Dr. Paula Burns, a lifelong educator who has served as President and CEO of Lethbridge College since 2013, has received the YWCA Women of Distinction Lifetime Achievement award. She and the eight other women who received this year’s honours from the YWCA Lethbridge and District will be celebrated at an awards ceremony on March 9 at the Lethbridge Lodge.
“It truly is a great honour to even be nominated for an award of distinction, but to win a lifetime achievement award is overwhelming,” says Dr. Burns. “I am privileged to be a leader in a very collaborative community, and without the support and encouragement of many people this would not have been possible.
“The support I received for this award is reflective of the strength of my network, the people who challenge me to be the best I can be every day – students, colleagues, community and business leaders, and my friends,” she adds. “I look forward to celebrating this achievement with all of the other award winners on March 9. Thank you to the YWCA for taking the time to recognize the difference women make.”
Other winners of this year’s awards include Silvana Campus, who works at Lethbridge College as an Academic Strategist and will receive an Education and Mentorship Award; Tania Stilson, a Lethbridge College alumna who will receive a Leadership and Management award; and Renae Barlow, Amanda Bauer, Elma Guinto, Tara Lennox, Imogen Pohl and Jennifer Takahashi. Dr. Burns received the Lifetime Achievement award, which is given to women who have been leaders in one or more of the other categories while serving as role models for the community.
“The depth and breadth of Paula’s commitment towards transformation, empowerment and acceptance of others was evident in the nomination support she received from many members of the community,” says YWCA Lethbridge and District Board Co-Chair, Jaylene Ulmer. “As a leader and role model with a lifetime commitment towards education, it’s clear that she has left a positive impact that extends far beyond the walls of Lethbridge College, enhancing the lives of others, which truly exemplifies the work and mission of the YWCA.”
A group of Lethbridge College colleagues, collaborators and community partners nominated Dr. Burns for her award. Nominators described Dr. Burns as “a bold and visionary leader who champions the value of education,” as a “fierce supporter of Lethbridge College,” as someone who “has used innovative and creative thinking to develop relationships across the college,” as the “literal embodiment of a community leader committed to partnerships,” and as someone who is “miles ahead in her approach towards diversity.”
Lethbridge College Board of Governors Chair Kristin Ailsby, who led the nomination effort, says: “I’m so proud of Paula. She has achieved so much for the college, for our community and for post-secondary education in the province. And Paula is the first to acknowledge she achieved and achieves so much with the help of her exceptionally competent and talented team.”
Ailsby, a past recipient of a Women of Distinction award, adds that “It’s a lifetime achievement award – so as much as I’m excited, I’m nervous too – I don’t want her to stop doing what she’s doing, thinking she’s done enough for one lifetime, because we love and need her so much!”
Dr. Burns, the college’s eighth president and CEO, came to Lethbridge in February 2013 from NAIT, where she previously served as provost and vice president academic. She has brought a wealth of experience with her, having worked with and in a variety of departments across post-secondary institutions – from teaching to curriculum development to leadership.
She got her own start in higher education as a college student at Fanshawe College in London, Ont., where she earned her Respiratory Therapy diploma in 1987. From there she went on to the University of Waterloo, where she earned her bachelor of science degree in 1996; Central Michigan University, where she earned a master of arts in education in 1999 with a specialization in community college leadership; the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, where she earned her PhD in 2005; and Royal Roads University, where she earned her executive MBA in 2010 with a specialization in leadership.
Dr. Burns is active in the community and serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Economic Development Lethbridge, as past Board Chair. She is a member of the Council of Post-Secondary Presidents of Alberta and a director on the Board of Directors for Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan). Paula has also served as a member of CICan’s Indigenous Education Committee who launched the Indigenous Education Protocol for Colleges and Institutes in 2015.
Working just one floor away from Dr. Burns is another award winner, Silvana Campus, who has spent the last three years at the college as an academic strategist in the college’s Learning Café and in Accessibility Services. “I love being able to support students with all sorts of academic concerns – writing, math, science or study skills” she says. “It is really wonderful to watch students improve their skills throughout the semester.”
Campus, whose nomination also addressed her work with the Lethbridge Girls Rock Camp, says she was “pretty excited when I got the news that I had won the award. I have a teaching background and you get used to seeing the progress of your students but not necessarily hearing how you helped to impact those successes. It feels pretty special to be recognized for my mentoring contributions.”