Indira Samarasekera, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Alberta

Indira V. Samarasekera, PhD, FRSC, FCAE, DSc, OC (SAM-er-ah-SAKE-ah-rah) is the 12th president and vice-chancellor of the University of Alberta, one of Canada’s most respected research-intensive universities.

Dr. Samarasekera was vice-president (research) at the University of British Columbia and held the Dofasco Chair in Advanced Steel Processing before becoming president of the University of Alberta in 2005. She is the first woman and the first engineer to serve as U of A president.

Dr. Samarasekera’s background and achievements

  • earned an MSc from the University of California in 1976 as a Fulbright-Hays Scholar 
  • granted a PhD in metallurgical engineering from the University of British Columbia in 1980 
  • received the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial fellowship in 1991, awarded by NSERC to the top four researchers under 40 in science and engineering in Canada 
  • appointed to the Order of Canada in 2002 in recognition of outstanding contributions to steel process engineering 
  • awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Public Policy Forum's Peter Lougheed Award for leadership in public policy in 2012 

Dr. Samarasekera is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum. In 2014, she was named a Foreign Associate of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, one of the profession's highest distinctions. 

She has received honorary degrees from the University of British Columbia, University of Waterloo, Université de Montréal, University of Western Ontario and the University of Toronto in Canada, and from Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland. 

Dr. Samarasekera’s current work 

  • established a renewed vision, Dare to Discover, to make the University of Alberta one of the world's great universities for the public good
  • internationally recognized as one of Canada’s leading metallurgical engineers for her groundbreaking work on process engineering of materials, especially steel processing
  • consulted widely for industry worldwide, which has adopted the results of her research discoveries 
  • devoted her career to advancing innovation in higher education and the private sector 
  • provided national and international leadership through invited lectures and participation on national and international boards and councils 

During her tenure, the U of A: 

  • completed nearly $1.5 billion in capital construction including the National Institute for Nanotechnology, the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science and the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy in partnership with Alberta Health Services
  • opened a downtown campus, Enterprise Square
  • established the Killam Research Fund for the Social Sciences, Humanities, and Fine Arts 
  • created the School of Public Health 
The university also celebrated its centenary in 2008 with the Prime Ministers Conversation Series and successfully concluded a $600-million fundraising campaign.

Forging strong international partnerships 

The University of Alberta is committed to being a global institution working with the international community to find solutions to shared challenges. This commitment is a signature element of Dr. Samarasekera's leadership, reflected in partnerships such as: 

  • the Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative, a collaboration started in 2009 between the U of A and the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres 
  • the world-leading Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, created in 2010 through the combined gifts of $25 million from the Li Ka Shing (Canada) Foundation and $52.5 million from the Government of Alberta   
  • IC-IMPACTS, a five-year, $30-million research collaboration involving three Canadian universities and Indian Institutes of Technology in Bombay, Delhi, Kharagpur and Roorkee 

Beyond the University of Alberta 

Serving the wider community in several ways, Dr. Samarasekera sits on several local and national boards:  
  • past chair of the National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT); 
  • former member of Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation Council; 
  • member of the board of directors of the Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank); 
  • member of the board of directors of Magna.
She also served on the Public Policy Forum of Canada, a Presidential Visiting Committee at MIT, the Conference Board of Canada, and the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service.   

As an adviser to the Canadian Minister of Environment at the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, she served as a moderator and speaker at the 2010 and 2011 World Economic Forum in Davos, and the “Summer Davos" in China. 

She participated in the Prime Minister's roundtable on Canada-India higher education co-operation. She also participated in the 2008 and 2009 G8 summits of university presidents in Hokkaido and Turin, respectively. 

A sought-after speaker, she has addressed the National Science Foundation in the United States, the Science and Technology Forum in Japan and the Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce in London.

She is a member of the advisory board for Canada's Outstanding CEO of the Year, an award program recognizing outstanding leadership and achievement by Canadian chief executive officers.