VPs, AVPs, Executive Directors, Managers & Supervisors
Getting to know our leaders: Q & A with Åsa Kachan
Åsa Kachan, Assistant Vice-President Enrolment Management and Registrar (Nick Pearce photo)
"Getting to know our leaders" is a series of monthly profiles featuring Dalhousie University leaders on progress toward goals, upcoming challenges and opportunities, and insights on leadership
By Alyson Murray
What did you study at university?
My undergraduate degree is in anthropology and archeology. I absolutely loved being an arts student; studying languages, writing, learning about cultures and participating in a year-long exchange in Sweden. That rich liberal arts basis laid the foundation for everything else I’ve done in life. As I was finishing my honours degree, I was strongly encouraged to go into a Master of Arts in Anthropology, however my work with immigrant communities and my concerns about the lack of access new Canadians had to the information that would help them be successful led me to pursue a Master of Information & Library Science.
Where did you work previous to Dalhousie?
Following many years working in public libraries in Saskatchewan I became the director of admissions and eventually the registrar at the University of Saskatchewan. I discovered that many of the things that mattered in the library world; distributing information, ensuring easy processes, and supporting learning and development could be applied to the work of the Registrar’s Office. Ten years ago, on a day when the wind-chill was -52 in Saskatoon, I received a call asking me to apply for the registrar’s position at Dalhousie. I wasn’t looking to move, but the unique combination of Dalhousie as a school and Halifax as a city was very attractive.
What do you think makes an effective leader at Dalhousie?
An effective leader is someone who can bridge both theory and practice. It’s the combination of knowing what needs to be achieved and understanding what it takes to do that well. If we as leaders can be excited about the direction of the institution others will get caught up in that.
What are some of the challenges you face within enrolment management?
I think enrolment management requires us to be like Wayne Gretzky and skate to where the puck will be, not where it has been. Having excellent academic programs is at the heart of it. That’s our product. Then we need to hire excellent people and find creative ways to remain competitive in both local and distant recruitment markets. We also need to embrace technology to reach more prospective student in the way they like to communicate, and employ the best strategies with respect to service and student support.
Building strong enrolment of outstanding students is part of everyone’s job at Dalhousie; the magic of an outstanding classroom or research experience, the quality of our facilities, how welcome students feel on campus, the availability of residence rooms and healthy food – it all matters.
How would you describe your leadership style?
My team could answer this best, but I hope I lead with good humor and look for diverse perspectives from others. While each of us has many, many things on our to-do list we must acknowledge and recognize the human aspects of the workplace and find ways to support and build commitment by supporting employees as people. My greatest joy as a leader comes in the success of people I have hired or mentored over the years. Anticipating great potential in someone and seeing it realized is a wonderful feeling.
What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
Anyone who sees me on stage at convocation knows I get very excited about it. I participate in 15 ceremonies in the spring and four in the fall, and I love the look on the parents’ faces, the music, all of it! People might be surprised to know I wasn’t always so enthusiastic about convocation. In fact, I wasn’t planning to attend my own undergraduate convocation and only went at my parents’ insistence. I think there may even have been a bit of eye rolling! Once I got there, though, I was surprised at how moved I was by the event. I now reach out and encourage all the students I meet to attend their ceremony. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and like me, they may be taken aback by how meaningful it feels.
On the personal side, I am pretty adventuresome and enjoy pushing myself to do things I never imagined I could do. Although I’m not particularly athletic, I have three half marathons under my belt and have my eyes on a marathon in the next few years. This summer I did a 200 km bike ride to Wolfville and back. I have family and friends who encourage me to be brave – I like that. When I celebrate my 100th birthday, I hope I can reflect on a life rich in exciting experiences.