Recap of Natural and Applied Sciences Town Hall

Matina Kalcounis-Rueppell - 14 October 2021

On October 7, more than 430 people joined me for the first town hall in the new College of Natural and Applied Sciences (CNAS). I want to thank everyone who attended the event, submitted questions in advance, and added insightful comments and questions to our virtual conversation. If you weren't able to attend the town hall, a recording is available here.

Many of you will know from listening to President Flanagan, attending other university town halls, or reading the Quad that the U of A is undergoing a massive transformation at this moment. Two major initiatives—Service Excellence Transformation (SET) and Academic Restructuring—have come together as the University of Alberta for Tomorrow (UAT). The College of Natural and Applied Sciences town hall focused on the new college model that is integral to UAT.

The colleges exist to support UAT and all of the faculties that are foundational to the academic mission of this institution. The College of Natural and Applied Sciences brings together the Faculties of Engineering, Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences, and Science. Activities in CNAS span the entire range of scientific teaching and research, from pure and fundamental discovery that advances our understanding of the world around us to the direct application of science, technology, and these discoveries to improve all of our lives.

Although CNAS is new, collaboration between ALES, Engineering, and Science is not new—in fact, they share a long history together. As one example, in 1975, these three faculties held a joint open house, recognizing the shared interests of the high school students who would be applying to the University of Alberta. This is one of many examples and I look forward to working with all of you to build on that shared history as we develop the College of Natural and Applied Sciences.

To that end, here are the updates that I shared at the October 7 town hall:

College structure & operating model

The UAT Operating Model document, released in June of this year, outlines the roles and responsibilities of the institution, colleges, faculties and departments. It also brings together SET and the college model, and it is this document that we are drawing upon to build out the services in the College of Natural and Applied Sciences. At the core of the operating model stand the programs that are the heart of our academic teaching, research, and community engagement mission.

The colleges will help to support the core academic mission in the faculties through the delivery of administrative services and services that support research and education (both undergraduate and graduate). Within the new model, some of the services will be offered as university-wide services—these are largely the work of SET—with service partners bringing expertise from different portfolios to colleges and faculties (such as in research, enrollment management and recruitment, IT, finance, communications, and human resources). Other services will flow from the college—here research support offers a good example. We can envision some research support coming from the centralized VPRI team via the research partner network, as well as research support that looks much like what we currently offer through faculties, but instead leverages our collective expertise to consolidate research services at the college level. We are still discussing what this will look like and we have a Research Working group (see below) working on this. A key principle of this approach, in addition to providing the services needed to support teaching and research, is to consolidate redundant services and avoid duplicating services.

The senior service partners are key to the success of this model. They will serve as the primary source of knowledge from administrative portfolios within the college, sharing their knowledge with the units in which they are embedded. They act as liaisons between colleges/faculties and centers of expertise, working for the college though not from within the college. They are key to facilitating service excellence within the new model.


In order to begin building out and transitioning to the new operating model, the council of natural and applied sciences deans—as well as college and faculty general managers—have been meeting every week since July. We have been working to recruit senior partners, service partners, and faculty partners, and I have introduced some of these people below. Each of the three college offices are also temporarily co-located on the third floor of ECHA to help us improve coordination among and across the colleges as they are being developed.

To date, we have largely coordinated our work through a series of working groups tasked with taking an inventory of functions and processes within the faculties, and then recommending activities and functions that could be consolidated at the college level. In the College of Natural and Applied Sciences we have established a specific process for these working groups: each working group is led by a dean sponsor responsible for bringing recommendations and proposals back to the CNAS Council of Deans for discussion and approval. To date we have three working groups formalized through this process. They are:

  • Research
  • Education
  • Strategic initiatives in entrepreneurship & innovation

In addition to these formal working groups, we also have informal groups that have not yet been assigned a dean sponsor but that have laid important groundwork for future discussions. These are:

  • Graduate
  • Safety and risk management
  • EDI
  • International initiatives

I want to stress that this process is ongoing. If you see a specific need for a dedicated working group, or if you have strategic initiatives that you think will be important, I invite you to bring that forward to me at

People of the college

As we build out the College of Natural and Applied Sciences, it is my pleasure to introduce the people who so far make up the college, beginning with our Council of Deans:

  • Simaan AbouRizk, Interim Dean, Faculty of Engineering
  • Stanford Blade, Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, Life & Environmental Sciences
  • Frederick West, Acting Dean, Faculty of Science

In the college dean's office, Julie Naylor has been appointed College General Manager and Colette Freitas has been appointed College Executive Assistant. The Faculty General Managers responsible for faculties within the college are:

  • Francois Paradis, ALES
  • Kathleen Edwards, Engineering
  • William Bedard, Science

Several college service partners have also been appointed so far:

  • Nicole Dyck (Enrolment)
  • Adam Giraldeau (IT)
  • Christine Lee (Finance)
  • Shayan Sarkar (HR)
  • Mariel Tavakoli (Recruitment)
  • Katie Willis (Communications and Marketing)
  • Len Wong (Finance)

I look forward to welcoming and introducing you to the rest of our senior partners as they come on board.

Upcoming activities

Finally, there are two upcoming activities of which you should be aware. The first is the development of a college budget—this process is ongoing, and is unfolding in collaboration with the faculty deans. The second is the development of college strategic priorities, including research and education priorities that stretch across the natural and applied sciences faculties. Several of you have reached out with ideas for strategic initiatives for research and education and I thank you and look forward to discussing those at a future town hall. More generally, I also invite you to visit the UAT timeline webpage for more details on upcoming activities.

Thank you again for your engagement at the town hall, and for all that you do at the University of Alberta. I look forward to working with you in the months ahead.

Matina Kalcounis-Rueppell
Interim Dean, College of Natural and Applied Sciences


Questions asked and answered*

Will there be more layoffs in CNAS faculties?
The university has not yet finished making the full-time position reductions that were announced in March 2020 when the provincial government first announced three years of budget reductions. So yes, there will be more layoffs and positions eliminated as we continue to put in place the new operating model. Right now, the university is preparing for the anticipated reduction of $54M for 2022/23. Deans and VPs will be expected to meet budget targets, and position disruptions will continue as a result. However, the impact upon specific departments, faculties and units will vary, depending upon the specific financial situation of each area.

How will faculties retain their longstanding cultures?
This question gets at the heart of the restructuring approach: strong faculty cultures are precisely the reason that we have a college with three faculties, rather than consolidated faculties. The college will serve to amplify faculty strengths and values—not diminish them—by focusing on commonalities between faculties (and the opportunities stemming from them) and freeing up faculties to focus on their core missions. The current leaders in departments and faculties remain leaders, and I encourage you to be honest and open with them in ways that fit into your unique academic cultures.

How do you see co-op, career and work-integrated learning initiatives fitting within the College?
The Office of Education Working group has identified this as one area worth exploring in terms of college-level services. However, at this point I see the college as being a facilitator—a connector within co-op, internships and work integrated learning. As you know, Engineering already has a very robst co-op program and career centre, and the Science Internship Program recently expanded to welcome students from ALES, CSJ and Augustana. At the institutional level, we are also looking at how to better support / offer work-integrated learning so students have a range of opportunities to draw on during their program.

How will Dietetics/Nutrition be managed in terms of marketing and recruitment?
This is a great example of cross-college collaboration. While the question is specific to Dietetics it can be applied to other programs in areas that cross colleges, such as Planning or Mathematics, who may want to increase exposure and enrolment. Dietetics/Nutrition is sitting on the Health Sciences Council of Deans and Greta Cummings is very committed to including them in all aspects of Health Sciences discussions and activities. Once External Relations partners are in place, they will work with recruitment partners in Health Sciences to ensure coverage  from both a marketing/communications perspective and from a recruitment perspective. This is another benefit of the service stream model: these partners do not work for any one faculty or college; instead, they work for their service streams and will have oversight of certain colleges and faculties.

What is the plan to coordinate interdisciplinary research and grant applications within the College? Will the college facilitate connections with industry? Or will such coordination stay at Faculty level?
This will be part of the research partner network coming out of the VPRI Office and coordination will still happen at the Faculty level through embedded research partners. The core difference will be a higher level of coordination at the College level to enhance interdisciplinary research and applications. The search for the Senior Research Partner who will oversee this network in the College of Natural and Applied Sciences is currently underway. Once that person is in place, addressing the coordination of interdisciplinary research and grant applications, as well as industry connections, will be one of their priorities.

*We are also putting together an FAQ for all the questions that were submitted and asked as part of this and the other college Town Halls that happened last week.




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