Alastair Summerlee has always believed it is the teacher’s role to inspire and guide active learning, rather than simply impart knowledge. The notion helped him thrive as a student and has been the philosophical foundation of a distinguished career in academia.
Summerlee’s passion for knowledge was initially fostered by his enchantment with nature as a boy growing up in Sussex Downs, England. As he matured into young adulthood, a strong work ethic and a belief in the value of education led Summerlee to the University of Bristol, where he earned three degrees in veterinary science. His alma mater later bestowed on him the Doctor of Laws degree honoris causa in 2004.
A member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, Summerlee became a teacher of anatomy and veterinary courses at the University of Guelph in 1988. Consistently referred to by students as dedicated and inspirational, he was honored with the outstanding teaching award from the University of Guelph Faculty Association in 1991. As a scientist, Summerlee has attracted significant funding to support groundbreaking research in fields related to the hormonal control of pregnancy, birth and lactation, cancer biology, iron deficiency anemia in women, and HIV/AIDS.
While continuing to teach and maintain an active research lab at Guelph, Summerlee has served as an associate dean of the Ontario Veterinary College, dean of graduate studies, associate vice president, and provost and vice president. In 2003, he was named the seventh president of Guelph. He also became one of eight professors in all of Canada, and the first president-elect, to be awarded the prestigious 3M Teaching Fellowship.
Under his leadership, Guelph has grown and developed into one of Canada’s most preeminent institutions with a strong reputation for civic engagement and volunteerism. Always the positive role model, Summerlee spent six years as the chair of the board of the World University Service of Canada, one of the leading international development agencies in Canada. During this time, he became passionately involved in humanitarian issues in Africa, especially the refugee camps in Kenya.
From a trip in 2011, he wrote, “Standing in the hot sun, taking in these moments of pathos, one cannot help but reflect. I am emotionally drained by the end of the day. Yet, what I have seen fills me with an intense drive to want to help.”
In addition to being named the 2012 IQLA Laureate, Alastair Summerlee received the 2012 Award of Highest Honour from Soka University in Japan. He will step down from the presidency at the University of Guelph in 2014 after a distinguished career as one of higher education’s most dynamic scholars and visionary leaders. Summerlee currently chairs the advisory board for Auburn University’s Hunger Solutions Institute, established in 2012 by the College of Human Sciences and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station.