April 25, 2024

5 questions with incoming Provost and Vice-President (Academic) Sandra Davidson

Current dean of the Faculty of Nursing set to begin her new role July 1
Sandra Davidson
Sandra Davidson

As she steps into her new role as provost and vice-president (academic) at the University of Calgary, moving on from a successful and highly impactful five-year-plus run as dean of the Faculty of Nursing, Dr. Sandra Davidson is feeling both reflective about where she’s been and enthusiastic about the great possibilities that lay ahead. 

After a 30-year career that has seen her serve in a wide range of academic and health-care environments — from universities to the private, for-profit and public, not-for-profit sectors — she’s eager to bring her community-engaged leadership style and passion for creative innovation and entrepreneurial spirit to the greater campus community. 

In advance of July 2024, when she begins her five-year appointment as provost and vice-president (academic) — following in the impressive and accomplished footsteps of Dr. Penny Werthner, who is stepping down from the position — we sat down with Davidson to discuss her vision for the role. (Presented in a Q-and-A format, Davidson’s answers are edited for space). 

Q: Congratulations on your new role, Dr. Davidson. What are your thoughts and feelings as you step into this important position at UCalgary as provost and vice-president (academic)?

A: In a sense it feels like a natural progression, moving into a higher level of leadership where one can make a wider impact. That’s really appealing. And, reflecting on it, I’ve worked in the field of nursing and health care for so long that, for me, in a funny way, the organization is almost like a patient I’m working with, striving for the best health. In this context that means working with the campus community to transform systems so that everybody can thrive. That’s really exciting to me. 

Q: What would you say is your leadership vision for this new role? 

A: It’s about taking on UCalgary’s ambitious Ahead of Tomorrow goals. But as I was talking to President McCauley about this role, it’s not just about what we said we would do and executing the plan. Rather, it’s about how we get there, and that’s what I’m most excited about. My style of leadership is very relational and person-centered. What I’ve done throughout my career is leverage the strength, ambition, and engagement of the people in my community to achieve great things, and that will be also my approach in this new role. 

Q: As you know, UCalgary prides itself on being Canada’s entrepreneurial university. What does that entrepreneurial spirit mean to you as you step into your new position? 

A: As dean of the Faculty of Nursing I’ve been very fond of saying, ‘We are the entrepreneurial nursing school at the entrepreneurial university.’ 

In my view, the spirit of entrepreneurship isn’t always about starting a business or an enterprise, or a new widget or technology that you put forward to make money. There’s also great value in the idea of social innovation and entrepreneurship. That could mean designing different systems that are more efficient, that make our organizations places where people can thrive and achieve their goals. It can be about putting processes and services in place that are innovative, that support students and researchers in new and different ways. 

We all benefit from that collectively. I see the value in emphasizing more of an ‘intrapreneurship.’

Q: As dean of the Faculty of Nursing you made a huge impact. Graduate enrolment doubled, including the development and launch of eight graduate certificates. Last year the faculty launched a Doctor of Nursing (DN) program, the second of its kind in Canada. And you championed the development of rural/remote community and Indigenous community pathways in the undergraduate nursing program, which allowed students to remain in their home communities while studying to be nurses. As you step away from your role in the Faculty of Nursing, what are you proudest of?

A: I'm proudest of the culture that we fostered in the faculty and the team that we created. There’s a sense of collective engagement where everybody is growing in the same direction, and everybody feels supported. It's bittersweet for me, because I'm moving into a different role, but I know the people in the faculty are going to continue to do great things. I’ll be proud to watch them take the Faculty of Nursing to the next level. 

Q: What, to you, is the most exciting or inspiring thing about being at the University of Calgary?

A: It’s the same thing that drew me here six years ago. It's a place of possibility. The City of Calgary itself is a can-do city, an entrepreneurial city, just as we’re an entrepreneurial university. Where other post-secondaries might say, ‘Oh, we can’t do that,’ the mantra here tends to be, ‘How might we do that,’ or ‘Why can’t we?’ We ask different questions that lead to different outcomes. I’ve always found that very inspiring. 

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