Leading by example

It’s been seven months since we first met Dr. David Gray during candidate presentations in February. Since then he has visited campus in June, packed up his family of five, sold his belongings, purchased a home and is ready to begin the next phase of his life and career.

Dr. David Gray is the first long-term Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Principal, Dalhousie Agricultural campus and began his official duties Thursday, August 1.  David Gray will be leading the Faculty and Campus over the next five years as it continues to integrate as the 13th Faculty of Dalhousie University. 

We had an opportunity to speak with David Gray about his leadership style and his priorities for the Faculty of Agriculture.

What was it that attracted you to the opportunity to lead the Faculty of Agriculture as its dean/principal?

I was well aware of the reputation of The Faculty of Agriculture from its days as Nova Scotia Agricultural College. It was held in very high regard internationally and we kept a close eye on what it was doing when I was at Hartpury College in the UK. I’ve also gained quite a lot of experience in leading specialist institutions that have merged with larger universities and know what great opportunities this can bring with it…I’m obviously also aware of the challenges too. I suppose I’m also incredibly passionate about vocational education and applied research and in working very closely with our key stakeholders and industries that we serve and support. At the end of the day it is about putting our learners at the centre of what we do…Dalhousie and the new Faculty of Agriculture believe this too and I want to be a part of that!

You have a dual position – Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Principal of the Agricultural Campus. Describe what these two positions mean to you?

I was Campus Principal and Dean of Faculty when I was at the University of Derby in Buxton so have sat in the chair before and have managed the dual roles. In the early period of the Faculty the two roles will be very closely aligned as the only Faculty based in Truro is The Faculty of Agriculture…but as we develop and evolve there are many opportunities for other Faculties of the University to have a presence on campus, working collaboratively with the Faculty of Agriculture and so the Campus Principal role starts to change at that point…but won’t it be exciting…watching both the Faculty and Campus evolve?

What do you see as priorities for the Faculty of Agriculture and Agricultural Campus in the months ahead?

Coming from leading a Marine and nautical College I would say “steady the ship”. The Faculty has been through a major change through the merger with the University. This will obviously mean that staff, students and stakeholders may be feeling a bit unsure as to the direction of The Faculty and our vision. I want to ensure that the Faculty is fully aligned with the agricultural industry across the region and that we understand their needs and are delivering the training, education and research they need rather than what we THINK they need. I’ll also be working hard to ensure that our offer is aligned with and complements the offer of our sister faculties within the University. We are part of a much larger family now and need to make that work to our advantage and to the benefit of the sectors we serve.

What is it that excites you most about the Faculty of Agriculture?

Everywhere I look I see opportunities. I see curriculum which is rooted in the needs of the region, developing skills for the future of the economy. I see a Faculty that will be a crucial economic driver across the Maritime region and a leader in agricultural education, research and knowledge transfer. I see a team of dedicated and highly skilled staff with the same passion and drive as I have to make the Dalhousie Faculty of Agriculture a renowned centre of specialized excellence.

At Buxton, you were principal/dean of a campus of over 7000 students.  Do you see a smaller campus being a bigger challenge?

In my experience managing smaller institutions is often more challenging than running big ones, but I like challenges. Smaller institutions also tend to have advantages in being “fleet of foot” and being able to respond quickly to the demands and needs of our stakeholders. We need to take what was best about NSAC, mix it with what’s best about Dalhousie University and then my goodness we will be a force to be reckoned with!

Leadership Ideals:

1.       I believe in “leading from the front and leading by example” and do not believe in asking my staff to do anything that I myself am not prepared to do. I tend to be very hands-on and am more than happy to “roll my sleeves up” when required.

2.       I am a dynamic leader who is not afraid to tackle and change cultures as and when required. I believe my best and most valuable resource is my staff team….a Faculty without good staff is just a collection of buildings; good staff without buildings can still produce an exceptional Faculty!

3.       I teach, even if it is just one unit a semester, as I believe it is essential to gain that experience and understand the challenges faced by both staff and students in the classroom.  I get immense satisfaction from an ongoing engagement and interaction with my students and it keeps me current.