Welcome Back Address: January 16, 2020

Bien le bonjour à tous et toutes! Welcome back to work!

I hope you had a good holiday break that helped you recharge your batteries, and gave you the opportunity to spend time with family and friends.

I wish all of you a happy new year, filled with health, love and successful achievements.

A critical time for humanity

We are entering into a new decade.

If the scientists are right, it will be a critical one for humankind.

Just remember:  according to the latest studies and reports, 2030 stands as a major deadline for the most important issue of human history: the climate crisis.

Make no mistake. For those who may have watched the most recent debates of the presidential candidates for the Democratic Party, you will have understood that this topic has become a front stage issue.  From young Mayor Buttigieg to elder Senator Sanders, the climate crisis has stood as the main challenge needing to be addressed.

Climate Action Summit Report

This concern was recently reaffirmed by the United Nations Secretary General in a report issued Dec. 11, 2019  entitled “Report of the Secretary General on the 2019 Climate Action Summit and the way forward in 2020”:

“Science is telling us that the impacts of climate change are happening now, and faster than we had predicted. This is becoming increasingly evident in our daily lives. In its report titled “United in Science” (2019) published on the day of the Climate Action Summit, the Summit’s Science Advisory Group brought together the key scientific findings of recent work undertaken by major partner organizations in the domain of global climate change research. All pointed to 2019 as one of the warmest years on record and extreme weather events have hit populations from the Bahamas to Mozambique through to Australia, Western Europe, and the United States.

“Science also tells us what needs to be done and how. The “Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the Impacts of Global Warming of 1.50C above pre-Industrial Levels” (2018), demonstrates that we must limit global warming to 1.50C by the end of this century to avoid irreversible and catastrophic impacts. This means that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions need to decline by about 45 percent by 2030 and reach net zero in 2050. While the IPCC says that this goal is within reach, to achieve it would require urgent and unprecedented social and economic transformation.”

Dawson’s commitment to sustainability

On September 27, we cancelled classes to allow the Dawson Community to be part of the Climate Action Day.  It was not a light decision. We wanted to “walk the talk” so to say, since we committed ourselves over the last 10 years to promoting and implementing an educational project fostering sustainability and environmental awareness.

This commitment is consistent with our educational mission, expressed in the Graduate Profile outcomes. We seek to develop informed and engaged citizens who will be able to exercise critical thinking and problem-solving skills and demonstrate creativity in every aspect of their lives, citizens who can make a difference in creating a better world. This commitment has started to pay back.

I am glad to announce that Dawson was recently selected by CICan, the national association of Colleges and Institutes, which we are member of, among nine other colleges throughout Canada, to participate in a two-year Pan-Canadian project on the integration of U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in education.

Quite an achievement among many others that confirms our leadership position in promoting and fostering an innovative, bold and forward-looking educational project.

Kudos and thanks to all those who are putting the shoulder to the wheel!

Sharing ideas about being Carbon Neutral Forever with the Réseau

Plus encore.

Alors que les collèges du Québec commencent à développer un projet d’écologisation de l’éducation – une proposition de la Fédération des Cégeps – Dawson accueillera en février une rencontre d’une dizaine de représentants de collèges qui viendront discuter et partager les éléments d’un plan visant à établir, à l’exemple de Dawson, la carbo-neutralité dans leurs établissements.  Il s’agit d’une initiative du Département de Plant & Facilities which, by the way, will soon be given a new designation: the Department of Facilities Management.  To depart from a designation referring more to an educational model relying on the industrial paradigm seems just relevant at this point in time!

AI Initiative update

On another front, the launching last spring of our three-year plan on the integration of AI in college curricula made great noise and generated a lot of curiosity and interest in various sectors of society.

In the course of the last semester, a group of Dawson faculty committed themselves to implementing the plan through the creation of a community of practice.

They have since been holding workshops, initiating activities and creating opportunities for a wide range of stakeholders to become more familiar with the details of what the development of AI and associated technologies may mean with respect to its impacts on human activities.

Raising awareness about AI’s impacts should not be seen as a fantasy or a curiosity.  The bare truth is that the development of AI and deep learning machines has already started to reshape the very nature of the relations we are entertaining with the world and between ourselves. One thing’s for sure, this will just accelerate with time.

It is then our basic responsibility as educators to take the measure of these impacts to ensure we will not be overwhelmed or dominated by the transformations it is producing.

By all means we ought to give due consideration to these transformations and seek ways to integrate relevant academic content in our curricula with the aim of preparing students to deal with the multiple challenges these changes will create.

As part of this plan, Dawson’s participation in various external venues and hubs coping with AI, whether it is l’Observatoire international sur les impacts sociétaux de l’Intelligence artificielle et du numérique (OBVIA) – a grouping of 180 researchers and scholars from various disciplines, or the Pôle montréalais sur l’intelligence artificielle (PIA) — a consortium formed by Montreal cégeps and universities and pursuing the following objectives:

  • Create a Center of advanced training expertise in artificial intelligence (AI) to increase the teaching capacity of Montreal’s universities and colleges, in collaboration with interested partners.
  • Promote the transfer of available expertise through organizations that are – or want to become – stakeholders in the development of artificial intelligence in the socio-economic development of Quebec.”

Two new AI project grants

Our participation in these bodies has so far translated into successful endeavours.

I am proud to announce that two projects initiated by Dawson were recently granted for specific applied research in AI related fields.

The first is entitled:

“How Can Virtual Assistants and AI-Based Smartphone Apps Help Post-Secondary Students with Disabilities Succeed in their Studies?”

A collaboration with McGill’s Lady Davis Institute, Concordia, and Cégep Andre-Laurendeau.

It is an innovative initiative that studies the use of technologies such as SIRI, ALEXA, and the Google Assistant as AI enabled tools for learning.  It focuses on the ability of these technologies to remain accessible and productive to students with disabilities and will serve in helping students in the use of these technologies both while learning and later in life in their careers.

The lead in this research is Catherine Fichten, from the Psychology Department and the total grant is $100,000.

The second is entitled:

“Artificial Intelligence Competency Frameworks: A success pipeline from College to University and beyond”

Which is a collaboration with Concordia.

It is an ambitious initiative that plans to establish an inter-collegial-university community of practice with the objectives of:

  • Outlining AI Competency frameworks for both college and university encompassing both the technical and ethical/humanist perspective
  • Building capacity for ongoing work in the area at both institutions by training the trainers and developing the talent pool so that objectives in AI education can be met and industry needs can be fulfilled.
  • Creating pipelines (parcours) between Dawson and Concordia so that students can experience a continuum in their AI related education, which is coherent and integrated.

The lead in this research is Joel Trudeau, from the Physics Department, in collaboration with an ex-Dawsonite at Concordia University: Robert Cassidy. The total grant is also $100,000.

Benoit Pagé, coordinator of the Pôle IA, was surprised by the number of submissions his group received.  He was very apologetic regarding two additional submissions by Dawson that were denied funding as he saw that all four were very strong proposals.  As a matter of fact, Dawson is the only college that received funding for two proposals.

Dawson participating in OBVIA global project

Also worth mentioning: the participation of two Dawson faculty members – Jaya Nilakantan and Laurent Ruhlmann from the Computer Science Department – in a research project granted by OBVIA and entitled:

Identifier, mesurer et développer les compétences futures : une modélisation interdisciplinaire évaluant l’impact des transformations organisationnelles dues aux technologies numériques et à l’intelligence artificielle sur les systèmes d’emploi


étudier les retombées des technologies numériques et de l’IA sur les systèmes d’emplois pour identifier les besoins futurs en compétences, déterminer les actions pour les combler et soulever les facteurs qui risquent d’exacerber les inégalités auprès des groupes plus vulnérables.

Chercheur(e)s responsables

  • Tania Saba (Université de Montréal)
  • Félix Ballesteros-Leiva (Université Laval)
  • Marie-Thérèse Chicha (Université de Montréal)
  • Nolywé Delannon (Université Laval)
  • Julie Dextras-Gauthier (Université Laval)
  • Marie-Eve Dufour (Université Laval)
  • Jaya Nilakantan (Dawson College)
  • Laurent Ruhlmann (Dawson College)
  • Suzanne Bruyère (Cornell University)
  • Eddy Ng (Bucknell University)
  • Mustafa F. Ozbilgin (Brunel Business School) et
  • Lucy Taksa (Macquarie Business School)

The implementation of our three-year plan is well underway and as a strategic initiative will be highly rewarding for Dawson as we will gain expertise in these domains and confirm our leadership position as well.

I invite all of you to pay special attention to the development of this dossier in the coming months.

Many other strategic initiatives keep developing in the academic sector. Let’s mention the Learning Communities approach in the teaching of paired courses, the indigenization of the curriculum that will soon give birth to a certificate, the S.P.A.C.E. Project, which is also exploring the certificate option or the various Communities of Practice currently active such as DALC, WID, Resist Violence, MakerSpace, E-learning and UDL.

Dawson internal communications

I encourage you to read carefully the two main communication devices that were recently launched in order to better inform you about what is happening at Dawson, Academic Matters, produced by the Academic Sector, and the weekly D News, issued by the Communications Office. These are valuable tools to keep you abreast about what is going on in our great College!

Three additional items before closing.

New building update

First, the infrastructure dossier is moving forward and we are still on schedule with respect to the finalization of the feasibility study. It means that we should have concluded this phase by the end of the current semester. At this stage, we will embark on the final phase before construction: the development of a business case, which is about designing the expected solution, costing it and attributing contracts for the construction phase.

Sexual violence bystander training

Second: next week, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 21 and 22, internationally renowned women’s rights advocate and educator Julie Lalonde will be at Dawson to present: I’ve got your back: Bystanders stepping up to prevent sexual violence. Julie will be giving her presentation at three sessions to allow as many people as possible to participate. The sessions are open to all employees and students. Julie will equip participants with tools to address sexual violence at school, at work and at parties. There will be honest and open discussion about what stops us from intervening and the need to build a supportive community around us. The goal is for every participant to leave feeling empowered to make a difference. So, don’t miss this opportunity to learn what to do if you are ever in a situation of sexual violence. Please register so we can plan accordingly.

The College will also be presenting a new mandatory video training on the Sexual Violence Policy in the coming weeks. Further details will be provided soon.

Teaching Excellence Awards

Third, every year we recognize teachers who offer an amazing educational experience to our students with the Teaching Excellence Awards. Five teachers were selected last fall for this honour and it is my pleasure to recognize them today.

  • From the Sociology Department: Sarah Beer
  • From the Photography Department, teaching the AEC: Barry Muise
  • From the Interior Design Department: Leigh Shapiro
  • From the Humanities Department: Jared Toney
  • From the Physical Education Department: Jeffrey Zeidel.

Join me in a round of applause in congratulating these teachers!

Thank you Kieran Huxley

Allow me also to say a few words about one of our employees who will be retiring at the end of this month. Kieran Huxley, currently Coordinator of IT Operations, has been at Dawson for nearly 35 years. Many departments, if not all, have benefitted during the span of his career from his knowledge and skills for solving issues related to their installations. Kieran’s contribution has been, in so many facets, paramount to Dawson’s good functioning. I want to thank him on behalf of everybody for the quality of services he rendered during his years at Dawson and I wish him a good retirement.

Keeping hope alive

The choice we made many years ago, actually from the very foundation of this college, has been to be a student-centered institution, to be faithful to our mission and to strive for excellence in serving our students to the best of our capacities.  We have to remain consistent with this commitment, although it is a demanding one.  Educating the youth, teaching them how to become better human beings and contributing to their success in life, whether we are in a classroom or working in services, are still, in my opinion, the best ways to keep hope alive.

Clearly, this only happens if everyone brings their own contribution to the fulfilment of the mission.

For this, I thank you in advance and I wish all of you a wonderful semester.

I will now call upon our Academic Dean who will say a few words about what’s happening in her sector!  Thanks for your kind attention!

Richard Filion
Director General

Last Modified: January 21, 2020