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! Humour is an important piece of this job.
Who inspires you, and why?
DB: If there’s one person who optimizes my ideal 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 towards a better future.
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 in 2014, called Aspire, which continues to inform our development.
It was an open and inclusive process to help us understand where the Okanagan campus is today and what we can aspire to be. It really met my ambition and vision of what post-secondary education can be and do, in terms of delivering on its public mandate.
I’m very pleased that Aspire has been adopted as a foundational document in the new strategic plan, Shaping UBC’s Next Century. I think it offers evidence of the foresighted thinking at UBC-O and I’m delighted we were able to share lessons from the Okanagan campus with the broader UBC community.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
DB: That collectively we make the best decisions if we 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 like to completely immerse myself in nature, whether it’s the forest or my garden.
For you, what makes UBC different?
DB: UBC is remarkable. Over the last 25 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, full service, research-intensive campus in a place that didn’t have one. This is the most exciting thing happening in post-secondary education 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 our 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 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 mainly 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.
If you could have a super power, what would it be?
DB: Time travel; I would love to be able to see the future we are creating.
UBC Okanagan has embarked on a campaign of storytelling — celebrating its innovative, supportive community. Why is this important?
DB: UBC has a unique story to tell in the Okanagan and this campus has a unique value proposition for students: the opportunity to earn a world-class UBC degree in a tight-knit and entrepreneurial environment with a remarkable connection to the community.
Collectively, we have created an extraordinary new thing in the Okanagan campus and it is developing in an exciting way. The stories associated with this campaign define the type of institution we are becoming. It’s important that prospective students, faculty and staff — as well as community partners — know about the opportunities and incredible work being done here. We want them to come join us.
In your view, what role does the Okanagan campus play within the broader UBC story?
DB: This campus offers an opportunity to expand the reach and impact of UBC, to take the lessons from the past 100+ years in Vancouver about what makes for an exceptional learning environment and apply those lessons in another part of the province. Conversely, it’s exciting to be able to share lessons from the UBC experience in the Okanagan with our colleagues and see them implemented on the Vancouver campus.
UBC Okanagan is a start-up, and along with the challenges of being a startup also comes added flexibility and nimbleness. These qualities allow us to more easily embrace new thinking and ideas — such as our approach to Aboriginal education, which includes admission for every Indigenous applicant — ideas which can hold important benefits for us all.
What kind of impact is UBC Okanagan making, within the province and beyond?
DB: As a campus that is highly integrated with the community, UBC Okanagan is having a significant impact in every area from health to economic development. We attract students, faculty and staff from around the world who pursue their ideas right here in the Okanagan, often in the form of partnerships with local non-profits and industry.
Moreover, UBC Okanagan is a rare example of a top global university creating a second major campus. It is an exciting place to be — particularly in that our long-term impact is very much yet to be determined — as we define a new way of being UBC in partnership with the communities we serve.
Updated 2018. An earlier version of this article was originally published in 2015.