A legacy of collaboration
Finding a way to coax Dr. Jane O’Dea to talk about herself as she reflects on 10 years as dean of the Faculty of Education is a lesson in futility. Only within the context of describing the faculty’s achievements will she discuss her stewardship, and even then, she’ll deflect credit away from the individual to that of the collective.
“It’s not so much what I’ve achieved over the last 10 years, rather it’s what we’ve all achieved together,” says O’Dea, who will step away from the role of dean at the end of June and return to the faculty ranks, where she started at the
U of L 20 years ago.
“I’m tremendously proud of the things we’ve accomplished because they were achievements that involved every single faculty member and all of our support staff.”
Recognizing she was inheriting a faculty with a long and proud tradition, and balancing that with a need to create new and innovative programming that would reflect emerging educational challenges was a juggling act that O’Dea mastered.
“I was tremendously fortunate to become dean of a faculty that has a fabulous tradition of collaboration and partnership with the professional community,” she says of the faculty relationship with Alberta Education’s Zone 6 schools and teachers. “That isn’t something I brought about, that’s something the founding members of the faculty created. It was my privilege to come in both as a faculty member and later as dean, become familiar with those structures, realize how important they were and then use that as a foundation to work with our faculty in moving forward.”
One of the great legacies of O’Dea’s leadership is the establishment of First Nations programming, specifically through the creation of the Niitsitapi Teacher Education and the First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI) graduate programs.
“She made First Nations education one of the priorities of her deanship,” says Education faculty member Dr. Cathy Campbell. “She succeeded in developing relationships with the Blackfoot speaking nations, initiating collaborative work and programming with Red Crow College, and bringing issues in First Nations education to the forefront of discussions at the University and in the province.”
Dr. Leah Fowler echoes that assessment, saying O’Dea personifies the University’s ideals of accessible education.
“With the Niitsitapi teacher education cohort, and the current masters’ cohort, she opened wide the door at the Faculty of Education to restorative education for First Nations, Metis and Inuit students,” says Fowler. “That has meant that we all have positively revisited education practice and teacher preparation.”
Her personable approach is highly respected by her peers, but O’Dea gives credit to the University for fostering an atmosphere that embraces one-on-one learning.
“One of the things that really impressed me when I first came here was I felt this was a place where they really care about students,” says O’Dea. “Here you’re not just a number, you actually matter, and people care about the instruction you get. I think that is absolutely tremendous. I have always loved this place.”
She speaks glowingly of the collaborative nature of her faculty, crediting their willingness to work collectively in developing niche graduate offerings such as literacy, information technology leadership and inclusive education and neuroscience topics.
“These special niche structures are really quite extraordinary but they take an incredible amount of work, time and administrative finesse,” says O’Dea. “I am extremely fortunate to have amazing people working in the offices here and faculty members willing to try out these new programs all the time.”
She also trumpets the research portfolio the faculty has developed over her tenure.
“It’s a challenge to maintain a proper balance between graduate and undergraduate teaching, all the while factoring in quality time for research,” says O’Dea. “That is by no means easy to achieve but it is essential.
“We know what draws students to us is the quality of our programs, and we can’t afford to just go down the research route and ignore teaching. On the other hand, to simply concentrate on teaching is to become more like a college and we’re not that, we’re part of the comprehensive University and proud to be so.”
GET THE FACTS
• O’Dea’s undergraduate degree is in music and she is an accomplished recital piano player. “There’s one recital that I haven’t done that I’d really like to do and when I get time to practice I think I might like to go back and do that. I won’t share that yet, I’m just playing with it right now.”
• O’Dea is excited about the opportunity to teach again, saying, “I have a lot of ideas for interesting courses both at the graduate and undergraduate level that I think would be of real interest to students today.”
• Over O’Dea’s tenure, the faculty boasted a 97 per cent rate of employment within one year of graduating
• Despite stepping away from the dean’s position, O’Dea has no plans to leave the University. “Absolutely not, I think this is a tremendous University. I love its size, I love its entrepreneurial innovative spirit, and its emphasis on community and student engagement.”