CEO of TransAlta, Dawn Farrell, named as MRU's 1st chancellor

Dawn Farrell, CEO of TransAlta, will become the first chancellor of Mount Royal University, an institution she's been associated with since the 1990s.

4-year term will focus on connecting business, government and the university

Dawn Farrell will become Mount Royal’s first chancellor, the ceremonial head of the university. Farrell says Calgarians should be proud of what MRU has accomplished and that she wants to help it become one of Canada's top undergraduate universities. (Submitted by Mount Royal University)

Dawn Farrell, the CEO of TransAlta, will become Mount Royal University's first chancellor. 

Farrell has held senior management positions at BC Hydro and TransAlta, and sits on the board of directors of The Chemours Company and the Business Council of Canada. She is also involved in the United Way Calgary and the Calgary Stampede. 

"It's really special because I was on the board in the late '90s in Mount Royal, when we still called it Mount Royal College," Farrell told CBC. "So to be here fast-forwarding another 20 years and to be the chancellor is just really quite an honour."

Farrell has a long history with MRU. She has taught economics at Mount Royal, served on the university's board of governors and the foundation's board of directors, and she was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws by MRU in 2019.

As the ceremonial head of the university, Farrell will preside over formal occasions such as convocation.

"When I graduated from university, like everybody else who's graduating, I had to scramble and find a way to make money. I became an economist here at TransAlta, and I got a sessional role teaching microeconomics at night, and so I got that experience there. That was a long time ago. I think that was in 1886."

Farrell reflected on her own journey alongside the university.

"This is just a really great, important step for Mount Royal as it establishes itself as being one of Canada's top undergraduate universities," she said. "I think Calgary should be very proud of what Mount Royal University has accomplished and people should be raising an eyebrow and saying, 'Wow, look at us, we are really doing something important here in Calgary.'"

Farrell will work closely with the university's president and vice-chancellor, Tim Rahilly.

"This is about Mount Royal University and its needs, and I'm there to really help it catalyze its vision, and use my energy to ensure that what they're trying to get done gets done," Farrell said. 

"I don't really want to start things that are, you know, what Dawn Farrell is interested in. It's really, 'what does the university community need to really be strong, and to take students into the future?' So my role is to be a partner in that vision and help use my network and my energy to catalyze that."

MRU, which went from college to university status in 2009, enrols 14,000 students each year. (CBC)

Farrell is known for being a connector with a long history in the business community, and says she plans to bring that experience to the role.

"I think the key thing as we really develop Mount Royal as a university is to really open up those linkages between government, the business community and the university, so we can really make sure that as we're spending educational dollars here in Alberta, that we really are getting students to a place where they can be independent and have an income," she said. "Because I think that's the No. 1 thing you're trying to do."

Farrell will also bring her many years of experience "fighting from the trenches" in business.

"I was reflecting on this today. Since I've been in business, every year has felt like, 'oh, this is the hardest year ever.' And then it's never really the hardest year — the hardest year comes the next year," she said. 

"So I think everybody in Alberta right now feels like, 'Oh, my gosh, oil prices are down, government deficits are up, how are we going to afford education, how are we going to afford our lifestyle, how are we going to make things work?'

"And I think I'm an expert at going, 'Oh, well, it isn't what we thought it was, but we can find creative ways to to get to the next place.'"

Farrell was selected for the four-year volunteer term by a search committee made up of members of the board of governors, alumni association and students' association. 

"We were looking for an individual who had a distinguished reputation in their profession, a track record of community service and a passion for higher education. Dawn more than fit that bill," said Mount Royal's board chair, Alex Pourbaix, also the president and CEO of Cenovus Energy.

Farrell will be formally installed as chancellor during the November 2020 convocation.

With files from Lucie Edwardson


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?