In 2008, Colleen Hanycz found a Brescia University College in trouble – not a deep or unique kind of trouble, but trouble nonetheless.
“A lot changed between December 2007, when I took the job, and summer 2008, when I started the job. It didn’t just change for Brescia; it changed for higher education and our economy around the world,” said Hanycz, Brescia’s outgoing principal.
After seven years at the head of the Western affiliate, Hanycz has accepted an appointment to lead La Salle University in Philadelphia, Penn., as its next president.
In 2008, Hanycz saw significant challenges ahead when she walked through Brescia’s doors. With a devastating hit to the economy, postsecondary enrolment was, likewise, dealt a blow.
“I had to begin thinking immediately how we were going to turn things around to make sure we didn’t end up in a fair amount of trouble,” she said.
One of the first orders of business was a rebranding process. The Brescia team was tasked with looking at the institution’s reputation, as well as its strengths and perceptions in the community, in order to seize a prominent spot on the landscape of higher education, especially as Canada’s only women’s university.
Out of this process came Brescia Bold – Choose to Lead, the 2009 campaign that still resonates today, Hanycz said. The campaign stresses a need for more women in leadership roles while encouraging women to pursue such options.
“Brescia has to be part of making sure that’s possible, to ensure the young women we serve, and the girls we serve through our camps, are given the skills they need to be able to choose leadership,” she explained.
A conversation centered on women in leadership is one of the most important conversations, anywhere, today, Hanycz noted. Educating women is something that can ensure economic stability around the world.
“We have always educated our men for leadership very well, but we need to be looking seriously at the women. Brescia has become part of that huge commitment and it’s something I’m very proud of,” she said.
Her proudest accomplishments are the ‘thank-yous’ she’s heard over the years.
“When they come at convocation, and say, ‘Dr. Hanycz, you believed in me, and because of that I believe in myself and I’m going to go on and do great things,’ there’s nothing better to hear at the end of my time here. To think I’ve actually made a difference in the lives of these young women is such an honour and feels like a wonderful accomplishment,” she said.
During her tenure, she led the institution in exceeding its strategic goals, resulting in a student community that has grown by more than 50 per cent over the past five years. She oversaw the construction of a state-of-the-art residence – Clare Hall – with its accompanying dining pavilion, The Mercato, billed by Brescia as the most sophisticated student-centered campus residence complex in the country.
Brescia’s profile in the community has likewise grown. The institution is now recognized internationally for its focus on developing girls and women for leadership.
Hanycz created Take the Lead, which this year will welcome senior high school students from across Canada. She launched the Western affiliate’s academic leadership program in 2009 and expanded its domestic GirlsLEAD camp to the Caribbean and Hong Kong.
All this comes from telling the school’s story, and focusing on doing it very well, Hanycz said.
But the past seven years at Brescia have changed her, too.
“I’ve learned the importance of leading from the middle,” Hanycz added. “As much as institutions have positions that are, by nature, leadership roles, a leader does much better when she works in the middle of her community, in the middle of her team. That’s something I learned at Brescia; that’s something I will carry with me wherever I will go.”
Personally, she’ll never forget the sense of community she took in when she first came to London from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. In those early committee meetings at Brescia, Hanycz remembers seeing an impetus to connect on a personal level among her colleagues. It wasn’t something she felt back in Toronto.
“It’s about community, connections and commitments to each other – that’s what I’ve learned here.”
When she assumes the role at La Salle in July, she will be the first female and lay president of the school since its founding in 1863.
“It’s a great school and it’s quite a big jump for me. It will be quite different. But it will be good. When I arrived at Brescia, I received the warmest welcome I’ve ever had to a new professional community, not only on Brescia’s campus. I quickly learned Brescia was an integral part of a larger Western family. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude, for welcoming me and my family so warmly, we now feel a sadness to leave.”