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New president comes full circle

Working at the U of W was always her 'dream job'

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Annette Trimbee graduated from the University of Winnipeg in 1977. She says her Metis roots partly motivated her to return to the U of W.

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Annette Trimbee graduated from the University of Winnipeg in 1977. She says her Metis roots partly motivated her to return to the U of W.

Back when she was a child in Transcona, Annette Trimbee had a dream of becoming a biology professor at the University of Winnipeg.

That one never quite worked out -- but Tuesday night it was announced Trimbee will become the seventh president of the U of W after its board of regents appointed her to a five-year term.

She's a scientist and a public policy researcher with a passion for healthy lakes, a career senior civil servant in Alberta and a woman coming home and hoping Manitoba can help her fully appreciate her Métis roots. The 58-year-old Trimbee assumes the president's job Aug. 1.

"I always wanted to get back to the University of Winnipeg -- my dream job was to be a biology professor at the U of W. To me, this is a complete circle," Trimbee said in an interview.

She attended Wayoata, Arthur Day and Central schools in Transcona and graduated from Murdoch MacKay Collegiate back when her name was Annette Coulombe. The proclaimed greatest Transconian, Paul Martin, is her uncle on her mother's side.

That dream job got sidetracked by a master's degree from the University of Manitoba, a PhD from McMaster University and a move into research and a career as a "public policy wonk," Trimbee laughed.

"I got the policy bug while doing a post-doc at the University of Alberta. As an aquatic ecologist, much of my time was spent collecting data in the field and in labs doing analysis. I got to know people in government for two reasons -- they had tons of data, and they had grant money to fund research that was intended to inform public policy. I thought I should figure out what public policy was all about," she explained.

She was aghast to see algae on Lake Winnipeg on a recent visit. "I started off as a scientist and became more interested in the people part -- how that affects the people who live around Lake Winnipeg," she said.

Trimbee hopes that as president and given her science background, "I will be able to contribute to what is going on in the province."

Her family didn't talk much about their Métis roots, Trimbee said, but she considers herself aboriginal and wants to learn more about her culture and heritage.

Trimbee was back home on business as Alberta's deputy minister of advanced education and technology several years ago, walking around downtown and seeing the signs of the aboriginal community's pride all around her.

"That's part of what inspired me to apply," Trimbee said. "There's a sense of pride in being aboriginal. This community is really turning around."

The U of W is a far different place than the campus from which Trimbee graduated with a biology degree in 1977. The retiring Lloyd Axworthy has been president for the past decade, overseeing phenomenal growth that has boosted enrolment beyond 10,000 students while expanding the campus significantly, particularly the Richardson science complex two blocks to the west.

Axworthy's final day at U of W is Friday.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 25, 2014 A6

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