UBC Connects is one way Santa Ono is shaking up the status quo and linking the university to the community

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      UBC president Santa Ono has an unconventional side.

      He speaks openly about mental-health challenges that he faced as a young man. He’s probably more active on social media than any other university president in the country. And last year, he even launched the Blue & Goldcast, a podcast cohosted with scientist Jennifer Gardy, to reach people interested in learning about educational issues on UBC’s campuses.

      The title of the show represents UBC's colours.

      Episodes have focused on such topics as artificial intelligence, concussions, and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

      “We don’t want to be an ivory tower at all,” Ono told the Georgia Straight by phone. “We do want to be visible and engaged. We want to make a difference.”

      In that spirit, Ono also launched a speakers series called UBC Connects, which has brought thought leaders such as novelist Isabel Allende, physicist and futurist Michio Kaku, and economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin to Vancouver.

      Watch Jeremy Rifkin's presentation last year on what he calls the Third Industrial Revolution to prevent mass extinction on Earth.

      The next speaker in the series, food-policy writer and sustainability advocate Michael Pollan, will be at the Orpheum Theatre on February 11.

      Ono noted that these lectures have sold out within hours of being announced. They attract a wide range of people, including secondary students, students from other universities, business people, lawyers, and doctors.

      “A lot of people said it really has helped to connect the university to the community,” he said. “And it shows a commitment by the university to share what we have with the overall community.”

      He described the speakers as “provocateurs” who are shaping the way people think about a broad range of issues.

      The next speaker in the series, Tarana Burke, is a civil-rights activist who began using the phrase “me too” in 2006. This was to give a voice to young women of colour who had survived sexual abuse and sexual assault.

      Burke was among a group of “silence breakers” who were honoured as the Time magazine Person of the Year in 2017, and she’ll be in Kelowna on March 6 as part of UBC Connects.

      On March 13, celebrated Nigerian feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will come to Vancouver, followed by Kinsey Institute senior research fellow Helen Fisher on September 10.

      Fisher is the developer of the Fisher temperament inventory, the chief scientific officer of Match.com, and a globally recognized scholar on love and relationships.

      Watch Tarana Burke discuss the importance of the Me Too movement in the era of Trump.

      UBC’s co-interim vice president, external relations, Adriaan de Jager, told the Straight by phone that the university also hopes to showcase some of its own “amazing thought leaders” as part of UBC Connects. He pointed out that the lectures are available online for those who are unable to obtain tickets.

      The podcast, lecture series, and large social-media footprint are natural outgrowths of a new university strategic plan, Shaping UBC’s Next Century, which focuses on inclusion, collaboration, and innovation.

      Ono said that as part of the plan, the university has already embarked on several initiatives, including being a leader in the truth and reconciliation process, involving First Nations in setting priorities for Indigenous research, and advancing undergraduate research and scholarship to a higher level.

      “The strategic vision of the institution can be summarized as not wanting to be just another research university,” Ono declared. “We’re very proud of having disciplinary strength. We’re proud of our past, but the vision of the new strategic plan is to inspire people—people within the university, people outside the university—through our scholarship, through our teaching, and through our community engagement.”