I was a little nervous going into my first Board of Governors meeting in September. What I was immediately struck by was the level of warmth I received. While this is an elected position, it was clear from the outset I would be treated no differently than any external member – and the expectations would be the same. I’m not sure why that surprised me, but it did. In a good way.
It also hit me at that first meeting just how important the work is I will be doing. And what an incredible honour it is to have been elected by my peers. Thank you for entrusting me with your confidence. I am grateful for the opportunity to represent your voice and excited to share with you my key learnings at a few touchpoints throughout the year.
PASSION AND COMMITMENT
Georgian’s Board of Governors is made up of an exceptional group of individuals. They’re bright, curious and passionate about our students. They ask challenging questions and bring their own deeply individual perspectives. They trust in our senior leadership and have immense faith in all of us and the work that we do.
And I learned quickly that for most of our board members, this is just one way they give back. Many are active in the community as volunteers or sit on other boards. In fact, Board Chair Tom McBride was honoured this year with the June Callwood Outstanding Achievement Award for Voluntarism – recognized for his longstanding service to our community.
Being on the Board isn’t easy work, but it’s certainly rewarding. There is a lot of reading and critical thinking to do. Aside from monthly meetings, you volunteer for most other commitments. And it’s not a place where you can simply sit back and absorb. You must contribute as much as you can and share your expertise. In return, I’ve learned in this short amount of time that my voice is encouraged and will be listened to with careful thought.
It’s a leadership experience I wish you all could have – and a great chance for me to learn more about Georgian.
PLANNING OUR FUTURE
This year, one of the most important tasks the Board is undertaking is the development of a new strategic plan. Many of you provided initial input at the President’s Open Dialogue in August that the Board was grateful for. I encourage you, at every opportunity throughout the strategic planning process, to continue to provide input. Give feedback, share your ideas and ambitions for the college and our students, and don’t be afraid to offer your solutions to some of the challenges we currently face.
Employee engagement starts and ends with each of us. What I’ve learned over my past five years at Georgian is that we can’t wait for someone to inspire, motivate us or ask us to get involved. Or for things to return to what I often hear, “The good ol days.” We must step up on our own, when we can. And this is the perfect opportunity. You won’t want to miss out on contributing to the new plan. It will affect each of us and greatly inform our work.
BUILDING OUR RESILENCY
I accompanied the Board and members of the Senior Leadership Team to the Higher Education Summit in Toronto last month. I learned about good governance, the role of a board, and how I can be an effective member. I met many interesting people from across the sector and participated in group discussions on various scenarios a board may face.
I also had the opportunity to attend a number of different keynotes sessions led by some amazing speakers. Rick Hansen was one of them. Rick is a Canadian Paralympian, activist and philanthropist for people with disabilities. A lot of you may know him as the “Man in Motion” who made history in the 1980s. Inspired by the dream of creating an accessible and inclusive world and finding a cure for spinal cord injury, for 26 months Rick and his team wheeled over 40,000 km through 34 countries raising awareness about the potential of people with disabilities.
Rick’s talk was very humbling; in fact, many times I was close to tears. It can be so easy to look at a challenge – large or small – and see it as a mountain to climb rather than an obstacle to move. Rick’s advice for those hard moments was this: “Dig deeper. Try harder. Anything is possible.”
I think that’s good advice we can all internalize and impart to our students. They are going to face many tough times over the course of their life and career. I believe we not only need to produce graduates with innovative mindsets and relevant employability skills, but graduates who are resilient.
TELLING OUR GEORGIAN STORIES
I also attended an insightful talk on storytelling by Terry O’Reilly, host of the award-winning CBC radio series, The Age of Persuasion. We all know how powerful stories can be. They command our decision-making – help us to feel an issue rather than just understand it.
It’s important we take the time to tell our Georgian stories – no matter how busy we are. And a good story ends and starts with people. Sure, it may contain facts or stats. But a good story speaks to the heart.
I know each of you is the keeper of a dozen incredible stories right now – stories of students doing transformative work in the classroom and in the community, colleagues who go above and beyond, alumni blazing a trail in their field. And maybe you already tell them. But if you don’t, I encourage you to send them to me. I’d love to help share. They are a great way for us to strengthen the culture of connectedness we all value.
MORE TIDBITS OF LEARNING
Here are some other snippets I took away from various sessions that I want to share with you as food for thought:
- The most important thing we can teach students today is information literacy – how to sift through and use information wisely to make our world a better place – Dr. Levitin, cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist
- Higher education is the guardian of those who make civilization possible – David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush and senior editor at The Atlantic
- The paradox of higher education is that it is a mobility enhancer and status perpetuator – Richard V. Reeves – senior fellow at Brookings Institution
- Google has a better memory of me than I do Sue Gardner, former executive director of the foundation that runs Wikipedia
- Don’t communicate. Engage. – Jim Black, President and CEO at SEM Works
OUR UNBELIEVABLE GRADS
I also quickly want to share with you my experience being part of the Colleges Ontario Premier’s Awards, which capped off the Higher Education Summit.
Each year, Ontario presents awards in six categories to acknowledge the social and economic contributions colleges graduates make to the province and the world. Recipients must have demonstrated outstanding career success related to their college experience and made a significant impact on their community.
I was blown away by our Georgian nominees. They are a talented bunch grateful for their time at the college. If you haven’t already, take a few minutes to learn about their achievements on our website.
I hope you all had a great semester – I can’t believe how quickly it passed. I know it’s been busy and many are looking forward to the much deserved opportunity to rest and recharge over the holidays. Wishing you and your family a joyful 2016.