Past, Present, Future: Founder’s Day 2021 goes virtual


Published: 12Feb2021

| Caitlin MacDougall, Liaison Officer, Farm Management and Technology Program

Nearly 200 members of the McGill-Macdonald community gathered for a virtual celebration of Founder’s Day on Zoom on February 11, 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic required organizers to rethink the traditional format. The transition to a digital event was a smooth one, with veteran MC Paul Meldrum, Manager of the Macdonald Campus Farm, seamlessly connecting each segment with some behind-the-scenes help.

One of the great advantages of celebrating online was the presence of alumni and students from around the world. One alumnus connected from South Africa, while a PhD candidate tuned in from the UK, and guest speaker Marc Bieler (DipAgr’58, BA’64) joined from his home in Switzerland.

The 2021 theme was Past, Present, Future. Founder’s Day is an opportunity to acknowledge campus founder Sir William Christopher Macdonald’s mission to support higher education and cultivate the next generation of leaders.

As McGill enters its third century, Founder’s Day provided the perfect opportunity to reflect on the University’s rich past and present objectives, and to ponder the future of the campus, university and the world, with a focus on the environment.


A short video showed the audience the physical changes to the campus over the last century, and included excerpts from yearbooks and archives depicting previous Founder’s Day celebrations from the 1960s to today.


This was followed by a conversation between McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier, Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Anja Geitmann, and alumnus Marc Bieler. He recently made a landmark gift to the University to build the interdisciplinary teaching, research and experiential learning capacity in the McGill School of Environment. In recognition of this transformative gift, McGill renamed the school the Bieler School of Environment.

Bieler reflected on his time spent at McGill, his career in agriculture, and the importance of supporting the University in finding solutions to the environmental challenges we are currently facing.

When asked about his outlook on the future, Bieler said, “you have to be optimistic; yes, we face challenges, but if we aren’t optimistic, it will be a disaster. We need to find solutions.”


In advance of Founder’s Day, students from across Macdonald Campus submitted brief videos sharing their perspectives on the future of McGill, the Faculty, the environment and the world. A montage of some of these video submissions was shared with the audience, as the preface to a student panel, moderated by Associate Professor Jeff Cardille (Natural Resource Sciences and Bieler School of the Environment).

The panel was composed of students Nik Dworek (U2, Environment), Patricia Sung (U2, Environment), Anikka Swaby, RD (MSc student, Human Nutrition), and Philip Addo Wiredu (PhD candidate, Bioresource Engineering).

First, they reflected on their experiences as university students during a global pandemic. They shared their hopes and fears for the future, how to move from feelings of hope to actionable change, and how emotions can be motivators for action, particularly relating to climate change. The students also discussed the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how Macdonald Campus can help find concrete solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.

Prof. Cardille encouraged audience participation through the chat feature and a poll on Zoom, simulating the student online learning experience.

While speaking about how humanity can meet these SDGs, Nik Dworek stated, “Earth is a group project,” a thought that resonated deeply with the audience.


It would not be Founder’s Day without acknowledging the hard work and contributions of both staff and students. The Macdonald Campus Award of Excellence for Administrative and Support Staff was given to Danielle Côté, Human Resources Advisor at Macdonald Campus for the past 22 years.

The award recognizes outstanding performance and contributions to the Macdonald Campus and community both in the execution of their duties and in the effort and commitment towards service. 

Gold Key Awards were also presented to seven highly deserving students for their contribution to extra-curricular activities at Macdonald Campus throughout the last year. Over 60 nominations were received – more than any other year.

The 2021 recipients were: Mohammed Antar (PhD candidate, Plant Science), Mary Bergen (BScAgEnvSc’20) BSE, Nik Dworek (U2, Environment), Sourour Harfouch (U2, Dietetics), Leela Riddle-Merritte (U3, Global Food Security), Keel Scruton (U3, Bioresource Engineering), and Meha Sharma (PhD candidate, Plant Science).

Back to top