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What have we learned one year into the pandemic?

Newsroom authorby Natasha GranatsteinMar 15, 2021
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Dr. Kathryn CameronIn Take 5, Sheridan's thought leaders share their expert insight on a timely and topical issue. Learn from some of our innovative leaders and change agents as they reflect on questions that are top-of-mind for the Sheridan community.

In this installment, Dr. Kathryn Cameron, Chief Risk Officer and Chair of the Emergency Operations Centre, speaks to lessons learned one year into leading a college through a pandemic. 

1. What do you remember most about the beginning of the pandemic?

The first significant memory for me was the uncertainty that confounded our ability to act with urgency and certainty. Things were changing not just daily, but hourly. At Sheridan, we are so fortunate to have the people and resources to gather information, distill it into what means for us as an institution, and then communicate it to our stakeholders. In the early days of the pandemic, this was so incredibly challenging because there was so much speculation but not a lot of hard evidence as to where this situation was headed.  Our entire learning and working community is so engaged and we really wanted to leverage that engagement by sharing relevant and timely information. That information was really hard to come by. In January 2020, we were still questioning if it was safe to travel. Mandatory mask usage was months away.The second greatest impression for me was how effectively Sheridan was able to close down our campuses and move to remote learning and working. We did that in less than a week!  Despite the uncertainty of the first weeks and months, Sheridan was able to do incredible things. 

2. After a year of this, how have you stayed resilient so you can keep making difficult decisions every day?

I am always so energized by the dedication and commitment of my team. Our weekly group and one on one check-ins feed my soul. Our connectedness as a team has created a safe space for us to collectively share both our victories and frustrations. Despite the pressures of supporting Sheridan’s response to this crisis for over a year, their professionalism and dedication to the welfare of our teaching learning community comes through every day. Needless to say, we try to find humour where we can. I love it when children show up in the middle of our calls. Last Halloween was the best because Superman paid us a visit. I’ve seen little fingers followed by curly mops of hair pop onto the screen because someone is wondering if it’s lunchtime yet.  I love that people are bringing their whole selves (and sometimes their families) to work. I think it’s also helped that we stay focused on our good decisions, learn from the times we didn’t get it right, and always stay focused on moving forward. The fact that we’ve managed to keep our campuses running is a testament to all the great work from our teams in security, facilities, health and safety and IT. Focusing on our collective achievements across Sheridan has really helped me to stay positive.

3. What was the low point for you?

Two low points, the first was April 2020. We were trying to be as responsive as possible but there was such incredible ambiguity. There were no regulations around how many students could be in our learning spaces or common areas and the provincial colour-coded framework had yet to appear. We had nothing concrete to act on or even consider as a starting point for how we were going to plan for the coming days, weeks and months. For me, being constantly in anticipation and reaction mode was extremely frustrating and exhausting. The other low point was late last fall when we started getting those guidelines from the government, but they were issued on a Friday night AND we were told we had to be compliant as of the day they were issued. I felt so frustrated about the 10-student per learning space rule, not because of the rule, per se, but the fact that it was issued mid-way through the semester. The demands that created on us as an institution were tremendous.

4. What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the collaboration that comes out of the emergency operations centre group. It’s the essence of collective wisdom. For example, if we’re doing something around access to campus, we need to make sure people are aware that they can’t come on campus until they confirm they are symptom free, haven’t been exposed to the virus or have travelled; we always consider what that means for students and their learning experience. IT did an incredible job of getting laptops into student’s hands. Sheridan’s communications team are the superheroes – our COVID-19 landing page is an exemplar for clear, concise and relevant information. Our student experience and international centre teams were outstanding in supporting international students, their quarantine plans, keeping them safe when they got here to study and making sure that their needs were met while they were in quarantine. To have all these people come together in our EOC, initially every day, then three times a week, to collaborate to have the best outcome for our student learners and to minimize the impact to the institution was incredible. The positive mindset that everybody brought to the table – especially during the really hard times, was inspired.

5. What do you see five years from now?

COVID-19 has certainly made us resilient. We’ve shown that we can pivot on a dime – in great part because we are an institution that leverages the change capacity of our people and our ability to adopt technology in meaning and purposeful ways. The momentum created by the need to not only be relevant, but inspired, through this crisis continues to fuel innovation at Sheridan. COVID-19 has really created a “great to greater” situation for Sheridan.  So – in five years?  The possibilities are endless.

Dr. Kathryn Cameron has been Sheridan’s Chief Risk Officer since May 2018. She has a background in emergency management and has been leading Sheridan’s Emergency Operations Centre throughout the pandemic. Kathryn joined Sheridan in 2006 as a faculty member in the School of Public Safety. Prior to joining the Finance & Administration team, she was an Associate Dean in the Faculty of Applied Health and Community Studies. In addition to several professional certificates, Kathryn holds a Masters of Public Administration and a PhD in Leadership and Policy.

Interested in connecting with Kathryn Cameron or another Sheridan expert? Please email communications@sheridancollege.ca

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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