Giving their all for Dalhousie students
The 2012 Rosemary Gill Award winners
Ryan McNutt - June 6, 2012
If you were to review the job descriptions for this year’s Rosemary Gill Award recipients, you wouldn’t find the things that distinguish them among the Dal community.
There would be no mention of hospital visits, scarce comment on extra help and longer hours of service, and certainly nothing about beyond-job-scope potlucks. You’d also have trouble finding the sort of language that flows through the recipients’ nomination letters: words like “heart,” “compassion,” “patience,” “commitment.”
What employees like Ken Kam, Barry Lesser, Angela McKinnon and Karen Watts bring to Dalhousie is, admittedly, hard to encompass on a piece of paper. But their exceptional impact on Dalhousie’s students was crystal clear from the cheers and celebratory words at Tuesday’s Rosemary Gill Awards reception.
Each year, up to four Dalhousie employees are honoured with Rosemary Gill Awards, named in the memory of Dr. Gill, director of University Health Services from 1985 to 1991. The award celebrates faculty or staff members who provide outstanding service to students in non-teaching roles.
“I like to call the Rosemary Gill Award the ‘Going Above and Beyond’ award,” said President Tom Traves at the reception. “The award reflects our conviction at Dalhousie that this kind of engagement with our students is at the core of the Dalhousian spirit that students take with them in their hearts and souls as proud alumni.”
Helping students succeed
Ken Kam is the photographer and manager of the print shop in the Faculty of Architecture and Planning. He provides an invaluable service to students who need to visually represent the designs they create, and does so with passion, a caring nature, and a willingness to arm students with practical knowledge that sets them apart from competitors and colleagues in their fields. As one of his student nominators puts it, “Having Ken Kam help is the difference between a sterile recording of our work and exploring the beauty of what we have created through photography.”
“I never imagined getting an award like this,” said Mr. Kam, who jokes that he’s got a reputation for being a bit strict at times, but is humbled that his work resonates with students.
“You have to always treat the students like you want to be treated yourself, in terms of respect. I like the work because it’s at times challenging, but most of the time very rewarding, seeing the students graduating every year. It’s great to see them go off in into their new worlds.”
Sometimes, Dal employees leave a legacy that will continue to have an impact long after current students have graduated. That’s certainly the case with Angela McKinnon, director of the Faculty of Science’s co-operative education program.
Since she became director in 1999, the program has doubled its number of students, increased its employer base by almost 50 per cent and boasts a perfect placement rate. With 11 different disciplines in the program, that’s no easy task, but whether the work term is in Halifax or Kenya, Ms. McKinnon provides students with guidance on everything from resumes to communication skills.
“It’s extremely rewarding,” she says of her work. “I’ve been at Dal now for 15 years, and the students are always incredible and outstanding. They’re inspiring, and I like to think that the work we do makes a difference for them as they go out and start living their careers.”
Beyond the call of duty
Perhaps the most “above and beyond” story that came out of this year’s reception was about the man who wasn’t there: Barry Lesser, economics professor, couldn’t make the reception because he was on his way to China to continue work on Dal’s 2+2 exchange program with Shandong University of Finance and Economics, a project he helped start.
Dr. Traves read aloud a letter from a PhD student who was hospitalized due to stress, and who Dr. Lesser not only drove to the hospital – he and his wife opened their home to her afterwards.
“Over the five days of my stay [at the hospital], they came to visit me and comfort me every day,” wrote the student, one of several nominees to cite Dr. Lesser’s warm, patient and humble demeanour. “I could not say how I could have coped under these circumstances with my parents in China and me here alone as an international student.”
For Karen Watts, going above and beyond as administrative secretary for the Department of Political Science meant celebrating students, giving every guest her full attention, and transforming how the department is administered. A group of grad students, nominating her, wrote that a student visiting her office is “invariably left with the impression he or she is receiving the same attention and priority as the most senior faculty member in the department.”
Though Ms. Watts recently switched jobs, taking on a new role as academic coordinator for the Department of Radiation Oncology, her former colleagues say her influence will be long-lasting.
“It’s a real honour,” she says, describing the pride she takes in knowing that through her work, students can worry about their studies rather than all the administrative details in between. “Really, you give your all for the students; you give them a home away from home. It’s so nice to see the hard work being appreciated.”