Dr. Laura Robinson: Recently named RMCC Dean of Arts
Dr. Robinson began teaching at RMCC in 1997, just before she finished her PhD at Queen’s University; teaching courses for five years at both universities. During 2002 she was offered and accepted a full-time position at Nipissing University. In 2004/5, a permanent position opened up at RMCC. She applied and was the successful candidate.
Laura grew up in the military. Her father was a senior officer in the Air Force. She has lived in the States, Germany, and in various locations in central and eastern Canada. The military is her extended family in many ways.
“I would like to be involved in a culture shift at RMC that welcomes more female students, staff, and faculty.”
What has inspired your current career path?
I wanted to be an academic for as long as I could remember. I loved books and learning as a child, and I thought a job where I was able to read and write for a living would be just perfect. It is. More than that, however, I am deeply committed to social justice, particularly around issues of gender and sexuality. I have found that being at the front of the classroom is a very powerful way of effecting change by encouraging students to consider other perspectives. I would emphasize, as well, how committed I am to being at RMC particularly. I was in a tenure-track position at Nipissing University when RMC advertised for the position I eventually got. I loved Nipissing and North Bay: at about 75% female students, my courses in Gender and Literature and Children’s Literature were very very popular. However, I had taught at RMC before, and I grew up in the military, so my heart was here. I knew I could make more of a difference at an institution with a population of well over 75% male students, even if it meant not being as beloved as I was at Nipissing. Becoming Dean fits in with my overall perspective on how change is enacted. We need more female leadership, not just on this campus, of course, but on all campuses as well.
What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced?
So many challenges… Each stage of one’s career is a challenge in many ways, and I’m committed to life-long learning, so I constantly challenge myself. One of my biggest ones right now is achieving my CBC levels in French, a requirement for being Dean. I’ve been taking “French Boot Camp” for a couple of years now, and with the help of Jocelyne Le Ber and Bianca Coté and the Language Centre, I received my C and B in reading and writing respectively. I’m working very hard right now to achieve a C in the oral exam. I find that everyone on our campus is deeply supportive and helpful, and my confidence has improved, if my grammar hasn’t quite kept pace!
What are some of the accomplishments you are most proud of?
I sure was proud when I received my PhD from Queen’s. I remember showing up quite early to pick up my hood and robes, and I just walked around Queen’s campus all morning in my robes feeling quite pleased with myself. I think the accomplishments I am most proud of, however, are more quiet ones, such as when a student who is having difficulty comes to see me and I can help. Or, recently, we fought a battle to get one of our students into graduate studies and then worked with that university to reverse deadlines so that he could still get in and receive his necessary scholarship. It worked. I think the seemingly small daily accomplishments are often the most profound, especially when you know you might have made a difference in someone’s life. When I achieve my C on the oral French exam, however, that might trump all the others!!
Who have been the most influential mentors in your life?
The first female Dean of Arts, Jane Errington has been a powerful mentor for me. When I started teaching at RMC in 1997, she was head of the History Department and a force to be reckoned with. When I go to conferences, people often say, “do you know Jane Errington?” She is such a well-respected teacher, scholar, and administrator. I have always aspired to be similar. One amazing moment for me happened in November this past year. Jane Errington was one of the honorary doctorates at our fall convocation, and I was awarded the The Colonel, the Honourable John Matheson Award for Academic Leadership, an award Jane also won in the past. I have a picture of myself, the commandant, the principal, and Jane, as I received the award. That was a golden moment, as the person who inspired me was standing there with me. Both of my parents were also very good mentors for me, providing me with a solid, sound basis of wisdom from which to make life decisions.
What would you describe as a turning point in your life?
This may sound like a sad answer, but the death of my father in 2005 changed me irrevocably. I was in the process of moving from Kingston (where I was teaching at RMC) to North Bay to teach at Nipissing, when he died suddenly and very tragically in a glider crash (he was an expert glider). My mother had died years before, so I was now fully on my own and in a new town where I knew no one and was about to start a new job. It was a very difficult time but I learned just how much strength I have. Once you survive a time like that, you know you can handle anything.
What are your goals for the future?
My mother used to say, “everything always works out for the best,” and I earnestly believed, and still believe, her. I trust that the future will unfold as it should. I will always strive to do my best at everything I do, and I will always welcome opportunities as they come knocking. However, I don’t have my eyes set on some brass ring necessarily. I have some research goals, and I would like to work hard and advocate for the Faculty of Arts as Dean. I would like to be involved in a culture shift at RMC that welcomes more female students, staff, and faculty. Similar to my feelings about accomplishments, I think the small things sometimes matter most.