Tag Archives: Vancouver Island University

Week 18: Finding the Raven and new heroes

An event I attended at the end of March marked, for me, the beginning of the homestretch of my temporary appointment. It was the raising of a prayer pole and warrior canoe at the Cowichan campus in Duncan, where Megan Joe became my latest hero.

Her grandfather Harold was lead carver on the project: overseeing the pole carving and doing the work alongside a team of carvers on the warrior canoe. They’re very impressive – go see them if you get a chance.

He couldn’t be there for the ceremony, so Megan read his words to the 100 or so people assembled. She was visibly petrified of speaking in public. Shaking and near tears, bolstered by her family and her community, She did it. She stood up there and did it anyway. We patiently waited and listened to Elder Harold’s words spoken through her. She was a brave young woman among all the veterans on that day. I was almost in tears with her.

I wondered if it was simply the age-old fear of public speaking that 90% of the world has, or if there was an added weight on her shoulders to represent her family in place of her grandfather, in front of her whole community. I wanted to go up to her afterwards and tell her what a wonderful job she did, that public speaking gets easier, that it’s good to feel the weight of responsibility, that she’ll grow into it, because she’s got such a strong community behind her.
I was also acutely aware this was one of my last events as a VIU employee, and it made me a little verklempt. I’m a sentimental fool, as anyone close to me knows.

One of the speakers that day explained why the Veterans Prayer pole is Raven. “The shapeshifter – he changes. Warriors must change to go to war. Some of them didn’t change back when they returned.”

April was a blur – the realization that my term here at VIU is ending has spurred a different set of tasks: reports to write, files to hand off, vacations to plan. After my last day here, I’m taking three weeks off, then deciding what direction I want to head next.

I am going to miss this place. I chose to take this job despite the distance from my home and my family, because I knew it would be a tremendous learning opportunity – a chance to shift and change in new and productive ways. I realized that day in Cowichan: I’m always seeking to learn, to grow, to change. I’ll always be touched by new heroes like Megan, and I’ll always be on the lookout for The Raven.

Vintage microphone

Week 15 in review: everyone’s favourite fear

On the way home to Vancouver from Nanaimo for the week, I ate my White Spot meal and listened to podcasts and thought about how I started my communications career in radio news – waaaaay back when I was a sixteen year old, still in high school. How that work seemed to come naturally to me. I’ve never been afraid of speaking in public. It has always been a mystery to me why people freeze up when they have to talk in front of a group.

I’ve read the news to tens of thousands of unseen listeners, I’ve given impromptu speeches to convention halls filled with thousands of people. I’ve given presentations to hundreds, or at least several dozen. I’ve been the corporate spokesperson giving media interviews on television and to newspapers, always confident in my messaging and my delivery.

Until today.

Vintage microphoneMy staff may or may not have known it, but today, when I had to speak in front of all of them assembled at the staff meeting, I very nearly choked. Suddenly, as I looked out to their faces, I realized I wasn’t saying everything I wanted to say – that I should have prepared more.

I told them they have lifted me up as I embarked on this journey: a new city away from my family, a new job, a new institution with its history and culture that I knew nothing about three months ago. I’ve had to run to catch up. It’s been intimidating and wonderful, and I truly couldn’t have done it without the talented, amazing people I work with.

As I talked, I worried. A doubting voice in my head chided me: “What if they don’t believe you? You’ve made some changes since you’ve been here and you know some people don’t like all of the changes you’ve made – what if they think you’re full of malarkey? What will they think of you now, hearing you trip over your words because you’ve suddenly become nervous?”

So – I tried to speak from my heart. I acknowledged there have been a few bumps, and thanked them for not letting me stumble too much. Then, I thought I’d better just shut up and buy them all a drink, which is what I did.

But if I had to do it again, I’d acknowledge the three graphic designers who turn out such stellar products day in and day out, often on the spur of the moment, often without the client even knowing exactly what they want. I’d acknowledge they have been having a hard time with the uncertainty of the departure of their well-liked manager, and a new one not hired yet, and myself not being able to give them the hands-on support they’re used to. One time last month, we had to completely re-do a major piece just before we went to print – and by god they pulled it off with alacrity and grace. Now that’s professionalism.

I’d acknowledge the communications team that writes speech after news release after speech, and handles media calls, and successfully pitch stories to local news outlets. In addition, they’ve stepped up enthusiastically when I asked them to “lead with benefit,” pay more attention to our (newly-minted) corporate key messages, change the format of speaking notes, and do a little more advance communications planning, all mixed in with instituting an issues management process that was completely new to them. Oh – and also work closely with the graphics team in re-jigging that major print piece. Add to that – they’ve taken on more of a role in social media integration and planning.

I’d acknowledge my one sole events person who makes sure everything is perfectly organized at each lecture, open house, trade show, and conference that comes along. She will stay to tear down, even if she has to do it herself. She works her ass off to make everything seem easy and seamless at the front end. She’s the go-to gal for an idea for how to dress a stage, decorate a cafeteria, or come up with a fun party activity.

I’d acknowledge the UR assistants who take on the myriad little tasks: getting out the digest twice a week, doing data entry, answering switchboard calls, offering help in the Welcome Centre, always with a smile, even as they’re being interrupted by someone needing a stapler, directions, change for parking (“Parking is in the building right behind us sir…”) or just a chat.

I’d acknowledge my web team – the Bearded Ones, as they are becoming known – who in addition to keeping the “lights on,” juggle multiple and competing demands from internal clients to convert a complex network of pages over to a new Content Management System.

I needed to acknowledge that I have asked a lot of my team since I arrived at VIU such a short time ago, and they’ve done everything they could to make it happen. I hope they’re reading this, because they really did deserve that drink. Cheers! And all the best for 2016.

Photo credit: Vintage Shure Microphone B&W General Lee by Lex McKee; used under Creative Commons 2.0 license


Fourteen weeks in review

As a child I used to break bread bag tags in half, notch them in my finger and flick them across the room. Strangely satisfying. That’s what today feels like.

It feels weird to have a day of only two meetings. I’m ticking off overdue tasks like a boss, while my colleagues over on the Advancement side work late counting all the Giving Tuesday contributions to VIU student assistance funds. 

One of my long overdue tasks was to do a review. Ideally I’d do one every week, but I’ve been running so hard since I started my job at Vancouver Island University at the end of August, I haven’t had a chance to slow down, catch up, and take stock of what (if anything) I’ve accomplished in the last three months. Today was that day, (and also I started reading Working Out Loud) so here goes.

(Most of the events listed are ones my department is responsible for organizing, so you can imagine the work behind the scenes that goes into them. Many of them are community events at which VIU is expected to have a presence. I realized very quickly this job involves quite a bit of face-to-face relationship building; and no one works more tirelessly at this than our President, Ralph Nilson.)

Week 1:

Aug 24 | Started with Dan taking an entire morning to let me know what’s coming down the line for Fall events, projects, etc.

Aug 27 | Senate retreat – our University Secretary gave a Governance 101 talk for all new members, which was extremely helpful.

Various | Open House planning with my team. Feels like I’m drinking from a fire hose. Meetings. Lots of meetings.

Week 2:

Aug 31-Sept 1 | Board of Governors retreat 

Sept 2 | Senior Management Group (SMG) retreat 

Various | Rock the VIU (orientation day) planning with Enrolment Management and my team. Dan left to be a full time Dad for nine months, with instructions to call him to consult on the big decisions, and if I am really stuck and need advice. Meetings. I asked my assistant to book me onboarding meetings with Deans, Directors, etc.
Week 3:

Sept 8 | BC Business Council reception: First Nations Leaders and BC government cabinet members, plus hundreds of others, in Vancouver.

Sept 11 | Golf for Life fundraiser for the health district

Various | I realize government relations is a huge part of my job. Of course I was an ideal candidate as I used to work in government. More meetings.

Week 4:

Sept 17 | Community Futures event downtown Nanaimo

Sept 18 | United Way campaign kick-off breakfast

Various | still trying to get laptop, notebook, phone, travel to and from Vancouver, etc. all set up. Did I mention I go to a lot of meetings?

Week 5:

Sept 21-23 | Trip to Ottawa with my boss and representatives from two other Universities; two full days of meetings with various officials and organizations.

Sept 24 | Board of Governors committee meetings and regular meeting.

Week 6:

Oct 2 | VIU Open House wherein we invite the community to come and experience what we have to offer

Oct 2 | VIU Library 10th anniversary donor recognition event. I got to support my friend Tim Atkinson, the University Librarian and overall wonderful guy.

Various | Attempted break-in at the furnished apartment I had rented in Nanaimo resulting in a quick move to campus housing, in the midst of all the meetings. My colleagues are extremely supportive during all this.

Week 7:

Oct 6 | Newcomers to Nanaimo event at the museum downtown, attended mainly by international students from VIU and the high school at VIU

Oct 6 | Vital Signs report launch, Nanaimo Foundation

Oct 8 | World Remembers Project Launch

Various | Our marketing manager moved on to another job, so within a month and a half I am faced with a vacancy in my department. I decided to hire someone on a short term basis to do a marketing assessment, because I needed more time and data before searching for a replacement.

Week 8:

Various | Faculty Association collective bargaining agreement reached; preparing the department budget submission for next fiscal year; preparing goals for myself and my department. If there was an event this week, I must have missed it! But of course, the ever-present meetings.

Week 9:

Oct 20 | Chris Hadfield comes to Nanaimo! I greeted him at our VIU event in the afternoon, then attended his talk at the Nanaimo Port Theatre that evening. Afterwards, I got a selfie with him!

Oct 23 | VIU Report to the Community launch including a breakfast with Board/Donors, and a wider VIU community event during the day.

Various | Prepare Key Messages for 2015-16 based on President’s Report to the Community speech; prepare Q2 Variance report for Finance. Meetings meetings meetings.

Week 10:

Oct 28-29 | VIEA Summit: VIU hosted one of the keynote speakers, Shawn Atleo; also Premier Clark made an announcement related to VIU capital projects. Made for an extremely busy week!

Oct 30 | VIU United Way Campaign kick-off event

Various | After presenting my budget to the President and VPs last week, I was sent back to make some revisions. I did those and re-submitted.

Week 11:

Nov 4 | Nanaimo Airport Open House

Nov 5 | Nanaimo-Ladysmith Public Schools public meeting
Week 12:

Nov 9 | Toured Milner Gardens in Qualicum. Yes, VIU has a Gardens and teahouse!

Nov 10 | Travel back home to Vancouver for Nov 11 holiday.

Nov 12 | Back to Nanaimo – VIU Town Hall with the President – Nanaimo campus

Nov 13 | VIU Town Hall with the President – Cowichan campus (Duncan)

Various | meetings, meetings, meetings. Final touches on the VIU Magazine. We ramped up for the Indigenous Lecture Series event later on in November.

Week 13:

Nov 18 | Youth Futures Fund announcement in Victoria; wherein we could not drive to Victoria because of a horrible accident that closed the Malahat Drive into the city, so my colleagues in Advancement chartered a float plane to get 6 representatives from VIU there, including two students who were formerly in foster care, who have taken advantage of the Tuition Waiver program. It was an inspiring, adventurous day. We later got some sponsorship to help us out with the float plane costs. Have I mentioned how amazing our Advancement team is?

Nov 19 | BC Business Summit in Vancouver

Various | planning for the Indigenous Lecture Series and the CEO roundtable meeting with business and First Nations leaders, hosted by our Shqwi qwal for Indigenous Dialogue, Shawn Atleo.

Week 14:

Nov 25 | Young Professionals of Nanaimo Advisory Board. No, I’m no longer a “young” professional – they ask us oldsters for advice from time to time. I was honoured to be invited.

Nov 26 | Board of Governors meeting

Nov 26 | CEO Roundtable

Nov 26 | inaugural Indigenous Speakers Series lecture (to be broadcast on Ideas on CBC Radio One December 14); reception afterwards.

Nov 27 | Premier’s LNG Advisory Council in Vancouver

Various | Thursday was a long, long, long day. I spent the weekend recovering.


I set out to review accomplishments, and I realize most of these are events rather than accomplishments per se. But writing a coherent budget submission within 2 months of starting a job sure felt like an accomplishment to me, as did the myriad events, new people met, new connections made, new relationships that all those events and meetings represent. I have a stellar staff and lots of support. Conducting a review like this really puts all my body of work into perspective, and lets me take a realistic look at what’s possible to get done with the resources I have, in the timeframe I’ve got. 

Early new year’s resolution? Do these reviews once per week. Now that I’m starting to get my feet under me, that seems more likely.