What is your full name and title, and how long have you been in this role?
My name is Joe Henry. I am the associate dean of student success at Sheridan College [in Oakville, Ont.]. I have been in this role since November, 2012.
What do you do?
I have several responsibilities. I’m in charge of our student advisement staff at Sheridan campuses in Oakville, Brampton and Mississauga. My team provides advice, information and support to thousands of students every year, from orientation to graduation. We serve over 50,000 students and log about 4,800 student advice cases a year. Additionally, I provide guidance to our first-year experience and orientation team and lead our student success advancement committee. Finally, I am the senior student-services leader at our Davis campus in Brampton.
Describe what you do on any given day.
No day is exactly the same. I may be looking at data on student success in a given academic program with a faculty partner or looking at improving the first year transition of students at Sheridan. Ultimately, I am driven by examining new and innovative ways to empower students to develop skills so they can become creative and contributing members of society. This includes ensuring students are resilient and can adapt to the many changes they are going to see in the future.
What’s your background and education?
Prior to this role, I was manager of student access at Humber College and manager of accessible learning at Sheridan College, where I worked with a team of professionals providing support and accommodation for students with disabilities on campus.
Currently I am pursuing a doctorate in education at Northeastern University in Boston. I also hold a masters of education in adult education and community development from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. In 2012, I was honoured with 2012 DiverseCity Fellowship with Toronto CivicAction.
How did you get to your position?
I started my full-time career in postsecondary education as an advisor for students with disabilities at Sheridan College. This role offered me opportunities to engage closely with students and faculty members. At the same time, I was able to teach part-time in a number of programs through continuing education. This helped me to stay connected to the classroom experience of our students and allowed me to gain valuable insight into the whole student experience. Following these roles, I was able to undertake a series of leadership roles including accessibility co-ordinator at Brock University and co-ordinator of student leadership and engagement at Sheridan.
What’s the best part of your job?
Interacting with students and the staff and faculty who work with our students every day is the best part of my job. The energy that comes from working at such a creative and future-focused institution such as Sheridan drives me to continually examine how we can make the student experience better. Whether speaking with students one-on-one, examining data on the success of our students, or presenting to faculty members, I am lucky to have a platform where I can have a definite impact on student success and make recommendations that can be implemented.
What’s the worst part of your job?
The worst part of my job is finding out that there may have been situation where we could have intervened with a student in difficulty, but the student chose not to work with us to problem solve. I see that as an opportunity lost. Sometimes students make well-informed decisions, but my hope is that students would spend more time examining options before acting. We know there are so many factors in student success and my hope is that by seeking information from good sources, we can intervene appropriately.
What are your strengths in this role?
I enjoy being around people and looking at problems together and finding win-win solutions. I try to use all the resources at my disposal. I am voracious reader and information gatherer. I am continually looking for new practices or innovative approaches that are being used at other schools. However, I try also to use my communication skills to tell a story about the important work we do.
What are your weaknesses?
I could be more patient. Change doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes I hope that change can happen at a faster pace. I need to reflect constantly to ensure I am not leaving out key details that may have an impact on any new initiatives or projects. I rely on my team members and colleagues to help me see my blind spots and identify gaps in my thinking.
What has been your best career move?
I undertook a year-long leadership development DiverseCity fellowship with Toronto CivicAction. Through this opportunity, I was exposed to many city builders, mentors and colleagues from other sectors. It has given me a whole new network to draw upon when I am seeking advice, new knowledge or simply some encouragement.
What has been your worst career move?
I undertook the role of accessibility co-ordinator at Brock University, which was a great opportunity, but my wife Marilyn and I had our twins shortly after assuming this role. This was a very difficult transition and a much longer commute from our home in Milton, Ont., to St. Catharines every day. In retrospect, I probably should have remained in my role at the time to have a better work-life balance. It has all worked out, but it was certainly difficult at the time.
What’s your next big job goal?
I am very happy in my current role, but after I conclude my doctoral studies, I would like to explore some more senior opportunities within the postsecondary and [non-governmental organization] sector.
What’s your advice to others who might want to follow in your footsteps?
I have two pieces of advice. The first is to never start with blank piece of paper when going into a meeting. Be prepared with your thoughts and be clear when communicating those ideas. The second piece was given to me by our president at Sheridan, Jeff Zabudsky; he always tries to say yes to opportunities. Obviously, it is hard to say yes to everything, but if you have the skills, abilities and support of family, you can accept roles and responsibilities that can move your career forward.
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