How Alumni Relations helps build community spirit

December 2013

When is a good time to start connecting with alumni? Anna Duff, Alumni Relations Associate in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences feels that connections should start on Day 1, when the students enter the University.  Says Duff, “The community that today’s student belongs to is global. Technology keeps them connected to their peers wherever they may be. Many of our students commute to campus for classes from the downtown core; they study in one place and socialize in another. We need to help our students develop a sense of belonging to our community while they are here if we want them to participate in our activities once they leave campus. At the same time, it is important for us to continue to improve and expanded our traditional offerings.”

Student-Success_logoThe first step in building the community with our current students is to ensure academic success. In cooperation with the Freshman Office, Alumni Relations has initiated a new program entitled “Seminars for Success.”  Says Alice Cherestes, Interim Director of the Freshman Program, “studies demonstrate that academic success for this particular group of students, who have often moved away from home and their support networks for the first time, improves dramatically when some emphasis is placed on teaching soft skills.  We have been very fortunate to have been able to reshape our freshman seminar program in order to bring some of the leading University experts in time management, mental health, financial management, career planning and leadership development into these seminars.  I see the results; this group of students is flourishing.”

One of our most thought-provoking seminars was led by Professor Jim Fyles, who confronted the issue of “Where do you see yourselves in 10 years?” As part of this process, Fyles asked the class to describe how they were feeling at that moment. Feelings were jotted down on sticky notes placed all over the room and Sasha Rodrigues, BSc(AgEnvSc-MSE)’13, and MSc candidate in Bioresource Engineering, was invited to speak to those issues, sharing her similar experiences.  It was a cathartic exercise for all involved.

“It has been quite fulfilling getting to engage so many of our students early on in their programs,” says Duff. “We have a real opportunity here to shape bonds that will last a lifetime.  Developing these new initiatives has its challenges but it has allowed us the opportunity to work across departments at McGill, utilizing expertise for the benefit of our students – and the results we are seeing make it all worthwhile.”

Other activities this semester have included the annual Food for Thought Lecture Series, where the theme of “Big Ideas” was revisited, covering topics from brain space to outer space and from evolution to data revolution. If you wish to be placed on the mailing list for this series, please contact Anna Duff (


Moderator Professor David Harpp with Morven McLean, Mark Lynas and Jay Bradshaw

The Inaugural A. Jean de Grandpré Distinguished Speaker Seminar series brought together three thought-provoking panelists — Jay Bradshaw, President, Syngenta Canada, Mark Lynas, Renowned author and advisor on climate change, and alumna Morven McLean, BScAgr’85, Director, Center for Environmental Risk Assessment, ILSI Research Foundation — to debate the topic How Do We Feed The World? Thoughts and Strategies on the Looming Food Crisis.

Following the de Grandpre lecture, Mark Lynas was invited to meet and speak with students, as was Lino A. Saputo Jr., Chief Executive Officer and Vice-Chairman of the Board at Saputo Inc., Canada’s largest dairy processor.  Paul Simard, Director of Development says “it is very important for our students to make the connection between their studies and their future careers, but also to think about them from alternative perspectives, and to hear about the non-scientific or research based components. Life does not always happen in a lab, or in a research field.”

Homecoming 2013 brought together more than 200 alumni to the campus, for a nostalgia-filled weekend of catching up with old friends. Distinguished Alumni Awards were presented to Robert S. Broughton, PhD’72, and Harold W. Cook, BScAgr’68, MSc’70; Billy Beaudry, FMT’06 received the Distinguished Young Alumni award. Pictures from Homecoming can be found on our Flickr site.


The Halifax Gathering of the Clan

Farther afield, the Development and Alumni Relations team held several successful regional events across the country. On May 23rd, over 50 Macdonald alumni and friends met at Halifax’s historic Pier 21. Dean Madramootoo was on hand to welcome all and to update everyone on a number of the outstanding achievements that have taken place in recent years at Macdonald and to share plans as the Faculty moves towards the future.  It was also a wonderful opportunity to meet up with a number of friends from the Classes of ‘50, ‘51, ‘52, ‘53 & ‘54 who were cruising from Montreal to Boston and made a scheduled stop at Pier 21 on May 23.


Calgary Gathering

On November 4th, the Faculty hosted its first Macdonald branch event in Calgary. The reception was held at the exclusive Ranchmen’s Club and following cocktails, a special presentation was delivered by Professor Donald Smith of the Plant Science Department. With an outstanding turnout of nearly fifty guests, including McGill graduates from both campuses, participants enjoyed an evening of friendly conversation, networking and an opportunity to learn about one of the greatest challenges facing the modern world. Professor Smith’s presentation entitled Sustainable Energy for the Future covered the subject of emerging alternative and sustainable energy sources as it has developed from a concern with increased fossil fuel consumption in the 21st century and the subsequent effects on future energy availability, climate change and global food security.

Holly Drake, BSc(AgrEng)’82, a key volunteer for the event, said afterwards, “I think that the event was a great success. It was well attended and the topic very pertinent. The gas and oil industry is what one thinks of first when speaking of Calgary, but agriculture is a very important sector of Alberta’s industry. I believe Professor Smith spoke to both of these areas as they are connected. It was a wonderful for Mac grads to gather for the first time in Calgary. One never feels like a stranger in a room full of alumni […] I also think it was a great opportunity for the McGill alumni to become more aware of Macdonald and its programs.”

If you are interested in hosting a regional event, we would be pleased to help you. Contact Anna Duff ( for more information.


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