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Students in Lazaridis Hall

A Catalyst for transformation

The Campaign for Wilfrid Laurier University raised a remarkable $130 million during a 10-year period, helping build new facilities, programs and student support. The most ambitious fundraising effort in Laurier's history has had a transformational effect.

Story by Fernando Carneiro

Since first opening its doors to students in 2017, Wilfrid Laurier University's Lazaridis Hall – home of the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics and the Department of Mathematics – has become a bustling hub of business and entrepreneurial activities.

Students make their way to active learning classrooms and meet in brightly lit learning centres that face inward toward the building's glass-ceiling atrium.

An innovative architectural design serves to foster a collaborative spirit.

Video: A look back to 2017 at the grand opening of Lazaridis Hall.

The award-winning Lazaridis Hall and much of the research conducted inside was made possible by the most ambitious fundraising campaign in Laurier's history. Catalyst: The Campaign for Wilfrid Laurier University raised a remarkable $130 million during a 10-year period, which would not have been possible without the generosity of the university’s donors. Projects associated with the campaign also helped Laurier receive an additional $137 million in government funding.

The recently concluded campaign spanned the entire university, including fundraising for the Building Canada’s Best Business School campaign, the Laurier Brantford YMCA and strategic initiatives including student support, campus-community projects and resources for faculty. Achieving the fundraising milestone took the support of alumni, staff, faculty, friends of the university and all three levels of government.

In total, Catalyst: The Campaign for Wilfrid Laurier University attracted more than 17,000 new donors to Laurier.

"The Catalyst campaign was an exceptional and exciting time that brought individuals, industry and government together in support of Laurier students," said President and Vice-Chancellor Deborah MacLatchy. "Every day, when I look around at the new facilities, programs and services that have been made possible through donations to this campaign, I am reminded of the power of partnership."

The Building Canada's Best Business School campaign

A key component of Catalyst, the Building Canada’s Best Business School campaign led to transformational change on Laurier's Waterloo campus in the form of Lazaridis Hall.

While the building is the most visible result of the campaign, Building Canada’s Best Business School also supported scholarships, real-world learning opportunities for students and recruiting top faculty.

Mike Lazaridis
Mike Lazaridis speaks during the opening of Lazaridis Hall.

The campaign received initial support of $72.6 million from the Government of Ontario in June 2011. Generous private donors added to that amount, among them Mike Lazaridis, who made a transformational $20-million gift to Laurier in 2015. In recognition of Lazaridis' generosity, the university renamed its business school the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics and later named Lazaridis Hall in his honour.

During a celebration marking the building's grand opening, Lazaridis noted the benefits Lazaridis Hall provides to students.

"This spectacular building and facility is so important," said Lazaridis. "Its impressive scale, state-of-the-art classrooms, high-tech facilities and well-thought-out functionality shows our enormous commitment to (students’) education and their careers. It's an important symbol that shows how serious we are about recruiting and training them here. It helps us compete on a global scale."

Aseel Al Nimer
Scholarship recipient Aseel Al Nimer at work in a lab on Laurier's Waterloo campus.

Real-world research

Aseel Al Nimer and Shervin Espahbod are recipients of scholarships funded through the Catalyst campaign, which helped add or renew more than 300 student awards. Both Al Nimer and Espahbod are advancing research that will help solve real-world problems.

With the world's phosphate reserves depleting, Al Nimer is researching a potential new source of phosphorous, a key ingredient in fertilizer. The PhD student in chemistry is studying how phosphorous might be extracted for reuse during the process of wastewater treatment.

"The William Nickolaus Martin Science Scholarship is helping me devote a lot more time to studying, as opposed to working part-time," says Al Nimer.

Espahbod is a second-year PhD student studying operations and supply chain management. He was awarded the CN Graduate Scholarship in Supply Chain Management and Maritime-Ontario Freight Lines Ltd. Scholarship.

"I’m studying conflicts in negotiations between shippers and brokers," says Espahbod. "The scholarship has been a game-changer in my academic life. It allowed me to present my work at a conference in Phoenix."

Building community

The Catalyst campaign also brought transformational change at the community level, including at Laurier’s Brantford campus through contributions to the Laurier Brantford YMCA project.

A partnership between Laurier and the YMCA of Hamilton Burlington Brantford, the recently opened recreation facility was funded through support from all three levels of government, Laurier’s students’ union, donors, friends of the university and Six Nations of the Grand River.

Greg Anderson, a Brantford community leader who serves as chair of the Grand Erie District School Board, uses the new YMCA every day. He regularly meets people who say they love the facility.

"It takes teamwork to fund a project like this," says Anderson. "It’s been great for the entire community and I’ve become a huge supporter of our local Laurier Brantford YMCA."

The Laurier Brantford YMCA
The new Laurier Brantford YMCA lights up Colborne Street in downtown Brantford.

Making a global impact

Laurier seeks out faculty members who are committed to sharing their expertise and providing leadership on critical issues. This approach helped attract a prestigious Jarislowsky Chair position to the university during the Catalyst campaign.

Through a transformational $2-million gift from the Stephen A. Jarislowsky Foundation, Laurier will employ a renowned academic with globally relevant expertise to conduct research into water security.

Laurier's Waterloo campus is home of the Centre for Cold Regions and Water Science and the chair position will build on the university’s established strength in the field.

"The aim of a university chair is to bring a leading professor of high renown, to bring top teaching and research quality to the university, as well as to act as a catalyst and mentor to undergraduate and graduate students," says Jarislowsky.

Growing businesses

Marnee Brick is learning about the power of partnership first-hand as part of the third cohort of the Lazaridis ScaleUp Program. Funded through a donation to Laurier by Mike Lazaridis, the ScaleUp program identifies 10 of the most promising technology firms in Canada each year and helps them scale globally.

Brick is the co-founder of TinyEYE Therapy Services, a Saskatchewan-based company that provides online speech-language pathology, occupational therapy and mental health services.

Among the company's clients are schools in rural areas that have difficulty attracting and retaining therapists.

Marnee Brick
Marnee Brick

"Our first goal was to be in business 1,000 days and we did that,” says Brick. “Then we found ourselves wondering, what do we do now?"

She applied to ScaleUp and through the program connected with mentors who “had been there, done that."

Since joining ScaleUp, Brick has made strategic hires in marketing, software, client services and finances. Her company, which includes more than 40 employees, has grown to serve thousands of students in 20 countries.

Leading in music therapy

One of the earliest gifts to the Catalyst campaign came from Manfred and Penny Conrad. In 2009, the university established the Manfred and Penny Conrad Institute for Music Therapy Research in recognition of the couple's generous $1-million gift, which helped cement Laurier as a leader in the field of music therapy.

Laurier established one of Canada’s first undergraduate music therapy programs in 1986 and added a graduate program 16 years later.

The Conrads
Manfred and Penny Conrad visit the Faculty of Music on Laurier's Waterloo campus.

Laurier’s current music therapist-in-residence, Elizabeth Mitchell, recently developed a program for patients at Homewood Health Centre in Guelph, Ont., one of the largest mental health and addiction facilities in Canada. Her position is funded through a Catalyst gift of $225,000 from Bryce and Nancy Walker.

"In addition to working with patients directly as a music therapist, I’ve also had the opportunity to set up internships for Laurier music therapy students," says Mitchell.

"These students get to work directly with the patients, applying all that they’re learning in class in a practical setting."

Providing faculty support

By sharing their research and teaching passion in classrooms every day, Laurier faculty members play a significant role in developing career-ready graduates. Thanks to Catalyst campaign donors, the university added four faculty chair positions, six professorships and eight fellowships to further faculty research and student experiential learning opportunities.

Associate Professor Darren Henderson, recipient of the William Birchall Foundation Fellowship in Accounting, says the opportunity has allowed him to share his research with academics around the world.

"I’m greatly appreciative," says Henderson. "It has made a difference in my research and allowed me to accelerate projects."

Associate Professor Si Li has hired PhD, master's and undergraduate students as research assistants since being named recipient of the Ira Gluskin Fellowship in Finance. Li's group is studying companies that have experienced a stock crash to identify common factors.

"The funding hasn’t just helped me," says Li. "It’s also helped students gain real-world experience."

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