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Vision and priorities

A Q&A with Dr. Florentine Strzelczyk, Memorial’s new provost and vice-president (academic)

By Jennifer Batten

Memorial is welcoming Dr. Florentine Strzelczyk to the role of provost and vice-president (academic).

Dr. Strzelczyk, who begins her new job today, shares her journey from her most recent post at the University of Calgary to Memorial’s chief academic officer and chief budget officer in the Q&A below.

From her passion for research, teaching and students to turning challenges into opportunities, Dr. Strzelczyk talks to the Gazette about her plans for Newfoundland and Labrador’s only university — plus a little about what she hopes to do in her off hours. Hint: it involves a lot of the province’s great outdoors and volunteering.

JB: You have lived in western Canada for more than 20 years – what prompted your decision to move to the far east coast?

FS: I am a first-generation immigrant to Canada and deeply grateful to the Indigenous peoples who have shared their land for centuries with newcomers like me to build a life here.

I’ve been privileged to live in B.C., Alberta and Ontario. I have always been curious about Eastern Canada and have visited Newfoundland a number of times in the last 10 years.

This province is unique in so many ways, its geography, climate and its culture and history. It is a privilege to live in this wonderful province.

“I want to … unlock this university’s tremendous potential to be the best it can be.”

What prompted me to move here is the opportunity to work at Memorial University – one of the prominent comprehensive research universities in Canada known for its deep commitment to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and their needs.

Much of my previous work has been about finding and building on that juncture where a great university both contributes to economic diversification and strengthens society around it.

I am excited about joining a university with these values, and I think that my skillset will help Memorial to achieve its goals.

JB: Tell us about your path to this role. Did you always see yourself in university administration?

FS: I have not always assumed that I would be an administrator. I am a passionate researcher; my work in film and cultural studies has been concerned with the ripples the past creates in the present, focusing on the legacies of the Third Reich and the European fascination with Indigenous peoples.

I am a passionate teacher and believe that students benefit from a research-rich environment in which they can apply what they learn to move their communities forward.

“Canada is moving from a resource to a knowledge economy and higher education is a main driver.”

I have kept in touch with undergraduate and graduate students over the years and it is a real delight for me to follow their success and career paths.

Becoming an administrator happened gradually: I was the director of a research centre, then became department head, worked in the dean’s office, and most recently served as deputy provost; I always felt that every role I held was the best job in the world at that given time.

What I learned in each role, the people I worked with, and the contributions we made as a team have informed my leadership style and thinking.

JB: What are your plans for your first few months in the provost’s office?

FS: I am going to engage in a listening tour, I am going to meet with the faculty, students and staff of different faculties and schools and community partners, and I am going to visit our different campuses.

I want to understand deeply how I can support Memorial’s various constituents to unlock this university’s tremendous potential to be the best it can be, to be a leader in Atlantic Canada, to articulate what makes it unique and to ensure that the university grows and increases its reach and impact.

What I hear and learn will inform my action plan that will help us to achieve the strategic vision and priorities and that we have set out to pursue.

JB: What inspires you about higher education?

FS: Canada is moving from a resource to a knowledge economy and higher education is a main driver that facilitates this transition.

Higher education has an important role to play in the 21st century.

As universities, our researchers contribute new solutions to society’s grand challenges, but we are also in the business of nurturing and developing talent – the talent of our graduates who will shape and change the societies they live in.

“Visions don’t occur in an ivory tower; they involve the entire campus community.”

We are going to educate and inspire new generations of students to realize their passions and become the global citizens, dynamic change-makers and bold innovators of tomorrow who lead our communities.

The impact that universities have on the society and economy around them is the best testament to why great cities and regions and great universities thrive best together.

Universities in the 21st century can and should model and advance equity, diversity and Indigenous engagement, supporting change towards an inclusive society where everyone can fulfill their potential.

JB: It’s an exciting time at Memorial, but also a time of transition. Like all other universities, we continue to navigate the effects of COVID-19 on the university experience. Tell us about your vision for Memorial’s future coming in at this unique time?

FS: The provost has two roles; as chief academic officer she leads the academy and ensures that this change occurs in a co-ordinated strategic way that values traditions while innovating research, programs, teaching and learning; as chief budget officer she ensures that the supports are in place that advance the core mission of the university.

Yes, Memorial is at a time of transition where challenges can and will turn into new opportunities.

“The province has an extraordinary geography that has deeply shaped its peoples and values.”

COVID-19 has prompted us to become more proficient with online learning formats; our new strategic plan sets out a bright future for the university, new facilities will enable more productive research and learning; and new leaders bring new ideas and experiences to the university.

I am excited about joining Memorial at this juncture in time. Visions don’t occur in an ivory tower; they involve the entire campus community.

Memorial’s strategic plan sets the direction and I look forward to working with the campus community to unlock Memorial’s tremendous potential as an innovative research institution that is attentive to societal needs; as a place that offers a transformative student experience; and as an institution that is deeply connected with its local and global partners and is recognized for its contributions.

JB: What are your hobbies and passions outside academia?

FS: I really enjoy spending time with my family. My children are young adults now and luckily still enjoy spending time with my spouse Chris and me and we love camping hiking, biking, swimming and kayaking.

We are particularly excited about the East Coast Trail and the fantastic landscapes that make up Newfoundland and Labrador.

I typically get involved in the communities I live in a number of ways, as a member of associations, as a volunteer, or board member and am excited about new ways to contribute.

JB: What is your impression of Newfoundland and Labrador so far?

FS: Newfoundlanders are welcoming and they love their home province no matter where they live.

When my move to Memorial was announced in Calgary, many faculty, students and staff originally from Newfoundland wrote to me excited that I would be leading “their” university – referring to Memorial rather than Calgary where they worked and lived.

It was very moving to hear the passion for this province all the way from Alberta.

“The university is full of resources from academic and financial to well-being and peer support.”

I live in CBS and next to my house right by the water is a little parking area. About 35 cars drive by during the day and people stop maybe for 5-10 minutes to look at the water, take a short break, eat a lunch and then move on with their day.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians love their ocean; one neighbour said to me they have the best water in the world. The province has an extraordinary geography that has deeply shaped its peoples and values.

I am excited about getting to know the land and its people.

JB: What advice would you give the new students who will be starting on their university journey in just a few short weeks?

FS: Education is possibly one of the most exciting and stimulating phases in your life where you can experiment with new ideas, explore different career paths, discover your passions and talents and meet your kind of people and community.

At the same time, first-year university can be hard, you may be away from family and friends, you are surrounded by strangers, all of them seem so smart. University can be intimidating and scary as well as exciting.

My advice is to explore the options that a university education offers, don’t be afraid to make changes as you go along; forge new friendships that can last for a lifetime; ask many questions, study hard, live a good deal; and, most importantly, reach out if you need help.

The university is full of resources from academic and financial to well-being and peer support.

Your professors are keen to get to know you and everyone who works here is committed to see you succeed and thrive.


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