When he was a teenager working his way through his last year of high school in Algeria, Mohamed Lachemi found himself in the middle of a major earthquake.
He watched as half of his city was destroyed. Thousands died.
In the aftermath of the disaster, young Lachemi had a new drive: to become a civil engineer and learn how to build stronger structures that could withstand such natural disasters and save many lives.
“I define myself as a builder,” Lachemi says. “I think I started by working on building a better future for me and my family, but also looking around at how we can build a better society and how we can really help people around us.”
In the time since then, Lachemi has become an internationally recognized researcher and academic administrator.
Now, he’s president of Ryerson University.
The announcement was made on March 31 via Twitter by Ryerson’s Board of Governors.
“This is a culture unique to Ryerson, and Mohamed Lachemi will lead its further growth and accomplishment.” -Lawrence Bloomberg
“I came to Ryerson 18 years ago with the same motivation as always: how to contribute building better systems, better programs, better partnerships,” Lachemi says. “I think in my position today … my focus is how to build a better university for our students, for our community and for our city.”
Lachemi has been vital to the university’s rapid growth and development over the past few years. He had served as interim president for the past four months after the school’s previous president, Sheldon Levy, announced his resignation.
“My journey to this position has been full of excitement, challenges, but also a lot of barriers in my career before I reached to this point,” Lachemi says.
Born in Algeria, Lachemi immigrated to Canada as an international student 30 years ago.
He began his career at Ryerson in 1998 as a civil engineering professor. He went on to hold a Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Construction and then rose through the ranks to become dean of the faculty of engineering and architectural science.
A graduate of l’Université des Sciences et de la Technologie d’Oran in Algeria and Sherbrooke University, Lachemi has served as a post-doctoral fellow and research associate with Concrete Canada and spent time as a visiting professor in applied science at Artois University in France. He is also a fellow at the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering, the Canadian Academy of Engineering and a board member of OneEleven and Trillium Health Partners.
As provost and vice-president academic under former president Sheldon Levy, Lachemi oversaw the creation of a new faculty of science and has represented Ryerson across the world. He also contributed directly to the implementation of Ryerson’s 2014-19 academic plan, Our Time to Lead.
“Ryerson is differentiated in everyone’s mind by academic excellence linked to entrepreneurial innovation, city-building and challenging the status quo,” said Ryerson chancellor Lawrence Bloomberg in a press release. “This is a culture unique to Ryerson, and Mohamed Lachemi will lead its further growth and accomplishment.”
Lachemi knew at an early age that education was a tool that would define his future.
His biggest motivation was his mother, who knew education would open doors for her children.
“He is the kind of leader Ryerson needs” -Abdullah Snobar
“I wanted to make sure what I do was not just benefiting me as a person but people around me … and society,” Lachemi says.
As Ryerson’s former vice-president, Lachemi fostered partnerships between Ryerson and other leading organizations, such as the creation of the Institute for Biomedical Engineering and Science Technology (iBest) with St. Michael’s Hospital.
He’s been instrumental in the success of innovation clusters led by the DMZ, a digital media space that is ranked the top university business incubator in Canada and third in the world. Lachemi’s involvement in the DMZ’s expansion has served as the catalyst for Ryerson’s entrepreneurial zone learning model, which has grown to 10 distinct zones across the university.
Abdullah Snobar, the DMZ’s executive director, credits Lachemi with helping elevate the Ryerson brand nationally and providing room for zone learning to flourish.
“He is the kind of leader Ryerson needs,” Snobar says. “He’ll help take Ryerson to new levels.”
Snobar says Lachemi is a leader of the people – a transformative person who is not afraid to dream big, but does it all with extreme humility. Snobar describes Lachemi as having “an unbelievably humbling nature.”
“He uses people as a resource,” Snobar said. “(Under Lachemi) I see Ryerson taking on a leading role in Canada.”
Janice Fukakusa, chair of the Ryerson Board of Governors, echoed the statement in a press release.
“An internationally recognized researcher and accomplished academic administrator, Mohamed Lachemi has been a key contributor to the growth and development of Ryerson over a transformational time in the university’s history,” Fukakusa says.
She says that in today’s rapidly changing post-secondary education environment, he is an ideal person to continue Ryerson’s momentum towards innovation, development and support for entrepreneurship.
Lachemi says his ultimate goal is to help Ryerson build its reputation.
“I think we have to keep in mind our role as educators that can help the university, and through that (help) the students. Help them define a better future for them and for society,” Lachemi says.
“I think my approach is easy. I want to work with the community.
“The work starts today and it’s really about having everyone contribute to this.”