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Change at the helm in the Faculty of Education

July 10, 2023

A decorative image of yellow and purple wildflowers.

We have officially welcomed Dr. Vanessa Andreotti to UVic as our new Dean of Education. She was appointed in April 2022 with plans for a transition year leading up to her five-year term beginning on July 1, 2023. Dr. Catherine McGregor, our Associate Dean, Graduate Programs and Research, stepped up to take on the position of Acting Dean for the faculty during this transition year.

We spoke with Vanessa and Catherine to learn about their experience with this process, their reflections on the past year and their hopes for the future.

Catherine, what made you decide to come forward for the position of Acting Dean? What were some of the challenges and highlights you faced in the position?

Catherine: It felt like a natural step from my position as an Associate Dean. I was motivated to create a strong transition that would leave the faculty in a good place from which to embrace and work with a new incoming Dean. It felt like a useful thing I could do to assist us in moving in that direction.

We had two rounds of unexpected budget cuts in the faculty and across campus. My biggest challenge was trying to figure out how the budget worked and at the same time making decisions about how to reduce it. A highlight was continuing our trajectory of engaging students as leaders in our faculty. We can learn as much from our student leaders as they can learn from us.

Vanessa, what have you learned about the faculty thus far?

Vanessa: Through my experiences, I have come to appreciate the remarkable work taking place within each unit of the Faculty. I have witnessed the passion and dedication that individuals bring to their respective roles. It has become evident that there is a collective need to collaboratively establish a shared vision and direction for the future, considering the broader context in which our Faculty is situated. UVic holds a distinct profile in the region, with a profound commitment to Indigenous engagement and addressing the pressing challenges of climate change. As a smaller university, this commitment can be more substantial, and it is our responsibility as a Faculty to actively support and breathe life into this vision within the realm of education.

What do you each see as the purpose of the Dean's position?

Catherine: I have been reflecting on this as I head back into an Associate Dean role. It’s a very multifaceted role. I believe that leadership is an act of navigation and a process of engagement with others. It’s primarily about how we do this work together; how we navigate a path forward that enables us to realize our goals and dreams and find alternative pathways when barriers come up.

Vanessa: As Catherine mentioned, the position of the Dean encompasses multiple layers of accountability and requires aligning the interests of various parties. It involves fostering a shared understanding among the entire faculty, cultivating a supportive culture, and instilling a sense of intergenerational accountability, where we consistently consider those who will succeed us and ensure that our vision encompasses their ownership and stake in the future.

Catherine: We have been a faculty that's been comfortable in its past and current operations. So, a leader like Vanessa will help us break away from the status quo by examining moments of the past and thinking intergenerationally. There will be obstacles along that path, but having the vision to think that way would be a way of shifting the faculty substantively. 

What hopes do you have for the faculty in terms of a change in vision for the upcoming years?

Vanessa: The upcoming years will be about approaching teaching, learning, and service as collective collaborative inquiry. By learning from both our failures and successes and nurturing a collective appetite for relevance, health, and well-being, we can address injustices and explore new ways of creating community and approaching our work.

Catherine: I like to think that we have the energy, creativity, and passion needed to make a difference in the lives of the students, communities, and regions that we serve. My hope is that we can grasp those opportunities, look past the budget challenges and think about how we can do our work differently.

How do you think your diverse identities have informed your leadership approach?

Catherine: I can think of many times in my career where I was treated differently because of my gender. The work we must do as leaders is to understand the diverse identities within our community, so there are spaces for all folks to lead when the time is right and be a partner in leadership at other times.

I think gender subjectivities and orientations are important markers of how one understands themselves and also how one enacts leadership in order to find pathways as allies and accomplices.

Vanessa: Regarding BIPOC leadership, the unfortunate reality is that not many leaders survive the pressures and pushbacks of the position. Burnout is widespread, and I have personally experienced it as well. However, I consider myself fortunate to have found supportive communities across multiple institutions that encouraged me to persevere. My focus lies in cultivating resilience and recognizing that I don't have to solve everything overnight. I understand that the process of change is non-linear and that relationship-building is key.

Encouraging individuals to embrace a post-conventional mindset is not solely a professional responsibility, but an existential imperative. The approaches that were effective in the past are no longer adequate or sustainable. We must challenge ourselves to think collectively beyond conventional boundaries and explore new possibilities.

Any messages for each other?

Catherine: Vanessa, it will be very important to look after yourself and not only fixate on the work that lies ahead. Instead, consider the ways you can create community around you. I can think of nothing more important than having a safe sounding board to engage, think and take the time you need to advance an approach.

Vanessa: Catherine, I express my gratitude for the work you have done this past year. Having someone like you to accompany me on this journey has been invaluable, and I believe you were the best person for the task. I am immensely grateful for the lessons you have already taught me, and I am thrilled that we are colleagues within the same faculty. Thank you.

Listen to the expanded audio recording of this interview on Soundcloud!