Historic day: First graduating class at SMU in unique 2+2 partnership with Chinese university

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Twenty-eight students from China graduated from Saint Mary’s on May 17, becoming the first cohort to complete a unique 2+2 Arts degree program in partnership with Beijing Normal University - Zhuhai (BNUZ).

“You are part of an historic happening,” President Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray told the group at a reception in the Library the night before the Faculty of Arts convocation ceremonies. “As far as we know, no other Canadian university has a partnership with a university in China in Arts.”

Through the 2+2 program, Chinese students complete the first two years of their undergraduate Arts degree at BNUZ, and the final two years at Saint Mary’s. Since September 2017 when the first cohort arrived, more than 80 BNUZ students have registered at Saint Mary’s.

Some of the new graduates are heading home to China but a number will stay in Canada to pursue further studies, said Yajie “Cora” Cao, who majored in Asian Studies. On behalf of her fellow students, she thanked Saint Mary’s faculty and staff at the reception for a memorable learning experience, and for helping students with ongoing challenges such as language and cultural differences.

Zining Chen was thrilled that her mother came to Canada for the first time to attend her graduation. They spent a week travelling out west in Vancouver, Jasper and Banff National Park before returning to Halifax for Friday’s ceremony, which included a special portion for the BNUZ students.

“I’m applying for postgraduate studies, so I’m considering staying in Canada,” said Chen, admitting that her mom “really misses me but it’s ok because she knows I am so happy here.”

While it was helpful having BNUZ schoolmates here, Chen also worked hard to meet new people: “You need to make friends other than your friends who came with you. You need to overcome the language barrier, so I tried to attend as many activities on campus as I could.”

XiaoJiao Wang enjoyed her studies in Halifax but was looking forward to heading back to China on Sunday.

“I haven’t been home for two years,” said Wang, who stayed at SMU for summer classes last year. “I really miss my family but I needed to work hard because I know they always support me. I didn’t want to let them down.”

Her Linguistics major and German language studies at SMU will be a great addition to her prior education in teaching Chinese as a second language, she said. She also volunteered at the Halifax Chinese Language School, and found it interesting to teach Canadian-born students of Chinese descent who didn’t speak any Chinese.

“In China, there are a great number of people learning English now,” she said, adding she’s planning to pursue graduate work next in applied linguistics, toward her teaching career. “I think this degree will help me a lot for my future studies.”

Another highlight for the graduating class was the chance to reconnect with a familiar face from home: Dr. Yue “Cecilia” Qiu had taught them linguistics in their first year at BNUZ, and came on a faculty exchange to SMU two years ago to teach Chinese language classes. Now BNUZ’s Director of the Office of International Exchange and Cooperation and Associate Dean of the School of Chinese, Dr. Qiu joined

Dean of Arts Dr. Margaret MacDonald onstage in the McNally Auditorium and hugged the students after they received their parchments onstage.

“Congratulations to our students, you tried your best and I wish you more success in your future,” said Dr. Qiu, also thanking SMU and its professors. “This is a very good beginning stage for their following future planning, they will have a very good bridge to the friendship between Chinese and Canadian people.”

Saint Mary’s is also a good bridge to friendships in other countries as one of Canada’s most globally connected universities, with students from more than 110 countries. The Faculty of Arts also bestowed degrees this spring to graduates from across Canada, as well as Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Bermuda, Brazil, Ghana, India, Italy, Japan, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Turkey, the U.S., Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The SMU-BNUZ partnership began in 2002 and includes a study abroad program, transfer credit agreements, and a satellite SMU campus established at BNUZ in 2014. It offers an annual five-week summer study abroad program at BNUZ on Chinese history and culture, as well as a three-week summer program for Chinese students, focused on North American culture and English language. SMU and BNUZ also collaborate in offering four professional development institutes for academic faculty and administrative staff from the two universities.

Dr. Roby Austin recognized with the Father William A. Stewart Medal for Excellence in Teaching

Bafana Mashingaidze BSc’14 MBA’16, Secretary of the Alumni Council, with Dr. Roby Austin

Bafana Mashingaidze BSc’14 MBA’16, Secretary of the Alumni Council, with Dr. Roby Austin

Dr. Roby Austin, Professor of Astronomy & Physics, has been recognized by her current and former students and colleagues with the Father William A. Stewart Medal for Excellence in Teaching for her dedicated teaching approach and empowerment of women in science. 

She received the award at convocation on May 17, 2019.

Since joining Saint Mary’s in 2004, Dr. Austin has served on the Saint Mary’s Academic Senate and curriculum committees for Senate and the Faculty of Science. The classes she teaches range from first year physics courses to graduate level courses, and she has supervised both B.Sc. Honours and M.Sc. students. Her focus as a teacher is to create a classroom environment which encourages students to work with and understand the material. Alumni commend her for her accommodating and respectful approach with her students. 

An accomplished researcher, Dr. Austin has published more than 20 papers and received more than $4 million in research grants. She is committed to continuous learning, and is a member of the Division of Physics Education of the Canadian Association of Physicists, the Forum on Education of the American Physical Society, and the American Association of Physics Teachers. Students recognize her dedication to learning and improving teaching methods in the classroom. 

Outside of the classroom, Dr. Austin volunteers her time with Techsploration and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Atlantic. These organizations create opportunities for girls and young women to explore science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and empower them to consider a career in STEM. 

The Medal for Excellence in Teaching is named for the late Father William A. Stewart, a Professor of Philosophy and administrator at Saint Mary’s University from 1950-1982. Father Stewart was known for his inclusivity, approachability, innovative teaching methods, and service to the University. The Medal is awarded by the Saint Mary’s University Alumni Association in partnership with the Faculty Union.

Short story by SMU professor receives prestigious O. Henry Prize

“If a rabbit doesn’t like you, you will know it,” says Professor Alexander MacLeod.

If people like your short story featuring a rabbit as a central character, you will also know it. On May 16, his story “Lagomorph” was announced as a 2019 winner of the O. Henry Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious awards for short fiction.

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“I’m super thrilled,” says Dr. MacLeod, who teaches English and Atlantic Canada Studies at Saint Mary’s. He first heard the news while driving to Mabou for a SMU Emerging Researchers session with Cape Breton high school students.

It’s a particularly special year to win – the prize is celebrating its centenary, so “Lagomorph” will appear in The O. Henry Prize Stories 100th Anniversary Edition, to be published in September by Anchor Books. Past winners include such literary masters as Flannery O’Conner, Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, Eudora Welty and William Faulkner.  

“It’s unreal company,” says MacLeod. “If you look at the past winners, those are all the people that I love. The writers I’ve admired the most in my life have won this prize.”

“Lagomorph”, available for reading online, was originally published in Granta 141: Canada, the British magazine’s fall 2017 edition to recognize Canadian writers during the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

When the special edition came out, it made an international splash. In this review in Macleans magazine, Brian Bethune singled out MacLeod’s “brilliant” contribution as “suspenseful, moving and … hilarious.” Granta brought MacLeod and several other writers on a road show that season to events in Scotland, Canada House in London, and the renowned Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris.

“I have travelled a great distance via rabbit,” says MacLeod. He admits he lacked faith in “this most stubborn of stories” during the writing process, and nearly abandoned it four or five times.

“It taught me that sometimes you just have to stick at it. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the editors at Granta, who were patient with me.”

The story is about much more than a rabbit named Gunther, of course – it’s about time and change, the quagmire of intimacy vs. autonomy, and the mysteries of care and affection.

“The way we love animals differently from people is fascinating to me. Are we loving animals for what they need or for what we need? It’s tricky business,” says MacLeod. 

Born in Inverness, Cape Breton and raised in Windsor, Ontario, MacLeod resides in Dartmouth with his family and their dog. They once had a pet rabbit too, but “our rabbit expressed a preference for country life, and he’s living out his last years on a farm.”

MacLeod is currently working on two short stories that are competing for his attention, toward publication of his next collection. His first book, Light Lifting, was named a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Book Prize, and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. The collection was also recognized as a ‘Book of the Year’ by the American Library Association, The Globe and Mail, and Amazon.ca.

Dr. Michael Durland installed as University Chancellor

Dr. Michael Durland BComm’87 DComm’10 (SMU), PhD (Queen’s) was installed as the Chancellor of Saint Mary’s University at convocation ceremonies this morning.

For more information, see the media release announcing his appointment: Michael Durland named Chancellor of Saint Mary's University.

To watch his installment, see the May 15 - Morning ceremony.