Dr. Annette Trimbee begins her first term as president and vice-chancellor of MacEwan University on August 1, but it's not her first time in Edmonton — or her first experience as the head of a downtown university.
In July, Dr. Trimbee wrapped up what she describes as six phenomenal years at the University of Winnipeg and is looking forward to joining the leadership team at MacEwan. She is struck by MacEwan's unique position as a relatively young undergraduate university, but one with a long history – close to 50 years – of putting students first.
"The transformative experience that happens as an undergraduate student is like no other stage of post-secondary," says Dr. Trimbee.
MacEwan will continue to develop and enhance its special place in the Alberta ecosystem of post-secondary institutions, and Dr. Trimbee is looking forward to working with people to do so. After all, that was part of the work she did at UWinnipeg.
"People are very proud of the past, and they want to explain what makes them special," she says. "When you're on campus every day, you feel it. But not everybody else understands what you're talking about."
So Dr. Trimbee aims to delve into MacEwan to figure out and share in a memorable way what makes it special.
Dr. Trimbee has spent half her life in Winnipeg and half in Edmonton. Returning to Edmonton to once again make it her home, she reflects on the entrepreneurial spirit of the city. "It's a place where people dream big, and where people welcome you right off the bat." A slogan she once read about Edmonton sticks in her memory: Come here for five minutes and you're one of us. "Not all cities are like that."
She is drawn to river cities, which makes sense when she explains that her twenties and thirties were spent studying aquatic ecosystems of freshwater lakes and rivers, living in field stations and sitting in boats and canoes to collect water samples.
"I tell people that I'm passionate about how systems work because I was trained as an aquatic ecologist," she says. "I love using that basic research to see patterns, make connections and think through how to influence more positive, functioning systems."
She says that the more diverse our systems are, the more resilient they are, whether those systems are rivers or post-secondary institutions. "I care about water, but I also care about healthcare and post-secondary systems because if you make a decision in one place, it has impacts in others as well."
Big decisions are part of a president's role. Dr. Trimbee's years in government and as Alberta's Deputy Minister of Advanced Education and Technology prepared her to lead UWinnipeg and now MacEwan because, as she explains, a university president is the ultimate public servant in terms of the number of boards, councils, community groups and individuals the president is accountable to.
"The most important thing about being a university president is being willing to engage, to be curious and to listen," she says. "Universities work with collegial governance and a great sense of purpose, so the way to get anything done is to work with people, to clarify their vision and to help define some strategies to get to that vision. You really can't do anything alone."
Coming together again
As Dr. Trimbee prepares for her new role at MacEwan, she is thinking about how to define success and ways to connect the university's history with its future.
"The sense I have in talking to people at MacEwan is they desire more cohesion," she says.
She wants to articulate the special value that MacEwan brings to Edmonton and to the Alberta post-secondary system in a way that resonates with people and gives them hope because the job of a leader, she says, is to absorb chaos, convey calm and give hope.
“We will build a better tomorrow together.” —Dr. Annette Trimbee
She looks forward to making strategic choices that support MacEwan to be the best in its class — "not competing with other post-secondary institutions, but being the best at what we do, what we believe in and in the best way we can possibly do it."
Yet, Dr. Trimbee doesn't want her definition of success to sound like it's all about her. Turn it around, she says. "What I'm really saying is that I'm there for you. We're going to do great things. I know you're tired and I know this period of COVID-19 has been hard, but it will get better and we will build a better tomorrow together."
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