One-on-One is an ongoing series aimed at getting 'behind the scenes' with senior leadership at UBC.
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Professor Deborah Buszard is Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal of our Okanagan campus and a core member of UBC’s executive leadership team.
Originally from the UK, Deborah’s research background is in plant science and strawberry breeding. Prior to joining UBC in 2012, she was responsible for the creation of the College of Sustainability at Dalhousie University and served as Dean of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Associate Vice-Principal of McGill University’s Macdonald campus. In her current role, she provides overall leadership to UBC Okanagan.
What quality do you most admire in a leader?
DB: To me, an outstanding leader is someone who can inspire people to go beyond, to achieve a collective objective.
What makes you laugh?
DB: Almost everything, including myself! Humour is an important piece of this job.
Who inspires you, and why?
DB: If there’s one person who optimizes my idea of an inspirational leader, it’s Nelson Mandela. He could see a future that others couldn’t and had the capacity to inspire people. He moved South Africa forward from apartheid. He inspired people to take the positive route, and although it has taken a long time, we are seeing it pay off.
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far at UBC?
DB: The thing I’m most heartened by is a visioning process the Okanagan campus collectively executed last year, called Aspire.
We had a wonderful team working on this initiative, which invited input from faculty, staff, students and the community (including businesses, education groups and the Aboriginal community) to help us understand where the Okanagan campus is today and what we can aspire to be.
It was an open and inclusive process and it really met my ambition and vision of what post secondary education can be, and do, in terms of delivering on its public mandate.
How are we applying what you learned through Aspire to inform UBC’s broader strategic priorities?
DB: The University’s strategic vision and an understanding that we are UBC framed Aspire. As part of the process, we asked ourselves how we represent UBC’s vision and what it means to deliver on it here in the Okanagan.
I’m grateful we underwent this process of self-reflection ahead of the arrival of the new president because we now have a clear understanding of what it means to be UBC in the Okanagan. We are using that knowledge to inform UBC’s broader strategic planning process, and the opportunities this campus offers.
We’re very young as a university entity. It’s remarkable to think we’re not yet ten years old. Aspire was like asking a junior high school student what they want to be when they grow up. We’re at that stage. We have big ambitions!
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
DB: That you make the best decisions if you have the smartest, largest number of people at the table. There’s a Japanese proverb that says, "None of us are as smart as all of us".
What is the song you sang out loud as a teenager?
DB: I was asked not to sing at school because I am not a good singer! I don’t often sing out loud.
How do you like to recharge?
DB: When I want to recharge I completely immerse myself in nature, whether it’s the forest or my garden.
My background is in horticulture. I loved biology at school, particularly botany. Horticulture is the career I imagined would allow me to work with plants and be outside. Most of my academic research has involved strawberry breeding or apple trees, so I have spent a lot of time in strawberry fields and orchards.
For you, what makes UBC different?
DB: UBC is remarkable. Over the last 20 years, this institution has gone from being a very good, reputable, large provincial university to being in the top two to three universities in Canada and in the top 40 in the world. We are moving at light speed and that has happened because of great leadership and extraordinary thinking.
I can’t think of any other institution in Canada that could have launched something like UBC Okanagan. There are other places that have opened subsidiary campuses, but this is different. UBC created a startup, complete service, research-intensive campus in a place that didn’t have one. I think this is the most exciting thing happening in Canada, quite possibly in North America. That’s what makes UBC so special.
What is the best advice you were ever given?
DB: My father once told me to "focus on your work", which has served me well. I would also say that I learn more by saying less… Listening. That’s what matters.
What do you value in your colleagues?
DB: I value that they are smarter than me and know more than me in so many ways, so that collectively we make a coherent team.
I also value diverse perspectives. Administration and leadership of any large organization is a team sport. Just like sports teams, you need people to play different positions.
What would you like to be remembered for?
DB: I think I would like to be remembered for helping organizations and institutions see opportunities beyond where they are now, and move towards them. While I was Dean of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at McGill University, we moved from being a purely agriculture-focused Faculty to become more engaged with diverse technologies and innovation. I think I have helped people see themselves in a different light – in a future light.
Who is your favorite writer?
DB: I read all sorts of things. Occasionally I like a new author so much that I will go out and buy more from them. I am reading a John Updike book right now called Terrorist. It’s a novel about a young man growing up in New York whose father is of Egyptian heritage. The story is of how he becomes radicalized so it is particularly relevant at the moment.
If you could have a super power, what would it be?
DB: I think it would be the power to fly. Then I could fly straight to Vancouver for meetings!
What do you think UBC’s impact has been in the Okanagan?
DB: It was an eye-opener for me, when I got here, because people told me that UBC had already transformed the Okanagan by bringing people to the region who wouldn’t otherwise be here – including 8,500 students and 1,000 faculty and staff from all over the world.
In addition to the economic impact the UBC Okanagan has on the region – more than $1.5 billion a year – we have the potential to impact the community in terms of education and research. We have just put in place the STAR initiative, a collaboration between industry and the University around technology development, and we are starting to see companies wanting to co-locate to the Okanagan as a result. Who knows, maybe we’ll see companies like Google or BlackBerry have a presence in the region too one day.
How does higher education differ in BC to the east coast?
DB: To many people, UBC, McGill University and Dalhousie University may look similar. But when you get right inside them they are actually quite different.
Institutions in Quebec and the Maritimes, for example, have experienced real challenges in recent years. But in BC, we have seen investment from the provincial government that has led to the development of a suite of new universities such as the University of the Fraser Valley, the University of Northern British Columbia, Thompson Rivers University as well as UBC’s Okanagan campus.
Something I really enjoy about BC is the sense that we are still building this province. I think this is particularly true of the Okanagan campus and the interior more broadly. I’m really excited to be a part of it.