Photo by: Trevor Hopkin, AV Services
Growing up in a close-knit family in Labrador City, Newfoundland and Labrador, Vianne Timmons learned at an early age the importance of family and hard work. Her father, an iron ore miner, and her mother, a coal miner's daughter, also instilled in their children a love of learning and education. Those lessons were not lost on the six Timmons children as all would pursue higher education and go on to earn university degrees.
"We never had a television until I was in my teens," recalls Timmons. "My parents spent money on books. We were turned on by learning and reading. I can remember the kids sitting and reading-that's what we did. We read all the time. Even now, when we get together, it's not uncommon to see all of us reading."
The spark that was ignited while reading books in a small Labrador mining town has turned into a blazing career that has taken Timmons across the country-from Nova Scotia to B.C. And now, after a rigorous presidential search, she has landed in Regina, where on May 1 Board of Governors Chair Mo Bundon introduced her as the seventh president and vice-chancellor of the University of Regina.
"Dr. Timmons' academic accomplishments and exemplary record of senior administrative leadership made her the ideal choice," said Bundon at the announcement. "She has a love of teaching and research and a commitment to students has been evident throughout her professional life. Through three rounds of interviews and a great deal of interaction throughout the search process, she impressed the search committee to the point where she distinguished herself from among a very, very impressive group of applicants."
Timmons' career path really started to take shape while still in high school when she volunteered to give swimming lessons to people with intellectual disabilities. The experience was profoundly influencing and led her to pursue studies in English and Psychology at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. While earning her undergraduate degree she spent summers working at an institution for children with intellectual disabilities, another affirming experience that would lead her to Acadia University where she earned a BEd in Special Education.
"I saw such resilience and potential in the children I worked with," she says. "The majority of these children were abandoned. They were segregated and kept out of the mainstream. The sense of injustice was overwhelming to me. Children with special needs became my passion and inclusive education became my field of study."
In 1980, with degree in hand, Timmons headed across the country for her first real teaching job as a learning assistance teacher in Granisle, B.C., teaching children on the Babine First Nations Reserve. It proved to be another experience that deepened her resolve to help the disenfranchised and underserved.
"During my time in northern British Columbia I became passionate about Aboriginal education. I was seeing the same kinds of things that I saw working with children with intellectual disabilities. There was such potential in the children I worked with from the Babine First Nation and yet their potential was so under realized. It only added to my sense of frustration."
Fuelled by her teaching experiences, Timmons went on to earn a MEd in Special Education in 1983 at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. A decade later, she completed a PhD in Education Psychology specializing in rehabilitation at the University of Calgary. That led to her first university teaching position at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S.
In 1993, Timmons found herself heading St. FX's Education Department during a colleague's sabbatical. Her timing couldn't have been worse. A rationalization study recommended the termination of teachers' education programs at three institutions in the province, including St. FX.
"I was untenured, a brand new faculty member, had moved my family from Calgary, left a secure teaching position and dropped $20,000 in salary," Timmons says. "I was thinking, what am I going to do?"
What she did was dig in her heels. Working closely with Nova Scotia's Mi'kmaq First Nation, she went to work on a proposal to revitalize the St. FX teachers education curriculum by specializing in Mi'kmaq education. The plan worked as the community rallied around the proposal and the decision to shut down the program was overturned. The program remains strong to this day.
"That's when I realized that you can make a difference as an administrator," she says.
She's looking forward to making a similar impact at the U of R. In part, because so many of the University's institutional priorities mirror her own areas of interest and expertise. She cites as examples an emphasis on the student-focused university experience, the importance of an institution connecting with its community and her passion for internationalization as areas where she wants to help make a real difference.
"For a person to be successful at university, and I don't mean academically, I mean as an experience, they have to be connected in some way," she says. "We have to be focused on student engagement if we want our graduates to have the best university experience possible. The only way that can happen is if we give them lots of opportunities to get them connected to our campus. Student employment gets students connected, arts and culture connects students, so does athletics, and our professors connect with students each day in classrooms. I'm a great believer in constantly assessing and enhancing student engagement."
Despite the adage "once a Maritimer, always a Maritimer," Timmons does admit to being enamoured by her visits to Regina throughout the presidential recruitment process. She and her family are looking forward to living in the Queen City and she goes as far to say that in her observations Maritimers and Prairie people seem to share a kindred sprit.
"We fell in love with Regina and with the people," she says. "In the Maritimes as well as Saskatchewan that community support for each other is deeply embedded in peoples' ways of doing things. I feel that in Regina-like I have never felt in any other city. I feel a real connection to Saskatchewan-I feel at home."Though she will continue serving as vice-president (Academic Development) at the University of Prince Edward Island, Timmons will travel to Regina periodically to work with current president Jim Tomkins through a transition period lasting until Sept. 1. She will be formally installed as president and vice-chancellor at fall convocation ceremonies in October.