Nine Honorary Degrees to Be Awarded at U of G Convocation

An acclaimed filmmaker-diplomat, advocates of Indigenous leadership and tourism, and a champion of nutrition for developing countries are among those to receive honorary degrees during summer convocation at the University of Guelph.

The ceremonies will take place between Tuesday, June 14 and Friday, June 17, with nine honorary degrees to be conferred. Nearly 3,000 graduates will attend along with about 8,500 family members and friends in U of G’s first in-person convocation ceremonies held since fall 2019.

During the week of June 23, four ceremonies will be held for the Classes of 2020 and 2021, whose grads missed their chance to cross the stage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The return of in-person celebrations is welcome news not just for grads but also for the entire campus community, said Claire Alexander, associate director, ceremonies and events.

“There is always such a positive energy at convocation that everyone on campus has missed,” she said. “More than ever this year, we are focused on the graduates’ experience. Our grads have had such an interruption to their time on campus, and we want to make this moment of celebration of all their achievements truly memorable.”

Honorary degrees are the highest honour bestowed by the University and are meant to celebrate individuals whose accomplishments provide inspiration to the U of G community.


The recipients this year are as follows:

Bina Agarwal

Bina Agarwal

Dr. Bina Agarwal is a leading feminist economist who has dedicated her career to women’s land rights in India.

Her work on gender and land rights as well as the centrality of women’s independent land and property ownership to their well-being has influenced policy of international organizations such as the World Bank and was reflected in the landmark amended Hindu Succession Act (1956) in 2005 that ensures, for the first time, equal rights for daughters to ancestral property in India.

Bob Burnside

Bob Burnside

A two-time U of G grad and recipient of the University’s Engineering Medal of Achievement, Robert Burnside founded the prominent consulting engineering firm R.J. Burnside and Associates Ltd. as well as Neegan Burnside Ltd., a majority Indigenous-owned engineering and environmental services firm.

Among numerous awards for volunteerism, including longtime service with Rotary International and Headwaters Hospital Foundation, he received the Queen Elizabeth II Golden and Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Medals.

Valerie Courtois

Valerie Courtois

A member of the Innu community of Mashteuiatsh in Quebec, Valerie Courtois has devoted her life to supporting Indigenous Peoples as stewards of their traditional territories. Currently director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, she aims to build a national network of community-based Indigenous guardians who serve as “eyes and ears” to strengthen Indigenous nations and manage land conservation.

In 2019, she emceed the closing ceremonies of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Rosalind Gibson

Rosalind Gibson

During more than 50 years in nutritional science, public health and policy, Dr. Rosalind Gibson has studied micronutrients such as iron and zinc and the health consequences of deficiencies in developing countries in Southeast Asia and Africa. Previously a nutrition professor at the University of Guelph, she retired in 2005 from the University of Otago in New Zealand, where she continues to work.

She has served as an expert adviser and consultant with leading international organizations, including the World Health Organization and the United Nations World Food Program.

Susan Gosling

Susan Gosling

Named as one of 150 Women for Nature in Canada, Susan Gosling supported the establishment in 2014 of the Gosling Research Institute for Plant Preservation (GRIPP) at the University of Guelph.

The state-of-the art facility preserves endangered plants, trains world-class scientists and promotes collaborative efforts with agro-industry. Its model of conservation, propagation and redistribution has become a blueprint for restoring plant species critical to ecosystems, forests, food security and biocultural resources of Indigenous communities in Canada and globally.

Ottoline Leyser

Ottoline Leyser

A developmental biologist at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Ottoline Leyser has made major contributions to understanding of the signalling pathway for the plant hormone auxin, including identification of the auxin receptor. Her work has revolutionized our understanding of the developmental regulation of shoot branching in plants, an important agricultural trait.

A Fellow of the Royal Society and a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, she has advocated for women in science and for improved public understanding of science.

Henry Regier

Henry Regier

A Member of the Order of Canada, Dr. Henry Regier saw his pioneering advocacy for the ecosystem approach become permanently embedded in Canadian and American resource management agencies and reflected in the 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. A five-term Canadian commissioner on the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, he worked with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the Canada-U.S. International Joint Commission.

As a mentor and consultant with the Anishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre, he advocated for the role of Indigenous knowledge in natural resource management.

Jean Szkotnicki

Jean Szkotnicki

A University of Guelph alumna, Jean Szkotnicki served as president of the Canadian Animal Health Institute for more than 25 years, advocating for Canadian veterinary pharmaceutical companies and for meeting the health needs of food and companion animals.

A champion for antimicrobial stewardship, she has chaired the Canadian Animal Health Product Regulatory Advisory Board for Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and is a member of the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Vikas Swarup

Vikas Swarup

An acclaimed diplomat and writer, Vikas Swarup worked during more than 30 years of diplomatic service to strengthen Indo-Canadian relations, including serving as India’s High Commissioner to Canada. He supported the establishment of the Canada India Research Centre for Learning and Engagement at U of G.

His debut novel, Q&A, written in 2005 was adapted into the award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.


Read more about Vikas Swarup.


Three U of G professors will also be named University Professor Emeriti at the ceremonies:

Brenda Coomber – University Professor Emerita

Dr. Brenda Coomber
Dr. Brenda Coomber

A professor in the Ontario Veterinary College’s Department of Biomedical Sciences and a two-time U of G grad, Dr. Brenda Coomber has focused on the cell biology of angiogenesis and inflammation, cancer biology and DNA repair.

Internationally recognized as a cancer cell biology expert, she led in the creation and stewardship of the University’s Institute for Comparative Cancer Investigation (ICCI), the first institute in Canada to bring together cancer biology researchers and veterinary oncologists in a comprehensive integrated approach to cancer studies.

She continues to mentor ICCI directors and provide advice and input into translational U of G cancer research.

Julia Christensen Hughes – University Professor Emerita

Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes

Founding dean of U of G’s Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes has advanced higher education and positive social impact as an advocate for business as a force for good.

She created a deans and directors cohort with the United Nations Global Compact focused on transformative change for people, planet and prosperity, and facilitated events for business school deans and corporate leaders at the World Economic Forum.

During her tenure, the University received its largest gift to date, worth $21 million, to support Lang chairs, research and student initiatives. She continues to work with the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative, a network of more than 300 universities worldwide associated with the United Nations, intended to build a better world through education.

Lawrence Spriet – University Professor Emeritus

Dr. Lawrence Spriet

An internationally recognized expert in exercise and sport science, Dr. Lawrence Spriet has studied the regulation of skeletal muscle energy metabolism during exercise ranging from the effects of caffeine on metabolism and performance to hydration status of high-calibre hockey players.

He served for seven years as chair of the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences.

An award-winning researcher, he has advised the International Olympic Committee, FIFA and the World Anti-Doping Agency, and has maintained a long-time relationship with the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, helping athletes optimize their health and performance through research and education in hydration and nutrition science.

More U of G faculty members and students will receive awards at the ceremonies to celebrate their teaching, service and academic excellence.

The convocation ceremonies will be held in the Guelph Gryphons Event Centre, with a live broadcast available on the convocation website.