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‘Concordia is an idea factory’

Five prominent community leaders reflect on their experiences at the university
April 30, 2014
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By Tom Peacock

Clockwise from top left: Ellie Hummel, Geneviève Robichaud, Eva Ferrara, Melissa Wheeler and Amanda Rossi. Clockwise from top left: Ellie Hummel, Geneviève Robichaud, Eva Ferrara, Melissa Wheeler and Amanda Rossi.


In March, to mark International Women’s Day at Concordia, we launched a
bimonthly series of published conversations with visionary leaders, teachers, researchers and community members.

This week, the series continues with five committed community leaders. 


Amanda Rossi
(BSc 06, MSc 09) is a PhD candidate in the Individualized Program in the Faculty of Arts and Science and a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Vanier scholar. Her doctoral research focuses on the impact of physical activity and blood pressure on the development of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

Eva Ferrara has been working at Concordia for 23 years, serving for the last 12 as coordinator in the Department of Supply Chain and Business Technology Management at the John Molson School of Business. She provides administrative support to the chair of the department and manages and coordinates all aspects of the office. This includes working very closely with full-time and part-time faculty members and students.

After serving as a councillor for one year, Melissa Wheeler was elected president of the Concordia Student Union (CSU) in April 2013. She is in her fifth year of studies at Concordia, and is majoring in Political Science with a minor in Theological Studies.

A lawyer by training, Genevieve Robichaud articled at the Supreme Court of Canada and spent several years with firms in Montreal before accepting a job as legal and professional officer for the Concordia University Faculty Association (CUFA) in 1996.

Her duties include advising the CUFA executive and council on all matters relating to the association’s collective agreement, managing its appeals and grievances and serving as a member of its negotiating team during collective bargaining.

An ordained minister in the United Church of Canada, Ellie Hummel has served as Concordia’s chaplain and coordinator of the university’s Multi-faith Chaplaincy since 1999. She holds a BA in classics from the University of Victoria and a master of divinities from St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon.


What brought you to this university?

Amanda Rossi: The Department of Exercise Science became a second home for me. It was a no-brainer when it came to choosing where to pursue my PhD research. I did not grow up dreaming of being an academic; it just found me through my journey.

Eva Ferrara: I always found Concordia to be a very diverse and multicultural university. It has outstanding faculty members, staff and students. The work atmosphere is dynamic and challenging. I’m surrounded by great scholars, and I learn something new every single day.

Melissa Wheeler: Concordia is an idea factory. There are seemingly countless groups of students, community members, staff and faculty working collectively to create a better world.

I think that’s what makes Concordia unique — people come here because they want change, knowing that our community can make things happen. That’s why I chose this university.

Geneviève Robichaud: I was the treasurer of the University of Montreal Students’ Association when I was a biology student, and I was already involved with different academic committees. Then I did labour law for firms working with a university support staff association. My mother, now retired, was a faculty member, so I know and understand academia.

It is a milieu like no other — very enriching, but also very difficult to understand if you are new to it. So, Concordia was a natural choice when the opportunity came up.

Ellie Hummel: Concordia University actually chose me! I was working in a very small town on the prairies in a Christian congregation, and was looking for a different position that would inspire and challenge me. I came across the job posting for a chaplain, and the rest is history.
 

How did you end up in your current position, or area of study?

AR: I have always been passionate about sports. I grew up playing soccer, and, as a native Montrealer, I am, of course, a diehard Canadiens fan. Academically, I always excelled in science classes because I enjoyed the material. Ultimately, I decided to combine my two passions and enrol in the BSc exercise science program.

I became interested in research during my second year of undergraduate studies, and began working in the same exercise physiology lab where I eventually completed my MSc in performance-related research. For my PhD, I wanted to explore the other end of the spectrum: clinical populations.

EF: I have been at Concordia all my adult life, starting with my bachelor’s degree. What was supposed to be a leave replacement for a couple of months ended up as a 23-year career, which is still going strong. I loved my experience as a student, and feel fortunate to be employed by Concordia.

I worked in different departments in the Faculty of Arts and Science before joining the Department of Accountancy as department secretary for a few years. Always looking to improve my skills and abilities, I finally joined the Department of Supply Chain and Business Technology Management in 2002 as department coordinator.

MW: My tenure with the CSU began nearly three years ago, when I was hired as council secretary.

Blown away by the dedication and mobility of my peers serving the CSU at the time, I knew I had found something very special and important. The following year, I was a representative for Arts and Science students on CSU council, and then I ran for president.

GR: Actually, I was the runner-up, and I got the position when the first choice refused it because she would not have a secretary! It has been 18 years now, so I guess the choice was the right one for both parties!

The work has evolved over the years, more in its complexity and volume than in its substance. The people and the managerial style have changed. While my institutional knowledge is a plus in my position, it sometimes makes my head spin to consider all the transformations that have occurred over the last 18 years.

EH: My profession is actually as a minister in the United Church of Canada, a liberal Christian denomination, and I am passionate about my faith. I am also passionate about walking with people as they discover what they believe, who they truly are and what gives their lives meaning.

My position as chaplain gives me many opportunities to do this in a diverse and creative context. It is a real gift for me to work here.
 

As a woman, and as a leader, who has inspired you the most?

AR: My parents are my biggest inspiration. They have always emphasized the importance of education and community, and have made huge sacrifices for my sister and me. They support us both in any undertaking, whether it is academic or in our personal lives, and continuously encourage us to reach further.

EF: There are many people who have inspired me, but empathy is what drives me to want to help make a difference. There’s not one person that does that, but life circumstances do, and in my case, that means a number of inspiring individuals who are involved with the Montreal Children’s Hospital, from the doctors to the nurses to the patients to the families and volunteers. 

The hospital inspires me to act compassionately in all that I do and all that I am. It’s like a wise woman — my mom — told me: always do good to others, even if it is the smallest gesture, because the reward of goodness is priceless!

MW: My parents, who acknowledged the obstacles waiting for their three daughters because of our gender, but pumped us so full of confidence that there was never a doubt for any of us that we would squash them.

GR: Two names come to mind: a former history and geography teacher of mine, Isabelle Julin, and the actual Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin.

From the former, I learned how to deconstruct a problem: instead of trying to deal with one big, insurmountable issue, it was always helpful to deal with more numerous but smaller issues. When problems are looked at it this way, there’s always a solution.

From the latter, I learned that you don’t need to be aggressive to be convincing and win your point. I still use these lessons every day in my work and in my personal life.

EH: I have always had mentors in my life that have inspired and encouraged me. I also look to people who have pushed the edges or given voice to the voiceless. If I had to pick one person in particular, it would be Nellie McClung, a person of faith, a social activist and a feminist.
 

How has the position of women changed in your lifetime?

AR: All of my elementary and high-school science and math teachers were men. When I began my undergraduate studies, the majority, if not all, of the tenured and tenure-track faculty in my department were men.

Within the last five years or so, there has been a shift in the dynamics of our department, with most of the new faculty members being women. We have typically had a high number of female students, and, finally, the faculty is beginning to reflect this.

I think this is also true at the administrative level, where more women — Paula Wood-Adams and Lisa Ostiguy — are taking on high-ranking positions and setting a precedent for the future of the university. With that said, there is still a great deal of work to do before women are recognized as equals to our male counterparts, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields.

EF: Women have definitely come a long way over the past 30 to 40 years. Their roles as sole caregivers have definitely shifted over the past decade. In my opinion, women have found their place in actively contributing to our social and economic well-being and the family.

There are more women pursuing higher education, leading to better-paying jobs, and many are successfully pursuing and attaining leadership roles. This new generation has undertaken the impossible — juggling family, career and social life all at the same time — and they are thriving at it.

MW: Many women have tenaciously sought and held positions of leadership. The most inspiring among them have rejected the notion that they must embody qualities of the “male leader” in order to be successful in their positions.

Now, it’s time to turn our attention to others among us who face challenges because of their gender.

GR: I am not sure it has changed so much or, if it has, that it has changed for the better. At the university level, for example, we still have very few women in the higher administration.

In society in general, women are more present in the workforce, but they are not necessarily paid what they are really worth, and often enough, they are not taken seriously. It’s also worth mentioning that many of them start a second working day when they get home.

EH: There have been many changes over the years, and I have seen women move more freely into leadership positions. Unfortunately, the world of faith seems to be more hesitant to embrace women as leaders, and this remains a complex issue.


What changes would you like to see in universities over the next 10 years?

AR: Aside from having more women involved in teaching, research, administration and governance in universities, I think the greatest change can come from trans-disciplinary collaboration in research. The possibilities are really endless!

If academics want to make real, meaningful, sustainable change, we need to begin thinking outside the confines of our own labs, departments or fields. As a student, I hope to see more flexibility in the curriculum, and in how both our graduate and undergraduate programs are delivered in order to reflect and keep up with the “real world.”

EF: I would love to see total digital access to classroom materials, including textbooks, outlines, assignments, midterms, and finals. The university should also be promoting a paperless environment within administrative offices — e-forms, electronic workflow systems, document imaging, etcetera. This would enable staff to be more productive and efficient.

MW: Curricula that better reflect the social change that’s happening within our communities. 

GR: I would like to see those in the higher-education community working together towards transforming universities into actors of social and political change.

Research and teaching should form the core of everyday activities, and the management of our universities should always embody the real definition of collegiality — shared responsibility, as among a group of colleagues — and not be based on a business-management style.

EH: As we strive for academic excellence, I also hope we will strive for excellence in spirit. I would like us to embody the values of compassion, open-mindedness and generosity as individuals and an institution. 


This article is the fourth in a bi-monthly series celebrating the contributions of women to Concordia University. Do you know someone who ought to be included? Let us know at by emailing
now@concordia.ca.

Read the three previous instalments of this series:
“‘I found my passion’” — NOW, April 9, 2014
“‘We need to see other women in roles we might aspire to’” — NOW, March 26, 2014
‘I want to initiate change’” — NOW, March 5, 2014

Find out more about Concordia’s “Pioneers, leaders and visionaries.”

 



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