Fitzpatrick earns ASTech honour

Dr. Dennis Fitzpatrick the U of L's former vice-president (Research), and now a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, recently received the Alberta Science and Technology (ASTech) award for Outstanding Contribution to the Science and Technology community.

When Fitzpatrick arrived at the University of Lethbridge in 1999 as the new VP Research, he had a mandate to create nationally recognized programs. He recognized the small university had a modest research profile and a pool of good researchers. He also knew that the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta had a long history of research that overshadowed the U of L's limited resources.

Dennis Fitzpatrick
ASTech award presenter Dr. Robert Haché of the University of Calgary, left, presents to the U of L's Dr. Dennis Fitzpatrick.

"It was like opening up a corner store beside a major retail chain," says Fitzpatrick. Because the U of L was low on resources, Fitzpatrick says he had to find ways to build them.

"This was challenging in Alberta because of the province's history of funding primarily meritorious institutions," he says. "We had to find leading-edge programs to get the funding. It was like the chicken and the egg. Which comes first?"

Under Fitzpatrick's research leadership, the University of Lethbridge evolved into a comprehensive research and instructional university with strong ties to the provincial technology community. During the last 10 years, the university's research budget has grown from $2 million to almost $24 million in 2010.

"The money increases the kinds of opportunities that impact the lives of people in Alberta, and especially southern Alberta," says Fitzpatrick. His 'think big and shoot high' philosophy is fundamental to the University's success, as is his vision to deliberately focus on developing specific areas with programs of instruction and research in tandem.

Fitzpatrick's strategic, thematic approach was instrumental to the University's ability to develop expertise and become a centre of excellence in the following areas: neurosciences, water resources in semi-arid ecosystem, biotechnology, genomics biochemistry, earth imaging applications for integrated resource management and imaging technology and the study of demographics and population.

"When we built the research infrastructure, we looked beyond the individual researcher's needs to see if we could create a toolbox to serve many people," says Fitzpatrick. "When developing resources in the emerging field of neuroscience, the university department included biochemistry, biology and behavioural sciences because the field has such a broad-based focus."

"We didn't build only one lab, we built 10, opening up a whole new area of expertise," adds Fitzpatrick. "These are the kinds of things that pay off. People get involved in creative research partnerships that allow them to do research in better, more sophisticated ways. We're providing bright people with a whole new set of tools so they can now do remarkable research. And we're training a new generation of scientists in ways we never anticipated."

Paramount in Fitzpatrick's mind was, and is, providing opportunities for students.

"The primary product of research and the value of a university education is highly trained students and the opportunities it creates for them," he says. "Because of our system, the University of Lethbridge has become a launching pad for students to go to graduate school and on to the rest of their careers."

This story originally appeared in the December issue of the Legend. For a look at the full issue of the December Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.