FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Sam Shaw
August 23, 2016
I first met Sam - Dr. W.A. (Sam) Shaw, Ph.D. – about 20 years ago at a party. In those days he was President at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) where he presided over robust growth in an illustrious culmination of his academic career path. He’s done much more since, and now he’s into something new again …
We’ve stayed in touch, collaborated on some education facility partnership projects – they didn’t come to fruition, but the trying … oh, the trying was oh so sweet.
Sam migrated to Calgary after I did – he joined Encana for a few years, then did some consulting with colleges in the Middle-East but returned to Calgary (his wife Claudia, he tells me, was a compelling reason to return). And now his itchy feet have landed him a new gig, back in Edmonton as President and Chief Academic Officer at Yellowhead Tribal College. We caught up recently to swap-stories, begin a new collaboration on a potential project and to do this interview. Lunch turned into three hours of intense discussion of his passion for education, for ‘getting it right’ for indigenous students in pursuit of higher education and a better life.
Let’s go back to the beginning …
Born in Halifax. Mom stayed home, Sam's dad was Captain in the merchant marine fleet – as was his grandfather. For grades seven through 12, Sam attended Kings College School. He was ‘top cadet’ and commissioned a Lieutenant in the Black Watch. Next came Dalhousie University where Sam majored in fraternity hijinks. He was registered in a science program but spent more time attending toga parties than classes. He shipped off, so to speak, to Hawaii where he got some academic focus at Chaminade University where he earned a B.A. in Biology … studying shrimp. Fast-forward, back to Dal for an M.Sc. in Physiology and Biophysics – which fueled his zeal to be a researcher where he obtained his Ph.D. at University of Toronto. From there his zigs and zags moved from research to teaching to administration – resume building. And he built a good one. His stints in colleges and universities in the north (Ontario and Manitoba) and at NAIT have positioned him well to lead new things …
Why are you successful? “I’ve had a great family – a supportive family. My wife Claudia home-schooled our children. Our kids are fantastic, and people think highly of our children so I consider that a strong measure of personal success. Professionally, I look at the big picture – looking at where you want to go, not where you are, having a game plan and then executing. And spreading that passion to others …”
What has held you back? “Education has. I love research – but I’ve focused on education which I love. Other things hold you back – politics gets in the way, especially when decisions are made elsewhere and you don’t have input.”
There are many reasons, I think, why Sam and I get along and have enjoyed collaboration – and I think both of us being ‘only children’ has something to do with it. While some people might describe us as ‘the worst kind of first-born’, I think Sam and I would agree that it’s ‘the best kind’.
And, Sam, thanks for lunch – next time, my turn. I’m sure we’ll be cooking up something interesting soon.
How do you see your business – the student success business – going forward over the next quarter?
… we need to ensure our attrition (drop-out) rate drops. Engaging the community, and working at reforming our funding model to a longer horizon, moving beyond a two-year program.
And over the next five years?
… more programs, more students. I think we can quadruple enrolment. That will require bursaries and scholarships, sustainable funding – and a new formula for core funding. Ambitions for YTC to be the best aboriginal college in Canada in an urban setting. We have a strong base of programs, a B.Sw. program is in the works. Money hasn’t kept pace with need and demand, and we’re working on that with funders.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I ask how does, or doesn’t it/they fit the business plan? Sustainability – and the capacity to leverage those relationships in support of institutional sustainability.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Sam Shaw, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I’m the ‘energizer bunny’ helping high-energy folks feel better and achieve more.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… inclusive. Encouraging people to have a vision of the future – getting the right people doing the right things for the right reasons, not accepting the status quo.
… I really like working. Twelve hours a day is ‘balance’ for me.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… creating student success – not measured just in graduations, but in building confidence and appreciation of self worth.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… when I was doing my Ph.D. at U of T in the Banting and Best Research Program, I got involved in teaching some classes at Ryerson that changed my direction. Students made the difference – and I’ve not looked back. I found magic in the classroom. My dad, and my grandfather, were strong influences. To see (sea) things through a broad lens.
… golf (his 28 handicap proves his time at the golf course is more focused on the dining room than the course). Sailing. When we lived in Edmonton we had a 28-foot cruiser on Lake Wabamun. Many years ago I taught sailing at Humber College.
What do you read?
… teaching material and education industry things. For fun, historical fiction.
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