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UNBC reaches into Alberta for presidential pick

The answer to the University of Northern British Columbia's search for a new president ended up taking Weeks - away from the University of Lethbridge.
Dr. Daniel Weeks is the new UNBC president.

The answer to the University of Northern British Columbia's search for a new president ended up taking Weeks - away from the University of Lethbridge.

Daniel Weeks, who was selected after a nearly 11-month search, was that university's vice-president of research. Before that Weeks, who has a doctorate in experimental psychology, served numerous academic roles at Simon Fraser University, McMaster University and American universities Purdue and Auburn.

"Dr. Weeks ticked all of the boxes for us in terms of his academic excellence, his experience and his skill in working within what I thought was a fairly similar-sized institution in a very similar circumstance in terms of having other, larger universities around them," said John Turner, chair of the presidential search committee.

Weeks was introduced as UNBC's new president Tuesday morning at the university. He will replace Dr. George Iwama, who is stepping down to pursue other opportunities.

Turner, who's also chair of the university's board of governors, said the committee looked for three things from the 40 applicants to the position: a track record in growing enrollment, a track record in fundraising, and knowledge of northern B.C. to engage stakeholders in the vast area the university serves.

"I feel very fortunate that they saw in me the things they believe they needed to excel as an institution going forward," Weeks said.

Weeks, who was born and raised in the northern Ontario town of Sault Ste. Marie, said he came to UNBC because he likes - and has spent his career at - small but growing universities.

"I'm fundamentally a builder. I don't think I would be happy in an institution that had too many old buildings. I think I'm only happy if I'm building something and so UNBC really represents the ultimate in building opportunity," he said, adding that while the 25-year-old university isn't young, it has still got its best days ahead. "It really fits well with the kinds of things I like to do."

The university also has all of the building blocks for a bright future, Weeks said. It has been successful in both its research and programs, an example being the Northern Medical Program.

As for Weeks' goals for the university, he said the first thing he has to do is to listen.

"My first task will be to do a bit of a tour not only locally with all of the town's stakeholders," he said, "but also the northern campuses and really all of the northern communities that we have a footprint in. I plan to spend several weeks really travelling around, listening to the people about what it is they want to see in the future of the University of Northern British Columbia and use that to help me really articulate a plan for the next five years about the things I need to achieve."

Weeks will be transitioning into his presidency during the summer before taking the reins at the beginning of the new academic year in September. He did, however, discuss some of the struggles he believes UNBC will be facing, saying they are similar to what other universities are facing: reduced funding from governments, fewer students enrolling, and changing student demands and expectations.

"Really, the primary solution is we must differentiate ourselves from all of the other institutions out there trying to do similar things," he said. "Every university, every college has a role to play and my job is to articulate very clearly what our role is and why we're the best at it. Our goal isn't to become Simon Fraser University or [UBC] or anybody else. Our goal is to be excellent at what we do."

Because provincial and federal governments are reducing their funding, Weeks expects he will be spending a lot of time in Victoria and Ottawa.

"The government really needs to hear from us more frequently and more clearly about the value that we bring, both to the economy and the future of the province," he said.

Weeks' research covers a broad range of topics in behaviour sciences, including human perception, developmental disabilities and cognitive neuroscience. He has published more than 100 pieces of academic literature. He has also received recognition for his research into Downs Syndrome.

The incoming president also commented on the university's 25th anniversary.

"It's absolutely staggering, when you think about it, that a mere 25 years ago this community simply decided, with their own will, that they were to establish a university here," he said. "That's, I think, an impressive achievement. Twenty-five years later, look at you have."

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