Provost sets down vision for changing campus

Andrew Hrymak said goodbye to his old job three times and then hello to his new one – all while never leaving his favourite campus parking space. Even for the former Western Engineering dean, that’s a nifty trick.

“That did work out well,” he laughed.

Hrymak, one of the university’s longest-serving deans until this summer, took over as Provost & Vice-President (Academic) last month. Embracing the “time and circumstance of this amazing opportunity,” he jumped into the job and has spent every day since then learning the ins and outs of his massive portfolio.

“As dean, I have appreciated and grown with the culture of Western for almost a decade now: our student excellence, our research excellence. This is an opportunity for me to continue to contribute to those – an opportunity where my interests and experience overlap and can help,” he said.

“But the breadth of this job is so different from anything I have ever had – and that is the exciting part for me.”

At Western, the Provost and Vice-President (Academic) is the chief academic officer, with primary responsibilities for the academic and budgetary affairs of the university.

The vast portfolio include senior executive oversight of all academic units, including deans; institutional planning and budgeting; academic quality assurance; faculty relations; student experience; athletics; student recruitment and registration; the campus library system; and international relations.

Hrymak sees his familiarity with the campus community – and its familiarity with him – as an advantage. But don’t take that to mean he remains hitched to old ways of thinking.

“Yes, people have worked with me; they are familiar with my management style, my approach to working with people. Those are strengths,” he explained. “But, at the same time, I am open to looking at new ways of doing things. I am open to change, to exploring best practices within the organization and seeding them across the university along with my colleagues.

“In the end, this whole place interacts – nowhere is an island. How students, faculty, alumni experience Western are all multifaceted. So much here requires the whole community working together.”

Hrymak also walks into the job at a time of massive transition for the institution. By next academic year, the campus will have welcomed a new president and a new provost, several new deans – including ones who lead business, medicine and engineering – plus a number of other new senior leaders across important units.

Despite all that change, Hrymak sees his challenge clearly. His priorities, he explained, will stand through the leadership transitions because they are societal imperatives that also fit well with the university’s current strategic plan.

Those priorities include:

  • Career preparation. Connecting students to career opportunities touches on a number of areas across campus, he said, including experiential learning, work-integrated learning, entrepreneurship, international exposure, leadership and community engagement. “But we need a greater focus in this area. Society, and now certainly government, is expecting us to help our graduates be career-ready alongside the academic preparation we already provide.”
  • Research impact. This is about recruiting and retaining the best faculty and providing them with world-class infrastructure, he explained, and also about looking at how we invest in interdisciplinary ideas – both startup and existing. “Research impact is a long-term game. What we start today, we may not see the benefits of, be it output or impact, for a number of years.”
  • Internationalization objectives. Just as Western has defined and executed well on its student experience and support, Hrymak wants to put the same effort and attention into defining what that Western internationalization experience will be for both domestic and international students.
  • Reputation and ranking. Part of this is how we communicate – not only to the university community, but also industry, employers and government –what we are accomplishing on campus and what our students, faculty and alumni are accomplishing in the world. And this ties, somewhat, into rankings.

“Rankings shouldn’t drive our decisions and behaviours. But they are something we should pay attention to,” he explained. “There are so many universities out there, why would an institution in another country want to partner with us? If they know us through reputation – through someone or some activity – that is great. But there might be choices they need to make about how many relationships they can make, and one of the measures people use is that third-party verification.”

Under Hrymak’s leadership, Western Engineering increased undergraduate and graduate enrolment, industry partnerships, alumni activities and outreach initiatives. He has also overseen the construction of a landmark new building, ThreeC+, as well as the WindEEE Dome at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Park. He also forged a number of cross-campus partnerships, including ones with Ivey Business School and Western Law.

He played a key leadership role in securing a long-term research collaboration between Western and the Fraunhofer Institute of Chemical Technology in the area of composite technologies. This joint venture – the Fraunhofer Project Centre for Composites Research @ Western – represents the first comprehensive initiative between a Canadian university and an institute of Fraunhofer.

His new role as Provost, however, promises as much excitement as his earliest days in Engineering.

“I get excited by working with colleagues and students developing and delivering new knowledge through research and scholarship. That is what has excited me about being an academic from my first day,” Hrymak said. “At Western, this idea is such a strong part of our culture. Every day, I get excited about a new opportunity we have for our students and how we can support them in doing it. I love to see the research and scholarship we are doing and the impact it has within the discipline and wider world.

“Every day is different. Every day is new. I enjoy helping and supporting our students so they can fulfil their dreams. That is what keeps me going; that is what has me excited about my work at Western.”