Assistant vice-president, ancillary services
Heather Sutherland, assistant vice-president, ancillary services, has served the Dalhousie community for more than 30 years. Since coming to the university in 1982, Ms. Sutherland has grown and enhanced the range and quality of services that students, faculty, staff and community members depend on.
Ancillary services encompasses residence and housing, food service, conference services, the Dalhousie Bookstore and more. As the leader of this department, Ms. Sutherland is dedicated to evolving these offerings to meet the needs of the Dalhousie community.
Read Ms. Sutherland's full profile
Heather Sutherland came to Dalhousie in 1982, thinking she would work here for a couple of years. What happened instead is a Dal career spanning more than three decades – and still going strong.
“The university has been good to me,” says Ms. Sutherland. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities to try different things and work with great people.”
Ms. Sutherland joined Dalhousie as director of alumni affairs and followed the opportunities to her current position as assistant vice-president, ancillary services. In this role, Ms. Sutherland oversees units ranging from Residence and Housing to Food Services to the University Bookstore, providing critical support services to students, faculty, staff, alumni and the surrounding Dalhousie community.
Ms. Sutherland’s educational background includes a master's in student development and an undergraduate degree in business administration, an ideal blend for a leader managing a department that services students and has to operate, as Ancillary Services does, on a cost-recovery model.
“We have no base funding from the university, so we have to look after our own funding as well as make a financial contribution to the university,” says Ms. Sutherland, who adds that this creates a strong customer-service mindset within her team. “There’s always that motivation to serve people well.”
Competing to provide the best options for housing, books, apparel, conference facilities and more, Ms. Sutherland is on a constant quest to improve service delivery.
“We’re always looking to do business in different ways to provide services to our community,” she says, noting recent book rental and e-commerce sales at the Dalhousie Bookstore as examples of creativity and innovation.
“It’s never dull and it always inspires us to be on our best game.”
For Ms. Sutherland, being on her game means being well connected to constituents throughout the university, obtaining feedback and taking stock of their needs.
“We are an integral part of the university community and we count on others to help us do our jobs,” she says. “I’d like to think we have a can-do attitude that helps us make things work.”
That can-do attitude is evidenced by accomplishments such as the diversifying of Dal’s Food Services offering to reflect a more health-conscious and international student body, hosting major events such as political leadership conventions and national athletic competitions, reducing the department’s paper usage and shepherding the university’s student check-in process into the digital age.
Ms. Sutherland’s team is so dedicated to serving the Dal community, in fact, that they have literally done so in the eye of the storm. When Hurricane Juan ripped through Nova Scotia in 2003, Ms. Sutherland ensured that students living in the former Fenwick apartments residence building were safe and essential services continued.
“We were looking for a good team-building exercise at the time and the hurricane really wasn’t what we had in mind, but that was what we ended up with,” she laughs.
Looking ahead, Ms. Sutherland is hoping to further open the lines of communication with the Dal community so that feedback to her department is up-to-date, honest and constructive. It’s all part of her commitment to quality service, which is the key to success for a unit that competes for customer dollars – and in doing so provides further support to the university.
“The services we provide are essential to creating a productive and enjoyable university experience. And because we’re a revenue-generating cost-recovery unit, the university is able to spend its funds on academics, research and other core services.
"So in a very real way, when you support us you're supporting Dal.”