As the new Associate Vice-President Student Affairs, Kathleen Massey draws on her dairy-farm upbringing in rural Ontario to ensure University of Lethbridge students can achieve their academic aspirations.
“For me, it’s genuinely about values and principles when I think about how to serve the University and its students,” says Massey. “Probably the most transformative thing we do in our society is educate people and help them advance and achieve their educational goals.”
Although she spent the first few years of her life in Toronto, Massey lived on a dairy farm near Schomberg, Ont. During her formative years, she learned to be independent, resourceful and confident. She was exposed to the science behind the family’s Holstein dairy herd breeding program and as a result, designed her science fair projects around artificial insemination and embryo transfer. Being involved in the community was a natural for Massey. She played in the school band, belonged to the 4-H club, played field hockey and joined the town baseball team.
“I learned some of my fundamental values when I was on the farm—the value of community, hard work and resourcefulness. There’s honesty and integrity in the farming community,” she says.
Since her stepfather was a political science professor and a political candidate, she was introduced to politics at a young age through campaigning and discussions around the dinner table.
“We still talk politics and I hope I’ve influenced my daughter that way, to have an opinion about issues she cares about and to be able to discuss them with passion,” Massey says. “Our table was always a community table. When we lived on the farm, people never locked their doors. People would just drop in and join the conversation and, as kids, we hoped maybe they would bring a pizza now and then. It was natural for us to just sit down and talk about issues, local or national or international over many pots of tea and the occasional slice of pizza—a rare treat.”
After completing high school, Massey began her studies at York University majoring in political science. She’d been commuting daily but, when she was in her second year of university, her family moved back to Toronto. Not having to make the daily trek freed up time to get involved in campus life, join clubs and get to know her professors.
Massey obtained a bachelor’s degree and started working for the provincial government after graduating. She then established a business and eventually went to work at York University. She followed that up with a stint at Centennial College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto. Her next position, as assistant vice-president of enrolment, took her west to the University of Calgary. Her next career move was back east to join McGill University as executive director of enrolment services and university registrar. While working full-time at McGill, she earned a Master of Arts degree in leadership at Royal Roads University. The Rocky Mountains exerted their pull and Massey came west once more, drawn to the U of L because the position was an ideal fit.
“It’s a beautiful landscape but what drew me here was the job,” she says. “I think I can make a difference for students here. I have the professional background, the values and the interests that made the role, as it’s constructed, very appealing.”
Since her arrival, she’s been familiarizing herself with the programs, facilities and folks at the U of L. She’s getting to know the practices, policies and services that are already in place. In the future, Massey hopes to weave all the threads together in a way that clearly demonstrates to prospective students and their families that the U of L has a cohesive and deliberate program to support student success.
“It’s important for me to have very strong relationships with stakeholders across the University, to build community with the faculty who teach the students, and to build community with the graduate and undergraduate student leaders to work on various initiatives that are important to all of us,” she says.
Beyond her work, Massey has an eye for photography and a love of travel and adventure. Her 26-year-old daughter is currently teaching English at a Chinese middle school in Shanghai. Massey recently visited her there and took a side trip to Cambodia to see the temples at Angkor Wat and other important sites near Phnom Penh, including Choeung Ek, a memorial to the many who died at the hands of Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Many intellectuals — perceived to have been negatively influenced by the colonial past — were among the first to be targeted by the Khmer Rouge, a sobering reminder for Massey of the importance of education people to make the world a better place.