Global vision for Orillia's Lakehead University
Professor Sreekumari Kurissery is one of the driving forces behind a proposed Centre for Sustainable Communities at Lakehead University’s Orillia campus. It is a key component of the university’s ambitious five-year plan for the local campus. DAVE DAWSON - THE PACKET & TIMES
Editor’s Note: Since it opened in downtown Orillia, Lakehead University has grown from 104 students to more than 1,300. In five years, the campus has expanded; an academic building, residence and cafeteria have blossomed in west Orillia. The university is now embarking on the next leg of its journey, which will be directed by a five-year campus plan. This is Part 2 of a two-part series.
Dr. Sreekumari Kurissery can envision a day when people from around the globe travel to Orillia’s Lakehead University campus to pursue ground-breaking research.
As part of its strategic plan for the local campus over the next five years, the post-secondary institution has ambitious plans to establish a Centre for Sustainable Communities.
“My long-term vision is to see this centre as a world-class facility that attracts researchers worldwide,” said Kurissery, who heads up Lakehead’s interdisciplinary studies department. “Any research centre at any university started this small. But if there is goodwill, expertise and hard work, we can develop this into a great centre.”
Drawing on a wide breadth of research expertise at the Orillia campus, the proposed centre will make unique research contributions in a variety of areas related to sustainable communities. The core areas of research will include environmental sustainability, political economy and social justice.
“The overarching aim of the Centre for Sustainable Communities will be to conduct and promote research and research-related activities that have positive implications for the sustainability of communities,” said Kurissery, who is passionate about the plan. “The centre will add to Lakehead University’s growing research reputation, with the objective of positioning Lakehead as a national and international leader in research on sustainable communities, and as a superlative research institution.”
The concept for the centre has been developed over the past 18 months by Kurissery and a team of nine professors at Lakehead from various realms — biology, media studies, history, geography, math, anthropology and others.
“That’s the unique part of what we’re doing,” she said. “We have a wide range of expertise that we bring to the table.”
The plan for the centre is a key component of the Orillia Campus Plan, a five-year blueprint for development at Lakehead from 2013 to 2018. While the proposal for the centre has been approved at the campus level, it is currently part of a peer-review process and must be given the green light by the university senate.
“We’re hopeful that it will be approved by the fall,” Kurissery said.
One of the benefits of such a centre — which will be a virtual centre without walls — is it will help the university attract research dollars.
“One significant advantage of having a centre is that you need a centre to be eligible for funding for some initiatives,” she said. “It allows us to access a bigger pot of money.”
And research money means jobs, she said, noting the university will leverage funding to hire graduate students and others to help with research. That will mean spinoffs in the community, she noted.
“To me, the university and the community are inseparable,” Kurissery said. “We want the community to be involved; this centre will be mutually beneficial. There are only positives.”
There are also a lot of positives in Lakehead’s recently signed memorandum of understanding with Georgian College, said Lakehead’s acting dean, Herman van den Berg.
“The goal is to reduce the number of classes a student must take to earn a degree,” said van den Berg, who noted the agreement has been in the works for years.
He said Lakehead is now part of Georgian’s University Partnership Centre.
“The benefit to students is they can transfer between institutions; there is now a new pathway open to them,” van den Berg said. “It’s a natural fit, especially when you consider the proximity of our campus to Georgian College, which is highly respected and the largest post-secondary institution in Simcoe County.”
He said high-level officials at both Lakehead and Georgian have met and have identified 30 potential areas to explore together.
“We already have some students who come here from Georgian for their business administration degree,” van den Berg said.
The new partnership and sustainability centre will attract more and more students, van den Berg said.
“We’re expecting to grow by almost 50% over the next five years to 2,000 students,” he said. “Not only that, but we will also be expanding our program offerings and have a greater breadth of programs … That’s important to give students more choice.”
To take a look at the campus plan, visit orillia.lakeheadu.ca. You can submit comments via an online feedback form.
Research, Innovation Week
Lakehead’s Orillia campus is hosting Research and Innovation Week Feb. 8 to Feb. 14.
Lakehead professors will present 12 different lectures focusing on research and innovation. Topics range from building community research capacity to a research-based view of unincorporated social economy organizations.
All events are free and open to the public. Opening ceremonies are planned for Feb. 8 at 1:30 p.m. For more information, visit