What, according to you, are the most important roles as a college head?
It is important for a college head to do multiple things and be dynamic in their roles. University is predicated on scholarly pursuit; I try to be the best scholar, so I publish.
You also have to be exemplary as a teacher, so I teach. Being a role model in many ways to students is important, in addition to being a student life representative, so I participate in events to be there for the students. However, this is not to say that everybody everywhere should follow this.
Is your current role, as Principal of Traill College any different than your former function as College head of Lady Eaton College?
In many ways no, which is why the transition has not been that difficult for me. I am still there; I still do events after hours, I am in my office as long as I can be, I always have an open door policy where people can drop by and talk. That is how I did things at Lady Eaton.
The big difference about me being at Traill is that I have been given extra responsibilities. I am also a part time Director of Continuing Education, which is a huge portfolio bigger than just being college head.
I am also a part time teacher besides, looking into heritage matters of the university.
Can you talk about your education and career that paved your path to Trent?
I have done four different degrees. I started off at the University of Ottawa, with a Bachelor of Arts honours in History. Then Queens University in Kingston for a Masters of Arts, but I also studied at the Royal Military College of Canada.
So I have a degree from Queens, but did a very strong component on military history. After which I worked at Parks Canada for a while before going to Cambridge for a Masters of Philosophy in History, and history of science. And that is where I first encountered the college system, which I valued.
I respect the idea of bringing people together from all over the world, for instance wherever there was a national or international event there was always somebody in the college who was part of their country.
The other thing I loved was the wonderful environment, such as where the scientist and humanists not only talk to each other but also appreciate each other, and contribute to one another’s ideas.
Then I worked for the federal government for many years. After which I got a grant from the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences that sent me back to school.
Such time has elapsed that my initial interests, which I still have, in the history of science, physicians, and military has lapsed a bit. Then I moved into culture, newspaper, technology of the press and more into those aspects.
So ended up in Queens doing my doctorate, which I finished in 2011. I actually started teaching at Trent before I finished my Doctorate, but I didn’t start at Lady Eaton until 2012.
What will be your advice to the new college heads?
I talk to them all the time. I understand that it is a difficult job, but what they are trying to do is bit different from the system I worked in.
So I would give them advice I would give to any historian, which is “Never assume you are the first to ever do anything; in fact we are all plagiarists in a way.” And, “We are all copying and continuing in lines of thought that existed before us.”
So, what you need to do is find out what happened before you. Don’t forget that the past is not a bad thing; the past gives us lessons both good and bad.“Before you initiate new things or change, make sure you know what has happened in the past.”
What makes you passionate about Trent?
Trent has allowed me, especially as a principal, to communicate to students, and emphasize the importance of just being decent people and letting education make you a better person for the betterment of others.
Trent degrees are different. They teach you that being the smartest in the class is not important, but that using what you have learned to help others is more important. That is at the core of Trent, and at the core of the colleges.
The colleges are these small communities, not exclusive but inclusive, where we come together to help the wider world and ourselves. What Trent offers has something unique, which is powerful, and special.
There is this idea at Trent that education is what makes you better, and what makes others better. This is what makes me passionate about Trent.
What is special about Traill College?
Traill is the oldest college. It was an all female college to start off with, right down to the names of the halls. At the heart and soul of Traill there is a feminist voice, not to be an enclave separated from the boys, but where a source of empowerment for women could rise.
For me, Traill has the added soul, that feminine voice, but also has this alternative voice in the sense that it is an alternative and important space.