Dean Woodin addresses 2023–24 year-end Faculty Council meeting

April 17, 2024 by A&S News

Read Dean Woodin’s remarks from the April 17, 2024, A&S Faculty Council meeting where she highlighted just some of the accomplishments of the A&S community in 2023–24.

Good morning Arts & Science,

Thank you for joining us for the final Faculty Council meeting of the academic year.

With the arrival of spring, I’ve enjoyed seeing signs of renewed life around the university — from budding flowers to students gathering at our beautiful front campus.

As has become my tradition, my remarks today will reflect on some of the milestones and extraordinary achievements of the Arts & Science community over the past year.

And what better place to start than with our amazing students?

This year, U of T celebrated a record number of Rhodes Scholarship recipients including Arts & Science’s Tierrai Tull, a political science student at Woodsworth College.

Tierrai began her studies in the fall of 2020 during the pandemic, taking courses virtually from Armenia, Bermuda and the U.S. She arrived at U of T in her second year. She studied abroad at University College London and then returned to the St. George campus to finish her degree.

In addition to this distinguished honour, Tierrai has received the Dean’s Excellence Award and the Frank Peers Award for International Study. As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, she plans to explore the social sciences and women’s studies. Our heartfelt congratulations to Tierrai!

I recently had the pleasure of meeting — and trading places — with another remarkable Arts & Science student: Camila Justino, this year’s winner of the Dean for a Day contest.

Camila is a St. Michael’s College student who is majoring in Book and Media Studies and Mediaeval Studies. She has some amazing ideas about how we can make the U of T experience even better by preparing students for the transition from university to the workforce — echoing the focus on experiential learning and professional development in our Academic Plan.

I really appreciated Camila sharing her insights and perspectives at my meetings. In turn, I had the pleasure of reliving my undergraduate days on campus by connecting with the students, faculty and staff of St. Michael’s College.

Thank you to Camila for doing such a great job filling in for me, and to ASSU for organizing this fun event — something I look forward to every year.

I would also like to thank ASSU and all student volunteers, including those that serve on this Council, for your continued leadership and engagement. I truly appreciate all you do to bring students together and enhance the U of T experience.

Of course, our students transition to alumni, who, even after they graduate, move us on with their ingenuity.

I’m speaking of entrepreneurs like Mark Ang, who, after graduating from Trinity College with a Bachelor of Commerce, went on to co-found GoBolt, an urban delivery company that is powered by electric vehicles. Mark was recently named among the most influential Canadians in Maclean’s magazine’s Power List: Climate.

Joining Mark on Maclean’s list of the top 100 Canadians shaping the country in 2024 are Ilya Sutskever, Ivan Zhang, Aidan Gomez, Nick Frosst, Patricia Thaine and Mohammad Norouzi — all graduates of the Department of Computer Science — who are among the heavy hitters on the Power List: AI.

Ilya is co-founder and chief scientist at OpenAI and is leading the company’s Superalignment team to ensure AI programs follow human intent.

Ivan, Aidan and Nick founded Toronto-based startup Cohere, which specializes in AI for business. Cohere has secured investment from Nvidia and Oracle and counts Amazon Bedrock among its clients.

Patricia is co-founder and CEO of Private AI, which detects and removes identifiable information from a client’s data and keeps it safe so it doesn’t get shared.

Mohammad is co-founder and CEO of Ideogram. The company uses AI to make realistic images and has received $80 million in Series A financing.

Business leaders like Richard Rooney and Robert Davis — alumni of New College — are giving back in extraordinary ways.

Richard’s historic donation of $5 million to the African Studies Centre and the Centre for Caribbean Studies will help attract world-leading scholars to the university. The gift will be matched by the faculty for a total investment of $10 million in these area of scholarship.

Robert has established two scholarships because of his belief in the power of representation. By providing students with the financial aid needed to focus on their studies, he aims to increase the number of leadership roles held by individuals from underrepresented groups.

Showing us that it is never too late to pursue your passions is A&S alum Jacques Leduc who, last November, crossed the stage at Convocation Hall graduating with a double major in African studies and near and Middle Eastern civilizations on the same day as his 80th birthday. Bravo, Jacques!

Shaping our students into the scholars, community builders and innovators of tomorrow are our faculty, whose contributions to their fields are monumental.

I can’t recite all of the accolades our faculty have received this year, but I will mention just a few, starting with Alán Aspuru-Guzik, who is a professor in the Departments of Chemistry and Computer Science, was also named to Maclean’s Power List: AI. Alán leads the Acceleration Consortium, which is propelling the discovery of advanced materials using self-driving labs. The AC was awarded $200 million from the federal government — the largest research grant ever awarded to a Canadian university.

Ian Burton, of the Department of Geography & Planning and the School of the Environment, and Bill Buxton, of the Department of Computer Science, were appointed to the Order of Canada.

Raquel Urtasun, also from the Department of Computer Science, was appointed to the Order of Ontario. She was honoured for her contributions to machine learning and computer vision, along with her pioneering work on autonomous vehicles.

In the Department of Philosophy, David Dyzenhaus was awarded the Gold Medal from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council — its highest research honour. David, who specializes in legal philosophy, was recognized for his leadership, dedication and originality of thought.

Tania Li, from the Department of Anthropology, was awarded the 2024 Killam Prize in the social sciences. She was honoured for the scope and importance of her work which has focused on culture, economy, environment and development in Indonesia.

Last but not least, I would like to congratulate Steven Coyne, David Liu, Diane Horton and Sheila McIlraith of the Department of Computer Science, on receiving the 2024 Northrop Frye Award (Team) for launching the Embedded Ethics Education Initiative, which integrates ethics modules into select undergraduate computer science courses. The aim is to help students to assess the societal impacts of the technologies they will develop throughout their careers.

In addition to helping drive the university’s mission of academic excellence, we hosted conversations on some of the most pressing issues of our day.

We welcomed champions of diverse causes including human rights activist and Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, who implored us to use our voices to advocate for freedom and democracy, and conservation icon Jane Goodall, who urged us to follow our dreams and be better stewards of this planet.

And who could forget the riveting talk by University Professor Emeritus and ‘godfather of AI’ Geoffrey Hinton to a packed audience on the future of digital intelligence?

We also celebrated milestones including the centenary anniversary of the Rotman Commerce program, and the 50th anniversary of Woodsworth College and the Women & Gender Studies Institute.

We unveiled beautiful new spaces including the Experiential Learning Commons and broke ground on the construction of the Lash Miller extension, which will be the new home of the Acceleration Consortium and provide additional facilities for the Department of Chemistry.

Were I to list every impressive accomplishment at the faculty over the past year we could be here all morning, so I’ll start to bring my remarks to a close. I hope you enjoyed reminiscing about the past year as much as I did.

In a little while, we will have yet another reason to celebrate: the graduation of the class of 2024. I look forward to congratulating our graduates and wishing them well at Convocation Hall and put the skills and knowledge they've acquired here to good use and make their contributions to the world.

As I conclude my first term as Dean, I feel truly honoured to lead this faculty. I am continually amazed by the excellence, creativity and leadership of our students, faculty, staff and alumni. I’m taking a planned six month leave from July to December this year to dive deep into my research and scholarship, and I look forward to returning as Dean in January 2025. And I know the faculty will be in good hands under the leadership of Professor Antoinette Handley, who will serve as Acting Dean during my absence.

I am deeply appreciative of everyone in the Arts & Science community and this Council for another stellar year.

I wish you all a fantastic summer break.

Thank you,

Dean Woodin

Melanie A. Woodin
Dean, Faculty of Arts & Science
Professor, Department of Cell & Systems Biology
University of Toronto

Read previous dean's messages and stories featuring Professor Melanie Woodin.