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Concordia awards 10 new honorary doctorates

The distinguished recipients include a women’s hockey star, a space engineer and a world-renowned classical music conductor
May 13, 2019
Natalie Panek works on Canadian space robotics and space exploration programs, including the ESA’s ExoMars 2020 rover. | Photo by Natalia Dolan
Engineer Natalie Panek works on Canadian space robotics and space exploration programs, including the ESA’s ExoMars 2020 rover. | Photo by Natalia Dolan

Next month, Concordia will present honorary doctorates to 10 exceptional individuals who have made their mark in the fields of athletics, music direction, global conservation, education reform, business, space engineering and sculpture.

Each will receive their honour during Concordia’s spring 2019 convocation ceremonies taking place June 10 to 12 in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at Place des Arts (175 Ste-Catherine St. W.).

The honorands will join more than 6,000 students from Concordia’s four faculties as well as the School of Graduate Studies who will be receiving their diplomas.

Concordia's 2019 spring convocation: the honorands 

Faculty of Arts and Science

Kent Nagano

Kent Nagano

For his artistry and outreach as Music Director of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal.

Maestro Nagano has been the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) Music Director since 2006. During this time, he has simultaneously led leading opera houses in Munich and Hamburg and guest conducted the world’s leading orchestras. 

Under his leadership, the OSM saw a revival of critically acclaimed recordings and touring activities, combined with visionary initiatives that have ensured the attainment of its full artistic potential, while reaching out to the Montreal and Quebec community. More than ever before, the OSM is known and respected internationally for its distinctive character.

Nagano is known for the clarity, elegance, depth and intelligence of his interpretations, which span a vast repertoire from baroque to contemporary creation. He has successfully broadened the audience for classical music by challenging the status quo through uncompromising quality, and creative programming. 

Under his watch, the OSM has performed at the Bell Centre to celebrate the Canadiens’ 100th anniversary, conceived, built and opened the new Maison symphonique de Montréal, built and inaugurated the Pierre Beique organ, formed the new OSM Chorus, and started the OSM Classical Spree, which has become one of the largest urban classical music festivals on the continent.

Maestro Nagano also inaugurated La musique aux enfants, a music education initiative that aims to introduce preschool children to intensive music learning and contribute to their academic success over the long term.

Among his many honours is the Governor General of Canada’s Meritorious Service Medal (Civil Division), which he received last year.

Conferred at a special ceremony.

Faculty of Arts and Science

Aimee Mullins

Aimee Mullins

For inspiring others through her athleticism, creativity and leadership

Aimee Mullins has inspired people around the world as an athlete, actor, model and speaker.

As the first double amputee in history to compete in Division 1 NCAA track and field, she then competed for Team USA in the 1996 Paralympic Games. She has set world records in the 100 metres, 200 metres and long jump events.

Mullins went on to become a lauded runway and editorial fashion model and was named a global brand ambassador for L’Oréal Paris in 2011. Over the past decade she has been a film and television actor and is now a producer.

In 2012, Mullins was named Chef de Mission for the United States at the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in London. That same year she was appointed by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the Council to Empower Women and Girls Through Sports.

Her prolific work for non-profit organizations is matched by her frequent public speaking appearances on topics related to body, identity, design and innovation; her TED talks have been translated into 42 languages. In 2018 she became one of the youngest ever inductees into the US National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Aimee Mullins will address the Faculty of Arts and Science on Monday, June 10 at 10 a.m.

Caroline Ouellette

Caroline Ouellette

For her outstanding career as a women’s hockey player, coach and ambassador  

One of the most accomplished women’s hockey players in history, Caroline Ouellette won four consecutive Olympic gold medals, 12 International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship medals (six gold, six silver) and 12 Four Nations Cup medals (eight gold, four silver) for Team Canada. Ouellette was team captain at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games. As a player for the Canadiennes de Montréal, she won four Clarkson Cups.

Now retired as a player, Ouellette is the founder of Girls Hockey Celebration, an annual tournament that brings together more than 850 young women to play and meet role models from Canada’s Olympic team. She has also been an athlete ambassador with RIGHT TO PLAY since 2004, and an ambassador and active fundraiser for the Quebec Breast Cancer Society.

She joined the coaching staff of the Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team in 2012.

Caroline Ouellette will address the Faculty of Arts and Science on Monday, June 10 at 3 p.m.

Sylvia Schmelkes

Sylvia Schmelkes

For championing inclusive, equitable education for Mexico’s Indigenous peoples

Sylvia Schmelkes is a pioneering researcher and advocate for reform in Mexico’s education system and one of Latin America’s leading proponents of intercultural education. She is currently Academic Vice-President of the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.

Over her four-decade career, she has championed inclusion and equitable models of education at the Mexican Secretariat of Public Education, UNICEF, UNESCO and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Her leadership has contributed to the founding of nine intercultural universities that aim to support the linguistic and cultural autonomy of Mexico’s diverse Indigenous populations.

Among other honours, in 2008 Schmelkes received the Comenius Medal from UNESCO for her career as a researcher.

Sylvia Schmelkes will address the Faculty of Arts and Science on Monday, June 10 at 3 p.m.

Kamaljit Bawa

Kamaljit Bawa

For his research and leadership in sustainability science

Kamaljit Bawa is a global leader in biodiversity conservation, climate change and sustainability sciences.

Currently Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Bawa has been a Bullard Fellow at Harvard University and a Guggenheim Fellow. He has published more than 200 scientific papers and 11 authored or edited books and monographs on topics ranging from local forest conservation in the Himalayas to the shifting role of institutions in global climate-change policy.

Beyond his groundbreaking research, Bawa has promoted the engagement of civil society in conservation efforts by founding the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, consistently ranked among the top 20 think tanks of the world.

Among his many honours, Bawa received the Linnean Medal in Botany in 2018, the Jose Cuatrecasas Medal for Excellence in Tropical Botany in 2016, the international MIDORI Prize in Biodiversity in 2014 and the international Gunnerus Award in Sustainability Science in 2012, and a Pew Award in 1992. He is an elected member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Norwegian Society of Letters and Sciences, and Royal Society of London.

Kamaljit Bawa will address the Faculty of Arts and Science on Monday, June 10 at 7:30 p.m.

John Molson School of Business

Peter Simons

Peter Simons, C.M., C.Q. 

For emphasizing attractive and sustainable design and fair fiscal and social practices

Peter Simons is President and CEO of La Maison Simons. Founded in 1840, the Quebec-based retailer is Canada’s oldest privately owned family business.

Since taking the reins in 1996, Simons has emphasized aesthetic and sustainable design choices that enhance the customer experience.  His leadership helped the chain expand from Quebec City to 15 stores across Canada.  In-house clothing brands and cutting-edge distribution practices have enabled the company to compete with online giants.

Simons is a vocal advocate for fair fiscal and social practices.  He is regularly called upon to share his expertise on the Canadian retail landscape and how local merchants can compete in today’s global market.

In 2008, Simons became a Chevalier of the National Order of Quebec, and in 2018, he was named a Member of the Order of Canada.

Peter Simons, C.Q., C.M., will address the John Molson School of Business on Tuesday, June 11 at 10 a.m.

Louis Vachon

Louis Vachon, C.M.

For his leadership in the financial field and extensive charity work in the Montreal community

Louis Vachon has three decades of experience in the banking sector, largely spent rising through the ranks at the National Bank of Canada. As President and CEO since 2007, he has helped make it Canada’s sixth largest commercial bank today.

Vachon’s leadership and business expertise are highly sought after. He has served on many corporate boards, including Molson Coors and Groupe CH Inc.

His skills are matched by his generosity of spirit, both of which he has shared with numerous charities, including Centraide of Greater Montreal, la Fondation de l'institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal, the Cedars Cancer Foundation, and the Pointe-à-Callière Montréal Archaeology and History Complex.

For his professional and community work, Vachon received the 2016 Global Citizens Award from the United Nations Association in Canada. He was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada that same year. 

Louis Vachon, C.M., will address the John Molson School of Business on Tuesday, June 11 at 3 p.m.

Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science

Éric Martel

Éric Martel

For his visionary leadership and charitable activities

Éric Martel became President and CEO of Hydro-Québec in 2015. In this role he ensures that the company continues to meet the expectations of its customers and shareholders while maximizing its contribution to the global energy transition.

Before joining Hydro-Québec, Martel worked for such multinational companies as Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, Procter & Gamble, Kraft Foods and Bombardier, where he held a series of leadership roles.

Martel chairs the World Economic Forum’s Electricity Industry community and is among the stewards leading the organisation’s initiative to shape the future of energy. He also sits on the board of the Global Sustainable Energy Partnership.

An engineer by training, he was appointed honorary president of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec’s Soirée de l’excellence en genie 2019. After 20 years of involvement with Centraide of Greater Montreal, Martel will co-chair the 2019 campaign.

Éric Martel will address the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science on Wednesday, June 12 at 10 a.m.

Natalie Panek

Natalie Panek

For inspiring women to enter the STEM fields

Natalie Panek is a senior engineer in Mission Systems at MDA, a Maxar company. She works on Canadian space robotics and space exploration programs, including the ESA’s ExoMars 2020 rover.

An avid adventurer, she obtained her pilot’s license and helped build and drive a solar-powered car across North America. Panek completed an internship at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and attended a Space Studies Program at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

Through her website,, and social media, frequent speaking engagements and volunteering, Panek works to change the ratio of women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. She mentors others through programs such as Cybermentor.

Panek is the 2013 recipient of the University of Calgary Graduate of the Last Decade Award. She was named to Forbes 2015 30 under 30 list, joins an elite group of women as one of WXN’s Top100 award winners (2014) and received the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering Diversity and Equity Alumni Award (2018).

Natalie Panek will address the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science on Wednesday, June 12 at 3 p.m.

Faculty of Fine Arts

Gilles Mihalcean

Gilles Mihalcean

For contributing to public life through his art and teaching

Gilles Mihalcean is a major figure in Quebec contemporary art. A self-taught sculptor, he has been exhibiting his work internationally since the mid-1970s and raising the reputation of Quebec artists abroad.

His numerous Montreal public art works are recognizable by their surprising and inventive combinations of forms and materials that emphasize the juxtaposition of volumes in space.

Mihalcean has been an active figure in the Montreal art scene through colloquia, public speaking and mentoring the next generation of artists, including students in Concordia’s Studio Art Program.

Among his honours are the Prix Paul-Émile Borduas in 2011, the CALQ Bourse de carrière Jean-Paul Riopelle in 2004 and the Canada Council for the Arts Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award for mid-career artists in 1987.

Gilles Mihalcean will address the Faculty of Fine Arts on Wednesday, June 12, at 7:30 p.m.


Find out more about Concordia’s 2019 spring convocation. And read about the formative educational experiences of Concordia’s 10 new honorands.

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