Celebrating Five Decades of Female Leadership at Camosun

For the past 25 years, a succession of women have held the title of president at Camosun College. But this position isn’t the only place where women have exercised leadership. Since the beginning, a line of strong women have helped direct the course of the college and inspire younger women in the classroom.

Meet five of these leaders.

Pioneering success and service: Grace Chan

Grace Chan was a new immigrant to Victoria when she enrolled in first-year university courses in 1970 at what is now the Lansdowne campus of Camosun College. As an alum who became a psychology instructor, Grace is the college’s longest serving employee.

Over her amazing 46 years of service, Grace was dedicated to student success and gave back to the college which had become like a family or a ‘second home’ to her.  In her words, “my Camosun experience is my Canadian experience.”

Grace retired from the college in January 2021, but her positive, lasting impact on Camosun and on her students remains.

Learn more about Grace and her accomplishments at Camosun.

Leading with head and heart: Thelma Midori

Thelma Midori was an early leader in health education at Camosun. Thelma served as associate dean and then dean of our School of Health and Human Services in the 1980s and ‘90s.

“Over the years, Thelma adopted the title, Laughing Gentle Warrior, which succinctly reflected her strength and playful spirit,” says retired colleague and friend Faye Ferguson.

In all her roles at the college, Thelma led with her head and her heart. She consistently inspired others to join her in creating and executing exemplary educational programs. Her primary goal was to provide programs that stimulated and inspired learners to become excellent practitioners and confident human beings.

While she was dean, Thelma’s early dreams of a designated building for all health and human service programs assisted in the long-term development of the new Alex & Jo Campbell Centre for Health and Wellness that Camosun students enjoy today.

Learn more about Thelma’s 25-year career at the college.

Guiding the path towards Indigenization: Janice Simcoe

Janice Simcoe is the Director of Eyēʔ Sqȃ’lewen – The Centre for Indigenous Education & Community Connections at Camosun College. She has the experience of both being an Indigenous student and serving Indigenous students at Camosun.

“We’ve come a long way, but there’s still so much more work to be done,” she says.

Her relationship with Camosun started in the mid-80s, when she started at the college with the intention of a career in journalism. Instead, she became engrossed in history and set off on a path towards becoming an educator.

While pursuing a Master’s degree in history at UVic, Janice returned to Camosun for a First Nations Coordinator position. This grew into a leadership opportunity in the development of Eyēʔ Sqȃ’lewen in the late 1990s, providing Indigenous-centric services and programming for Indigenous students.

“I see the confidence and ‘straight spines’ in the young Indigenous women that we serve, and they’re asking for what they recognize as their rights, in a different way,” she says. “I think that eventually some of the things that Indigenous women come together to do, some day it will be Indigenous people coming together to do things as Indigenous people.”

With support from community and some amazing Indigenous faculty, Janice has also guided Camosun’s efforts at Indigenization, the process of incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing and learning into the structures of the institution. She cites Nella Nelson, a former First Nations education coordinator for the Victoria school district, as one of her early mentors.

“She took me under her wing and provided me with so much gentle teaching. She reminded me to fully engage with community in my work.”

Normalizing women in trades: Andrea Durdle

When Andrea was a plumbing and pipe trades student in 2006, she had no women instructors or mentors. Now she teaches in the program, giving young women an opportunity to see someone who resembles themselves.

“It’s important that there’s the visibility of a woman in instruction in the trades,” she says. “It’s good for both men and women to see that.”

While she had supportive and encouraging male allies as a student, Andrea wasn’t able to connect with other tradeswomen until she was working in the field. “It was incredible to be part of a collective of inspiring voices. That makes a huge difference for the next generations in the skilled trades.”

The number of women working in trades hasn’t changed significantly in the past 15 years, but Andrea notes that she sees increased initiatives to help women along the way and more communities of support. This includes Camosun’s own government-funded Women in Trades program, which allows women to explore careers in trades.

Ultimately, Andrea looks forward to a future where ‘women in trades’ is no longer a thing, where tradeswomen are simply tradespeople. “Rather than being an anomaly, I’d like for people to see it as more normal. I’d like to see people understand that all occupations are open to anyone who’s qualified and capable of doing them.”

Bridging technology and sustainability: Savannah Barratt

Savannah has made a name for herself around the college with her boundless energy and passion. She’s known for her climate justice activism and her role as Sustainability Director with the Camosun College Student Society, while also taking full-time geography, English and environmental studies courses.

“I can be anything and accomplish everything I want to if I choose to encourage myself instead of second guess or critique myself, something it seems that young women are taught to do by society,” she says. “My validation comes from within and it has led me everywhere I’ve wanted to go thus far, while simultaneously attracting opportunities to me.”

One of these opportunities was a student position at Camosun Innovates, the college’s applied research and manufacturing department, allowing Savannah to step into the traditionally male-dominated tech field.

“As a young, quirky, and forever curious woman, I was relentlessly encouraged to follow my passions, challenge others ideas, and present my own ideas,” she says. “My experience at Camosun Innovates challenged me to trust my capacity and abilities while being supported along the way.”

In addition to the support she received in Camosun Innovates, Savannah credits geography instructor Hilary Sandford as an inspiration on her work and studies. “Hilary has made an irrevocable mark on my time at Camosun and has helped me shape the career I’m preparing for myself.”

As a university transfer student, Savannah will be completing her Camosun studies at the end of this semester and moving on to her next steps. We know she has a bright future ahead of her!

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