This is a bimonthly newsletter featuring community updates from Capilano University President and Vice-Chancellor Paul Dangerfield.

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March 2021

Lessons from the improv

A few weeks ago, I did a bit of a pulse check with six Capilano University colleagues as part of my semi-annual President’s Perspective event. I wanted to hear—and learn from—some of those exceptional faculty and staff about how they are lifting themselves, their communities and their students up during these challenging days. There are more than a thousand employees at CapU, and the experience made me realize yet again how much outstanding leadership there is to be found across our University.

It was a far cry from the complex and carefully produced live productions we usually put together, and that was very deliberate: at a time when everyone is going that extra mile to try to maximize online engagement, we decided to take the pressure off with a low-key Zoom chat.

As a group, we found it helpful to think of the pandemic narrative as a three-act musical. We had made it through Act 1 and were about to launch Act 2—and there is still Act 3, with its promise of universal vaccines, in the distance.

We determined that at the start of the new calendar year we were experiencing a sort of intermission—a chance to pause, regroup and receive notes on what might be tweaked to ensure the best possible performance in the months to come. We were being invited to set aside our well-memorized scripts to embrace instead the guiding principles of improv:  being supportive and open, listening hard, and building on whatever is being offered in the moment.

We can’t always choose the way life unfolds—but we can choose to respond in a way that builds personal and professional resilience. In my own family, we have an expression—Hashtag Silver Lining—that we use to acknowledge and help reframe our pandemic experience. It’s our way of reinforcing the positive—the pivots we’ve made and the lessons we’ve learned since March 2020.

So what are some of the silver linings CapU might choose to celebrate right now?

We know from our most recent Fall Welcome Survey results that students are really feeling the impacts of COVID-19, with increased mental health issues and decreased employment opportunities. But our student success team has applied these insights towards piloting a range of new initiatives such as First Year Fridays and a campus career hub to strengthen community, foster peer connections and help students through the many aspects of their online experience.

Likewise, our many industry partners are facing challenging new realities, whether in business, early childhood education, the film industry or the legal profession. They, too, are adapting on the fly. It is with thanks to our strong alliances and participation on industry advisory committees that our faculty are able to bring those new ways of working into their (virtual) classrooms. Our programs are keeping pace with real world, ensuring our students will be well prepared for whatever career landscape they step into after graduation.

And speaking of caps and gowns: we have just welcomed more than 1150 new alumni to our Capilano University family. I’m certain it wasn’t the ceremony our graduates were originally planning on, and yet our virtual Convocation on February 19, 2021 was a profoundly important occasion to recognize the triumph of hope over adversity, and discipline over despair. Our willingness and ability to connect and celebrate is an important part of what makes us human; we lift each other up every time we choose to come together—in person and yes, online—to celebrate our individual and collective accomplishments.

Lessons From the Improv

As the curtain continues to rise on 2021, I am excited and curious for Capilano University’s next act. There are so many people in our community who deserve a moment in the spotlight for their immense contributions during this unusual time—here are just three who exemplify the improv artist’s creed of “yes, and!”: 

Karen Yip

woman posing in front of trees

"It requires some adaptation, but the online learning environment can be just as creative and fulfilling."
-Karen Yip

Named a “benchmark for paralegal education in B.C.” by the Law Society of BC, CapU’s Legal Studies program boasts a 100 per cent placement rate. “We are a very career-centric program,” says faculty member Karen Yip, “and we are constantly listening to our industry advisors and adjusting the program to adapt to new trends in practice.” CapU offered the first fully online paralegal certificate in Canada more than 20 years ago, and has therefore have been able to build on that deep experience in bringing in-person programs online during the pandemic. “We are preparing our students for remote work environments, strengthening their personal communication and organization skills.”

Yip says she found “blessings in disguise in the current circumstances,” developing richer personal connections with her students through virtual office hours, FaceTime Q&A sessions and social media sharing. “During our conveyancing course, for example, I invited students to show me a picture of the kinds of disputes they may have experienced with their own neighbours—and they sent photos of encroaching trees, lights that never get dimmed, fences that cut across property lines. It really can be very creative and trigger more individualized engagement.”

Jacqueline Pilcher

woman dressed in black posing in front of the camera

“The question is: how will you use the privilege your university education provides?”
-Jacqueline Pilcher

This year’s Ceremony Two Convocation student speaker came to Capilano University as a second-year student after a “life-changing” volunteer experience in Israel. While working with Bridges for Peace, and later with Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission, she realized she didn’t want to be a dietician as originally planned—but rather to acquire the business skills that would allow her to one day run her own Christian not-for-profit organization. (In the shorter term, Jacqueline plans to apply her accounting skills to a position at KPMG beginning this fall.)

“I found real acceptance and inclusion at CapU,” she says, “and so many opportunities to break out of my comfort zone and learn outside the classroom. University is about trying new things—and that doesn’t need to change because things are online now; there are so many great digital resources out there. Be purposeful with how you spend your time and find a study buddy to keep you accountable. And when you finally graduate, be ready to answer the big question: how will I use the privilege of my university education for the betterment of my community?”.

Daniel Levangie

Man ringing a bell while people behind him clap

“Take every opportunity you can.”
-Daniel Levangie

As AVP of Student Success, Daniel Levangie was not surprised by the results of this fall’s Welcome Survey: “It unfortunately confirmed what we suspected: there was a spike in students struggling to stay mentally strong and to maintain employment in COVID times.”

His advice for building resilience? “I know students are fried from the digital world—but it is our current world! Rather than dodging it, figure out how to harness it in a healthy way. When you have the capacity, look for the kinds of things you’d like to do if they were available in person—maybe a competitive 5K run, or a career fair, or yoga class, or a mental health check in with a counsellor—and then find those same things online through athletics and recreation events or student life programming. Or consider becoming a student leader. It can feel really inspiring to be part of a group doing purposeful work, and the shared energy is contagious—in a good way! To a person, every member of last summer’s orientation leadership team said, ‘That was amazing! What can I sign up for next? How can I lead?’” 

Stay safe and stay connected,


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