Browse blog posts written by the Heads of Units and Divisions at UBC for an overview of their role on campus and to gain insight on their perspectives, main challenges, opportunities, and constraints with respect to their operations. This is a good resource for UBC Faculty to identify a Co-Lead for their project, as well as to identify who to contact for approvals.

Andrew Parr | Associate Vice-President, Student Housing and Community Services (SHCS)

What is the operational role of your unit on campus?

SHCS is responsible for the business and community service operations of Student Housing, Food Services, Conferences and Accommodations, Bookstore, Parking and Child Care Services.  We are an ancillary division of UBC meaning we are fully self supporting and self funded, including all costs of operations, capital investments and mortgages, via revenues generated from operations.  We are responsible to build, maintain and steward our assets (including over 14,000 student residence bed spaces on both campuses) and to deliver high quality services that meet or exceed the needs of the UBC community and visitors to both our beautiful campuses.

What are your most urgent and pressing challenges?

There are few urgent and pressing challenges we are facing right now:

  1. Fiscal viability in light of COVID-19 – provision of long term sustainable business operations that meet the needs of the community, allow us to apply our commitments to sustainability and meet our financial commitments.
  2. Student Housing Demand – despite $.5B in investment and 5000 new beds on the Vancouver demand continues to exceed supply.  Building sustainable, high quality and affordable housing continues to be a focus and challenge.
  3. Food insecurity and sustainable food system – we operate a $50M food operation at UBCV; we have food values built on culinary excellence and sustainability – meeting marketplace needs while continuing to be leaders in the provision of a sustainable food system has its challenges.  For more about our Food Vision and Values visit https://food.ok.ubc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Food-vision_values.2019.pdf
  4. Sustainable Transportation Management and the impact on Parking at UBC – we are supportive of having more sustainable transportation options to / from UBC, including Skytrain, and of changing behaviours associated with commuting; but also recognize the financial implications of a significant reduction in vehicles travelling to and from campus from a parking perspective.
  5. Climate action – through SHCS-lead  developments, capital renewal and operations how do we best balance our financial and operational needs while supporting UBC’s commitment to Climate Action.  
What potential research opportunities excite you the most, with regard to your unit’s function?

We are supportive of research associated with any of the above challenges and priorities.  Not noted above but a topic of interest to us in SHCS is the impact, challenges, opportunities and strategies associated with behaviour change.  We support a community of over 14,000 student residents and serve the entire community of both the UBCV and O campuses; we believe with this comes an opportunity, perhaps responsibility, to influence the long term behaviour of those we serve, particularly students who live in student housing.

What are your operational constraints in incubating on-ground research?

Three come to mind:

  1. Financial – where doing the right thing comes at a cost that is not sustainable under current conditions.
  2. Livability – we must ensure that decisions associated climate action (reducing energy load for example) do not create a physical environment that is no accepted by current users.
  3. Access to resources – both human and financial resources – to give time and energy to these very real and challenging issues.

Jennifer Burns | Associate Vice-President, Information Technology and Chief Information Officer UBC Information Technology, Office of the CIO

Email: jennifer.burns@ubc.ca

What is the operational role of your unit on campus?

I lead the Office of the CIO (OCIO) and UBC Information Technology, (UBC IT) which is the enterprise service delivery unit. As CIO, I am accountable for technology service delivery across all campuses, and in all units, regardless of where that unit reports. The OCIO and its leadership team is responsible for ensuring a coherent set of policies and practices in areas that span the entire institution. For example, enterprise data governance, cybersecurity, IT governance, investment planning, and enterprise architecture. UBC IT staff provide enterprise services across UBC, such as the IT Service Centre, email, desktop services, network, WiFi, Audio Visual classroom support, telephones, and many other services. We also provide innovative services that can be found in the Emerging Media Lab and UBC Studios. A full list of UBC IT’s services can be found at it.ubc.ca

In the CIO’s portfolio we engage with the community on a continued basis to understand what is needed to support the community. Right now, there is significant change across the university, and our role is to support faculty, staff and researchers in finding technology supports and services. We are working with individual faculty and staff as well as units to help them find solutions for their projects and initiatives.

We are also in the process of establishing the ability to undertake proofs of concept and other pre-production capabilities to support innovative projects.

What are your most urgent and pressing challenges?

The current circumstances are challenging as it has accelerated the technology needs of the institution, and required many new tools and technologies on very short timelines to deliver. This means we need to be able to engage in rapid planning and delivery cycles. This type of delivery is very complementary to the Campus as a Living Lab (CLL) initiative. The idea of using the university campus as a sandbox to explore opportunities and test new ideas in our local context, with the permission to learn from our failures as well as our successes means that we can move more quickly to find ideas and solutions that can make a difference.

While the CLL initiative started with Sustainability, it’s a great opportunity to extend these ideas and capabilities into other areas. As an IT function, ensuring that our colleagues across the University have access to the tools and capabilities that they need will always be a pressing concern. There is a great deal of innovation happening in all areas of the university, that we need to constantly engage to understand how we might support our stakeholders goals. One area that presents a lot of opportunity and challenge will be supporting smart campus efforts. This is an area that will drive new tools and technologies to improve energy efficiency and reduce waste, and will require IT to deploy and support new technologies. It holds a lot of promise to support sustainability initiatives and I am looking forward to finding ways to partner with these initiatives.

From a technology perspective, defending and protecting the UBC community from cyber threats continues to be a significant challenge. It’s not something the IT department or Chief Information Security Office can do on its own, it requires a community response. All of our individual actions contribute to the safety and security of UBC’s data. When planning research initiatives or other IT projects, cybersecurity must be at the forefront in ensuring that we are protecting UBC from current and future threats. UBC IT can help ensure that new initiatives receive the appropriate assessments and approvals.

What potential research opportunities excite you the most, with regard to your unit’s function?

UBC has the opportunity to support innovative research initiatives that can be applied to UBC operations to make a difference to how the university operates. Advances in technology present tremendous opportunities for researchers to improve communities in many ways. UBC offers a unique environment to explore some of the opportunities that we can immediately connect with such as smart-cities, digital twinning, 5G, automation, and sustainability research. Supporting research across the entire institution is not always an easy undertaking, but opportunities to bring some of these novel ideas and technologies into practice at our institution and sharing in the enjoyment of the benefits they bring to everyone at UBC is particularly rewarding. 

What are your operational constraints in incubating on-ground research?

To support the world-class research undertaken by UBC researchers, there is a need to have continuity in IT services from the most basic and essential services such as telephony, networks, and email to some of the more unique or complex services such as high-performance computing or quantum computing and along the way consideration needs to be given to research data management. Often the needs of a researcher extend well beyond the services offered by any one particular group.

IT works closely with the VPRI, the Advanced Research Computing team (ARC) and the UBC Library as well as local IT groups to provide researchers support for tools and technologies. Ensuring that there is a comprehensive understanding of all the services available to researchers and make that information readily available is a difficult task. However, through these close collaborations with the OCIO, VPRI, the Library and others, we are bridging that gap to deliver on researcher needs and to improve their ability to discover services that are available.

Past research collaborations:

UBC IT is proud of its many research collaborations. Some recent examples include the Rogers 5G Smart Campus initiatives, and we have worked with Energy & Water services on WiFi Building Controls based on UBC research. Our Emerging Media Lab has also worked with many researchers on collaboration in the AR/VR space.

John Madden | Director, Sustainability and Engineering Campus + Community Planning

Email: j.madden@ubc.ca

What is the operational role of your unit on campus?

At Campus and Community Planning, we engage with our diverse community and partners to create a campus that will support UBC’s vision of making the world a better place. We focus on designing sustainable buildings, landscapes and neighbourhoods to create healthy, resilient and animated learning and living environments. We are champions for a vibrant and sustainable campus. We work in partnership to shape the place that supports UBC’s academic mission and our sustainable communities.

What are your most urgent and pressing challenges?

We are in the midst of a climate, biodiversity and health crisis that is having severe impacts on every dimension of our everyday life.

We have buildings and infrastructure that are aging and were not designed to respond to the frequency and severity of such events. We need to find ways to deploy innovative approaches to way we plan, design, construct and operate our campus. This includes retrofitting existing buildings in ways that minimize disruption while enhancing building performance and occupant thermal and wellbeing. We need to deploy new and innovative building system technologies that improve thermal comfort, air quality, nurture social connection and wellbeing while eliminating carbon emissions.  This is easier for new construction but much more challenging to retrofit older buildings because of cost, logistics and disruptions.

UBC is a knowledge city on the western periphery of the region.  With a daytime population that crests over 85,000 people, we need to find ways to enable a growing population to move to and from our campus through efficient and sustainable modes of transportation. We need to optimize land uses that create complete communities that reflect and connect the diversity of people and cultures.

We need to also figure out how we can meet the growing demands of our campus community through optimization of existing space (both land and building floor space) and when we do need a new (or improved) facility how it is designed such that it makes positive contributions to ecological and human health.

What potential research opportunities excite you the most, with regard to your unit’s function?

Together with our partners, we strive to stay ahead of the curve in planning, design, engagement, community building and sustainability.

We are living in a digital world with access to infinite amounts of data and information. We believe there is enormous capacity to acquire and leverage data to inform policy, help shift toward sustainable behaviors and evaluate impacts of programs/policies that we implement.

We believe that research can help inform how to extend the reach of our engagement of our campus community and how we can use technology to better connect and create channels of information that build understanding of the many planning and sustainability initiatives that are occurring across campus.

Research can also help to understand how best to engage on planning for the future with our host nations while also paving a path toward reconciliation with local nations, leading to unique, mutually beneficial solutions and supporting UBC’s commitment to implementing articles of UNDRIP, TRC commission, MMIWG Calls to Justice. We also have an opportunity to create a more welcoming environment where those who are historically, persistently, or systemically marginalized are treated equitably, feel respected, and belong.

As part of our emerging Climate Action Plan 2030, we have an ambitious target to engage over 75% of our campus community to take direct climate action.  We need innovative platforms that help to connect and engage people in a meaningful way.  Examples include helping facilitate people in taking more sustainable modes of transportation like transit or cycling, purchasing climate-friendly food and/or taking fewer business flights. As individuals, we have enormous power and impact when working together across a large institution toward a common goal!

Another area is around creating a more resilient, connected and sustainable community through the design of buildings, infrastructure and public realm. We believe that our physical campus should better reflect the diverse cultures, values and social needs of our campus community. How we design buildings and infrastructure that leverage and enhance the role of natural assets? How does the built environment better integrate with the natural environment to contribute to improvements in both ecological and human health? Are there innovative technologies and approaches to how we build and deliver green buildings on campus?

Another opportunity that we are excited to advance is our Zero Waste Action Plan and integrating the principles of the circular economy to eliminate waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use for longer and regenerate natural systems.

What are your operational constraints in incubating on-ground research?

Most often, the constraints revolve around tight project schedules, budgets and mitigating risks. Operational projects have rigid timelines that do not correspond to the academic calendar and limited budgets. Another constraint is that projects are expected to deliver operational reliability.  We need to balance the benefits of implementing new, innovative and sustainable technologies while maintaining a level of functional reliability in operating and maintaining buildings, infrastructure and systems that support teaching, learning and research.

Past research collaborations:
  • In-vessel composting system with AMS, Food Services
  • Deploying AI to monitor the type of items going into Zero Waste receptacles
  • Biodiversity Monitoring at UBC Farm 
  • Using LiDAR to understand campus tree canopy coverage and eco-system services contributions with UBC Urban Forestry Program

John Metras | Associate Vice-President, Facilities Infrastructure Development

Email: john.metras@ubc.ca

What is the operational role of your unit on campus?

The UBC Facilities group is responsible for the planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of UBC’s buildings, public realm and utilities infrastructure to ensure a safe, functional and sustainable physical environment for the campus community.  The departments within the Facilities group include:  Building Operations, Energy & Water Services, and Infrastructure Development.

What are your most urgent and pressing challenges?

Climate action is our most urgent challenge.  Innovative and timely technical solutions and significant capital investments will be required to drive down GHG emissions from campus operations (buildings, district energy system, vehicle fleet) to net zero.  This leading edge work must be balanced against, and ideally integrated with, other fundamental priorities such as reducing seismic risk and deferred maintenance in campus buildings and utilities infrastructure, improving accessibility on campus, reducing water consumption and solid waste generation, maintaining and enhancing the campus urban forest, and ensuring building ventilation systems are effectively designed and operated to minimize the risk of airborne disease transmission (a new challenge).  Underlying any planning, design and construction work we do on the physical campus is the need for meaningful engagement with the Musqueam community.  The inherent complexities and trades offs required to achieved these multiple objectives, particularly given our extremely constrained budgets, represent amazing Campus as a Living Lab opportunities.

What potential research opportunities excite you the most, with regard to your unit’s function?

We are excited by and supportive of research associated with any of the above challenges and priorities.  It would probably be easiest to think about these problems one at a time but they are all pressing and important.  The greatest opportunities may lie in helping identify ways to address multiple challenges with integrated solutions that have material impacts.  We need the help of our academic colleagues to work with us to address these challenges in a multi-pronged, multi-disciplinary way.

What are your operational constraints in incubating on-ground research?

We need to ensure at all times the on-going safety, functionality and reliability of campus infrastructure.  Risks associated with research projects need to be managed to ensure that these core requirements are not negatively impacted. 

Kari LaMotte | Managing Director, entrepreneurship@UBC

Email: kari.lamotte@ubc.ca

What is the operational role of your unit on campus?

entrepreneurship@UBC (e@UBC) helps UBC researchers propel their ground-breaking discoveries into products and services that solve the world’s most pressing problems. We do this by helping to develop viable, transformative ventures built around research innovation. By design, e@UBC enables science-based researchers (faculties, staff and students) to step out of their technical comfort zones and with the guidance and mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs, investigate and deploy a multi-faceted business model.

What are some of the different ways that your Unit can support on-ground research on campus?

Many research grants today ask how the funding will be utilized in translating discoveries into impact that can positively affect society. entrepreneurship@UBC can help researchers define the potential commercialization path to build into their research and corresponding grant applications.

entrepreneurship@UBC also offers many learning opportunities throughout the year that support researchers in understanding the potential applications for their research, as well as industry networking opportunities that catalyze relationships across the innovation ecosystem. For researchers whose discoveries have a strong venture opportunity, e@UBC has a full scale venture-building program that surrounds startups with the community (experienced executives, entrepreneurs, investors, etc) that they need to help their company to succeed.

What potential research opportunities excite you the most, with regard to your unit’s function?

As we serve the entire university community, we have the great fortune to work with researchers from every discipline. But, the three areas in which we see the most new venture opportunities are entrepreneurs solving problems in Human Health, Climate, and Social Systems. Each of these areas has a “Venture Studio” and community built around it that interfaces with everything from research clusters to industry associations and related faculties.

The Climate Venture Studio incubates cleantech and other climate solutions which are slow growing and can be challenging to attract first customers or partners to deploy first pilots. The Campus as a Living Lab provides an excellent opportunity to solve this problem by the researchers partnering with UBC to launch their climate solution on campus. The success of the pilot project in proof of concept can then be leveraged to secure additional clients and be critical to attract investment funding to scale the research translation impact to society.

What are your operational constraints in incubating on-ground research?

One of the biggest challenges with translating research into impact is to secure a partner or client to support a pilot project.  The beauty of the Campus as a Living Lab opportunity is that UBC can be the first client and support successful research translation through an on-campus demonstration pilot. The potential is to leverage this success with the pilot to either secure UBC as an ongoing client for the final product/service and to scale the success by jumping to secure further clients based on the success at UBC. UBC’s role not only as a research hub but also as a pseudo-municipality makes it particularly useful for demonstrations of technologies and services that would benefit local government or other large institutions.

Past research collaborations:

We work closely with researchers on finding a commercial path for their innovation. A recent example is VulcanX, a UBC venture based on innovation developed by researchers led by Prof. Walter Merida.  VulcanX is developing a catalytic reactor technology that produces carbon-negative hydrogen gas from natural gas feedstock, revolutionizing the production of hydrogen gas, which until now has been a carbon-intensive industrial feedstock.  entrepreneurship@UBC is providing industry-specific business development resources and mentoring through our Climate Venture Studio.

We also work with faculties, schools and institutes to support their researchers in building an entrepreneurial mindset. Examples include supporting student teams and delivering content in the Engineers in Scrubs Program, the Imagine Journalism program, Arts Amplifier, and co-delivering the Life Sciences Institute / e@UBC “Life Science Venture Startup Competition.”   

A recent and exciting example in our Human Health Studio is the new School of BioMedical Engineering (SBME) Propels initiative built & delivered in partnership with entrepreneurship@UBC & SBME, launching in September 2021. SBME Propels is an extracurricular series of workshops, seminars and panels for the SBME community, segmented into 4 streams: (1) Research Partnerships, (2) Translating your Innovations, (3) Career Pathing and Professional Skills for Trainees, and 4) Leadership for Early-career Faculty. All four streams will be available in parallel, with sessions taking place virtually at 12pm as lunch-and-learns. 

SBME Propels webpage: https://www.bme.ubc.ca/sbme-propels/

We are always seeking new opportunities to support researchers, faculties and initiatives in innovative ways, and look forward to finding more opportunities to collaborate on bringing climate and social and human health innovation to the world.

Linda Nowlan | Senior Director, UBC Sustainability Initiative

What is the operational role of your unit on campus?

At the UBC Sustainability Initiative, our goal is to lead globally and locally in sustainability and wellbeing across our campuses and communities.  UBC’s sustainability research collections highlight our commitment to transform the entire campus into a living laboratory, and to engage UBC faculty, staff and students in innovative and applied research to improve our communities, region and the world.

Through projects to advance interdisciplinary collaborations such as Campus as a Living Lab (CLL), we aim to link research to action both on-and-off campus. A current high priority for USI is the climate emergency. As the UN Secretary-General said, the latest climate science report  is a 'code-red for humanity.' UBC is leading on climate action, and USI is responsible for convening and coordinating work on UBC's Climate Emergency Task Force report. We are investigating ways to connect students, researchers and community partners on climate justice through CLL and our other programs both on and off campus.

What are some of the different ways that your Unit can support on-ground research on campus?

Several of our programs have a research aspect; UBC’s Campus as a Living Lab (CLL) Fund Competition provides seed funding to support innovation projects on the Vancouver campus that address strategic sustainability priorities and embody the principles of a living lab.

The Sustainability Scholars Program is an innovative paid internship program that matches UBC graduate students with on- and off-campus partners, such as the City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver, BC Hydro, Translink and local NGOs, to work on applied research projects that advance sustainability across the region.

We offer connection to cutting edge research and the multiple elements of UBC’s education ecosystem. Our services include:

  • Knowledge collection and capture — documenting project process and innovations.
  • Knowledge transformation and dissemination — creating educational and outreach materials, such as case studies and presentations to share lessons learned from the project at different stages.
  • Forming a UBC research team, including a faculty lead or leads, and graduate students and USI staff for research management.
  • Conduct peer research/learning from universities, municipalities, and other organizations with similar projects.
  • Conduct applied research with Sustainability Scholar projects.
  • Assisting with the public outreach activities conducted by project proponents
What potential research opportunities excite you the most, with regard to your unit’s function?

We are excited about a number of opportunities, especially those that combine research on UBC’s priorities of climate action and Indigenous human rights. We are working to transform our academic campuses and integrated residential neighbourhoods into a vibrant, sustainable and resilient community. Ambitious goals have been established through policies such as the 20-year Sustainability Strategy, Climate Action Plan, Green Building Action Plan, and Okanagan Whole Systems Infrastructure Plan, which require us to test and create innovation solutions for sustainability on campus.

What are your operational constraints in incubating on-ground research?

We are responsible for the program management of the CLL Program, but otherwise have  no dedicated staff to engage with development of research projects. One of our roles is to connect the academic side of UBC with operational staff, and a  constraint is enticing busy faculty into research collaborations with operational staff.

Past research collaborations:
  • The Zero Emission Building Exchange (ZEBx) is a channel for knowledge dissemination and outreach to the building industry around energy consumption and GHG emissions reduction which has resulted in several case studies on low-energy and near-zero emission buildings in BC published in the ZEBx website and most recently in this Playbook.   
  • Brock Commons Tallwood House an 18 storey, LEED Gold certified, 404-bed student residence building  proved using mass timber in high-rise buildings was both possible and beneficial and  was influential in enabling policy-makers to change the Vancouver Bylaw and B.C. Building Codes to allow mass timber in more buildings. USI produced an extensive library of reports to disseminate the research results.
  • Vienna House  is the first off-campus UBC ilving lab research project focused on climate, affordability and social equity. It will help BC Housing evaluate innovative building materials and designs aimed at tackling affordability, inclusion and climate change. The USI role is to capture and document the knowledge that will emanate from this project and support the dissemination of this knowledge. 
  • Embodied Carbon Pilot – Forestry Innovation Investment – Embodied carbon emissions refer to the GHG emissions attributed to materials throughout their life cycle – resource extraction and production, installation, use, and end of life – typically reported in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (kg CO2 eq). The UBC Embodied Carbon Pilot: Study of whole building life cycle assessment processes at the University of British Columbia illuminates nine embedded carbon assessments conducted on three campus buildings. The Embodied Carbon Pilot project’s goal is to identify procedural challenges and barriers to the adoption and streamline of Life Cycle Assessment  to establish benchmarks and eventually performance targets for embodied carbon in buildings.”

Steve Cundy | Director, UBC Advanced Research Computing

Email: steve.cundy@ubc.ca

What is the operational role of your unit on campus?

UBC Advanced Research Computing (ARC) provides institutionally-dedicated services and advocacy for researchers across all disciplines working on questions that have significant or specialized data and computational needs. Along with our national and regional partners, we offer secure services and resources to empower researchers and accelerate time to discovery and innovation through the use of leading digital research infrastructure.

In addition to consultations and training, ARC also offer many other services and resources such as Sockeye, Chinook, Cloud Computing, and REDCap to the UBC research community. Sockeye is our high-performance computing system that can enable month’s worth of work to be done in weeks or less when compared to traditional personal computers. Our object storage platform, Chinook, provides a place for large date files to be stored – which is becoming more in demand with video, images, and medical technology. Furthermore, our team is available to consult with researchers to determine how cloud computing infrastructure, platforms, and services can meet their research requirements. We also provide research data management support to researchers, especially with our REDCap platform, which is a secure web application for building and managing research data collection instruments.

What are some of the different ways that your Unit can support on-ground research on campus?

We provide a single point of contact for access to research computing infrastructure, platforms and services. From providing access to locally available digital research infrastructure and resources to consulting on privacy, security, grant proposals, and research data management, our team provides a valuable service to the UBC research community. In addition to operating and supporting our institutionally dedicated HPC cluster and storage service, we also facilitate access to the National platforms and Public Cloud.

As part of our mandate, we also provide ongoing training and education to the research community. This includes hands-on workshops, online training events, and one-on-one support to ensure that researchers of all disciplines and skill levels have access to our platforms and resources.

What potential research opportunities excite you the most, with regard to your unit’s function?

While ARC staff do not act as team members or research partners in research projects, they do support the advancement of the research. A few areas of growth that we foresee on the horizon are cloud computing, data management platforms, web or graphical user interface to HPC clusters, and quantum computing. Currently, the field of quantum computing is extremely exciting, and with premier institutions like the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute, UBC is well positioned to support major breakthroughs in this field.

What are your operational constraints in incubating on-ground research?

With technology, there is always the constraint of maintaining existing infrastructure while simultaneously advancing in other areas. ARC is being proactive in supporting pilot projects to gain better understanding as to how best to utilize certain platforms and tools to support UBC research. Another operational constraint that we are facing is the availability of computing infrastructure, which is often a key component of the research we support. As both federal and our institutional computing hardware sees constant utilization, we have to be extremely resourceful and strategic when ensuring our researchers have access to the resources they need to meet publication and conference deadlines. Demand for computational power to support research has never been higher, specifically specialized processors such as GPUs. Further exacerbating this issue is the rising popularity of cryptocurrenty mining, which uses the same hardware that our researchers require access to and places us in direct competition with for profit companies when seeking new resources.

Past research collaborations:

ARC is a research support unit and as such, does not collaborate directly research projects. However, of the many different projects we have supported across the institution, from grant application through project closure or anything in between, here are a few examples of recent projects acknowledging the support ARC had provided: