundred dollars, can prevent tornadoes from blowing roofs off the top of houses.
Professor Grace Parraga, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Lung Imaging to Transform Outcomes at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, displayed state-of-the-art 3D-imaging of lungs, including those ravaged by vaping and long-COVID.
Shepard stressed Western’s ultimate role is to drive meaningful change.
“We work to strengthen the civil society we all share, and to make the world better,” he said. “Across all fields of knowledge, members of the Western community pursue some of the most exciting, transformational research in the world.”
Emcees Ethan Gardner, University Students’ Council (USC) President, and Jessica Look, USC VP External Affairs kicked off the event, along with music and remarks from Elders Dan and Mary Lou Smoke, Ojibwe of Batchawana Bay First Nation.
Christy Bressette, vice-provost and associate vice-president (Indigenous Initiatives) and Opiyo Oloya, associate vice-president of equity, diversity and inclusion both brought updates from their respective offices.
Ensuring Western is equitable and diverse makes for “the best 21st-century education,” Shepard said.
There are 38,000 students at Western and thousands more at its affiliates. They leave their mark on the city, too, working with small businesses, charities and non-profits.
“I suppose that every generation thinks it faces the most uncertain world, the most complex world ever known,” Shepard said.
“But it’s also fair to say that in our current moment, we have so many opportunities to make the world a better and safer place by using our collective brains and our commitment to the public good.”
London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos, BA’04:
“If you want to ultimately measure the importance of an organization, imagine its absence. If Western wasn’t here, what would London look like? The vibrance students add to the community, that’s not to be taken lightly . . . the most important thing, the research, is ultimately about people. The speakers that addressed us today are trying to solve genuine problems that exist, not just for Londoners and Canadians, but the world.”
London city councillor and law and information and media studies professor Sam Trosow, who represents Ward 6, said the Engage Western breakfast event helps to highlight the value Western adds to the city, well beyond the campus borders:
“When you walk around this room, you find a lot of really, really solid research projects or community services that add a lot of benefit to the London community.”
Realtor Marcus Plowright, who helped secure an anonymous $25-million donation to tackle homelessness in London, praised the donation of Engage London ticket revenue to London’s Health and Homelessness Fund for Change:
“It’s inspiring. The more Western can do to put tethers out into the community, I think Western is ever-more powerful as an entity if it leverages the half-million people in London to champion it . . . The Health and Homeless Fund for Change needs to leverage Western’s skills and abilities to help us clear the city of this plague and model it for the rest of the country.”
BY THE NUMBERS
$2.5 billion: GDP generated by Western annually
$250 million: provincial and federal funding drawn to London by Western projects and research annually
$145 million: Western’s expenditure on scholarships, bursaries and student jobs annually
75,000: hours of experiential learning in which Western students contributed their skills to more than 200 local organizations and businesses