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Interview with Vianne Timmons

Updated: Sep 9, 2020


📷 University of Regina

Journalists: Romina Mahinpei, Kian Kousha



Kian: Hi, I'm Kian.


Romina: And I'm Romina.


Kian: And you're listening to SciSection on 93.3 CFMU.


Romina: We are here today with Dr. Vianne Timmons who served as the President of the University of Regina from 2008 to March 2020 and took office as the President and Vice Chancellor of Memorial University in April 2020. Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Timmons.


Dr. Timmons: Thank you, I'm thrilled to be here.


Romina: To start, we do have two rapid fire questions. Firstly, who is one of your role models in the community?


Dr. Timmons: I have a lot of role models of people I look up to in different communities. There is no time that I don't find a student that I admire. And so just recently I met a student from the south coast of Newfoundland who is involved in all kinds of leadership opportunities, volunteering, or working with the community, and (is) a first year-student coming to the university. So, I will have to say that I'm a little bit in awe of her right now.


Romina: It's great to hear that someone like you could even have a student to look up to. That's very inspiring.


Kian: And what do you think has been one of the most important discoveries of all time?


Dr. Timmons: Well, that's another hard question. I think vaccines have been probably the most important discovery of all times. And now more than ever, we realize what can happen without them. When I look at, you know, the eradication of polio, you know, malaria, like all of the diseases that we've had, that we've been able to eradicate, I think vaccines has been one of the most important things we've ever done.


Romina: And now moving on to your profession, could you give us a summary of your educational path and what led you to where you are today?


Dr. Timmons: So, I grew up in a small mining community in Northern Canada and Labrador. My dad was a minor. My two grandfathers were minors. I kind of consider myself a product of the Canadian dream. My parents had six of us in eight years, and they wanted all of us to go to university. That was their commitment. So we all did with a lot of support from generous donors. We received a lot of scholarships and bursaries. My mom and dad on their 25th wedding anniversary had enough money to split a clubhouse sandwich, because there were four of us in university at the time. So, I went and did my undergrad in English and Psychology and then I did a special education degree because I was fascinated by children with unique learning needs. And then I went on and did a Master's and I went on and did a PhD in educational psychology. And the reason I kept going was when I taught these amazing kids, I couldn't learn enough about (them). Each one was so unique. Each challenge was so unique that I kept studying to try to get more tools and knowledge so I could work with children.


Kian: So, a lot of us students usually get fascinated by success, personal or professional, but without knowing all the challenges that were faced along the way. I'm sure being in your position right now did not happen easily. So could you tell us about some of the challenges you faced along the way as a student?


Dr. Timmons: I faced a lot of challenges as a student because I came from what would have been considered a poor family. I had to work. So, I have a lot of empathy for students who work while they're studying. In my undergrad, I worked up to 40 hours a week. I was in the kitchen as a dishwasher. For the cafeteria, I ran the canteen at the rink, I did babysitting jobs, did everything I could to be able to get through university financially, so I can really understand. The other thing I faced was a lot of gender bias as I moved forward in my career, I would be at meetings and I would, you know, I would say something and it would be ignored. But two minutes later, one of my male colleagues would say it and it was endorsed and supported. I saw over the years a lot of gender differences in how people were treated. So, that's become a real passion of mine, women in leadership and supporting people who are marginalized.


Romina: And those are all amazing causes to support for anyone else as well. And obviously, you've led a very busy life as a student and as a president, and you're probably very busy on a daily basis. So what activities do you rely on to balance your professional life?


Dr. Timmons: These are great questions! I wish I had done better when I was younger on this. I took up running when I turned 40 and that really helped me a lot to deal with stress and anxiety. Anxiety in terms of issues and management. So, I'm a ferocious reader. I read everything I can get my hands on. So that has been a big help for me too in terms of just dealing with issues. I have four children, so that keeps me balanced and grounded and now three grandchildren. So, home life is important to me. I mentioned I was raised with five brothers and sisters and very close in age and they're my best friends. So I know how important family is. So all of those things helped a lot.


Kian: That's really nice. You talked about your background in education and inclusiveness. So where do you think Canada stands right now in terms of educational inclusiveness and in which areas can it improve?


Dr. Timmons: Well, I think Canada has a great educational system, let me start with that. We have probably the most standardized educational system in the world and public system which is really important to me that we have a public educational system both at the K to 12 and at the university level. I'm really proud of what Canada has set up and continues to develop. So that's really important to me. In terms of inclusiveness, we have work to do for sure. We have come a long way in closing segregated schools and in including people with intellectual disabilities in our schools. But we still need to include them more in our classrooms and using differentiated teaching helps many children, not just children with unique needs. Also in the area of race, culture, religion. I look at the education of our Indigenous students in this country and we should be outraged that a child in a reserve gets paid less money in terms of their education than a child who's unreserved. I am furious about that and every Canadian should be. So there are lots of areas we've done well, and lots of areas we can improve.


Romina: Definitely, I feel like with a lot of things, there is always room for improvement. And with Canada's education system, that's definitely another case. And now, focusing a little bit more on the science aspect of things, there's usually this stigma around science that it's only for a certain type of people, while it has so many applications that it really can be enjoyed by a lot of people, everyone really in the world. So what do you think we can do? What steps can we take to make science more inclusive and more accessible?


Dr. Timmons: Well, science is everywhere around us. And I think what we've done is almost make it an elite subject area. And I think in the K to 12 system, when you're baking muffins, you're using science when you're you know, when you make bread and see yeast rise, you're using science. When you go for a walk and look at flowers and learn about flowers and birds, that's all science. So I think what we have to do is demystify science and make it much more of our everyday living. Talk about it and name it. So, as you know, we're educating kids about different things, we use the word science all the time. Same with math. We've made math seem a challenge for people and math is something we use every single day. And I have found very few people that are not good at math. It's, you know, it's an exception, but I found many people who do not believe they're good at math. So I think it's about demystifying subject areas and making amazing people, children in particular, recognize that it's everywhere around us.


Kian: And with the current pandemic going on, a lot of students have difficulty with adjusting to the new remote learning system. So what are your top tips for students who are in the situation right now?


Dr. Timmons: Well, I have just finished touring Newfoundland and Labrador, talking to students and their biggest issue is internet connection, reliable internet connectivity, and that is a challenge for so many. So you know, on that one, I don't have a lot of advice except to work with your community to advocate to get better connectivity and I'm doing it from my end for sure for students. But online learning, I would say to students, that the biggest key for online learning is to make sure you keep healthy, that you take breaks, you walk around. I move around my house when I'm working from home all the time, just to keep myself fresh and thinking because I have Zoom meetings from early in the morning often till seven o'clock at night. Zoom or WebEx or Google Meets, all of these meetings. So, I found at first by Friday evening, I was wiped, but now I've learned a little strategy. I drink lots of water. I move around. I will actually shut down a meeting five minutes early so I can get up and walk around, get a drink, go to the washroom because I was finding that I was going just back to back meetings. So for students, this is about time management. I would say set up study groups, in your studies with some colleagues. Get them together so you can meet together. And this is a real equalizer, you can bring people together on Zoom meetings. So use those groups. Reach out and take any of the non-credit courses that universities are offering for you. Most universities in Canada now have programs to help students on online learning. Take advantage of them. You know, ask for help when you run into trouble. Set up one-on-one time with your professor if that's important to you. Use your peers to help keep you motivated and focused. And you know, really work on time management. Get a calendar out. Lay out what you need to do when so that you're you know, you keep on top of the schedule because I think it's easy with online learning to see that slip. Reach out for help when you're feeling anxiety. All of our counselling programs provide online support for students. So there is so much that universities are doing for you. We need you to reach out and take advantage of it.


Romina: Perfect. Thank you for sharing those tips with our students because I'm sure that a lot of us are a little bit anxious about the upcoming term and how we're going to be coping with it. So it's great to get all these resources.


Dr. Timmons: I'm anxious for our students, I think of students coming out of grade 12 that have missed their graduation. They're now entering university. They're missing that whole phenomenal experience of, you know, stepping on a campus and all the excitement that goes with that. I'm anxious for our students, you know, you are the Covid generation. You will live with that forever now. But I believe that this is going to help you be resilient and stronger and that you're going to do amazing things because of these experiences. So I hope that you do reach out your hand if you need help.


Romina: Exactly. And I'm sure your interview will help students do that as well.


Kian: For sure.


Romina: Just as a final question, what one piece of advice would you give to students listening to the show right now? And it can be about anything, life in general, education…


Dr. Timmons: Okay, so my mother was a busy woman, and she didn't give me much advice but one thing she did say to me, and I think it's the best piece of advice I've ever gotten: surround yourself with people who lift you up, because you're going to encounter so many people in this world that are going to pull you down. And so, you have a choice of who you surround yourself with. So I say to students out there, find people who lift you up and that's who you circle yourself with. People who celebrate your accomplishments, who join in with your celebrations, who listen when you need an ear, who put their hand on the shoulder, not now during Covid, but would put their hand on your shoulder when you need that extra little touch. There are a lot of people out there in the world. Pick and choose who you surround yourself with.


Romina: Thank you for sharing those wise words. And that does bring us to the end of the interview. Dr. Timmons, thank you once again for joining us today and highlighting the importance of these resources available to students during such difficult times and motivating us for the upcoming academic term. And for everyone listening, make sure to check out SciSection's podcasts available on global platforms for our latest interviews.


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