Back-to-school for UBCO students and its new principal alike

UBC Okanagan’s newly appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal Lesley Cormack welcomes her first-ever UBC incoming class

UBC Okanagan’s newly appointed Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal Lesley Cormack welcomes her first-ever UBC incoming class.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Lesley Cormack welcomes her first UBC incoming class

As students head back to school this week at UBC Okanagan, albeit virtually for most, the campus’ new Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal Lesley Cormack will be among their ranks as she oversees her first full term at UBC.

Cormack arrives at UBCO after having served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta since 2010 and as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Simon Fraser University before that.

She was appointed in February but didn’t arrive in the Okanagan and begin her the new role until the summer. As she prepares to welcome her very first UBCO incoming class, she says that she feels like a first-year student again—just getting to know a new campus full of new people.

Cormack also reflects on the challenges and opportunities the coming year will bring.

What are your first impressions of UBC Okanagan and the region?

These past few weeks have been exciting and I’m thrilled to be a part of this young and dynamic learning community. UBC Okanagan has a wonderful reputation as an intimate, innovative and entrepreneurial campus and I can’t wait to see how this year shapes up. Everyone has been very kind and welcoming, and having the privilege of living in this most extraordinary region has been a treat.

What challenges do you expect to face as you head into your first fall term at UBCO?

I’m honoured to be welcoming UBCO’s latest incoming class of 2020 but I’m also conscious that back-to-school this year is not what many had in mind. There’s no doubt that it has been difficult for everyone over these last months, stepping away from our previous day-to-day routines and having to adapt to new ways of doing things.

Ensuring our online course offerings provide a high-quality learning experience and creating a safe physical campus for those that must be there in person have been my top priorities. I’ve been so impressed in my first months on the job, seeing how our campus community has adapted and developed a positive, forward-looking outlook. Our approach to online learning has involved the hard work hundreds of faculty and staff since March who developed our guidelines. Above all, those guidelines stress creativity and flexibility for both our students and faculty and an acknowledgement that online learning presents unique challenges and some unique benefits.

What lessons from your previous experience do you hope to apply to UBCO?

While I was Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta, I was particularly proud of our initiative to increase Indigenous student enrolment by 100 per cent and hire 14 new Indigenous faculty members. UBC Okanagan already has a positive and foundational relationship with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, and I’m eager to see that partnership grow and develop even further.

I have also long been a proponent of enhancing support for research, and in particular interdisciplinary research. I think the Okanagan campus has become an impressive research-intensive institution and I will be working to help strengthen that trend over the coming years.

What are your personal priorities as you settle into your new role?

First and foremost, I want to ensure that our students, faculty and staff have a safe and successful start to teaching and research as we move forward through September and beyond. I also want to make sure that plans to create new and much-needed teaching and research space move forward. Finally, it’s crucially important that we fulfil the commitments of UBC’s new Indigenous Strategic Plan. That includes UBCO’s own declaration in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action that was signed in September of last year.

More broadly, UBCO has made incredible progress over the past number of years and I’d like to support those achievements. We have a solid plan to grow the campus and enhance our research capacity thanks to the long-term ambitions described in our Outlook 2040 vision. I’m especially excited by the enormous potential of the university’s new downtown Kelowna presence which is beginning to take shape.

What are you most excited about in coming to UBC Okanagan?

This is a profoundly optimistic and empowering institution. We have bold ideas and the plans to get there. It is an enormous privilege to live and work not just in this campus community but in the wider Okanagan region that places so much value on innovative and forward-thinking initiatives. I’m thrilled to be at a university that has a great research and teaching mission but that also roots its activities so deeply in the community. It has a refreshing outlook and I’m looking forward to getting to know this campus and the Okanagan’s residents.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

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