Laura Misener certainly didn’t expect it – at least not this early.
Less than a decade after her arrival on campus, Misener was named Director of Western’s School of Kinesiology, effective July 1. She will be the first woman to occupy the role.
“I’m not sure that when I came here, I would have thought this is where I would be eight years later. But at the same time, my background from a research perspective is as a sport management scholar; management and business management are what I know,” said the Kinesiology professor.
“It is a time of change for the school; a lot has been going on. I have a vision of where the school can be and faculty members passionate about making those changes. It is an exciting time.”
Misener, who moves into the Director chair after serving in an acting role for two years, feels fortunate to have had the encouragement of her predecessor, Earl Noble, soon after her arrival. She reached out to Noble early in her career, asking to contribute. However reluctant he may have been to include a junior faculty member at the administrative table, Misener remembers Noble offering support and providing her with an opportunity to get to know the system.
She served as the school’s undergraduate chair soon after receiving tenure. Not long after, following a failed search for a new Kinesiology director, she was asked to step into an acting role for a two-year term.
“I was mindful of the fact I’m an associate professor with a pretty robust research program – and that is important to me. And I have my family – two young kids and a partner who is an academic, as well. My sense was to try it out to see if it was a good fit for the school and if it was a good direction to go in. I could try. If it wasn’t great, I could step back. A year and a half into it, I realized this was something that I could see myself doing,” she said.
One year into Misener’s acting role, the school hired four new faculty members. Renovations for Thames Hall were in planning stages (and are now in the early phase of construction). A new strategic plan was in the works, with three research pillars emerging at the forefront – brain health, mobility and social impact.
“All of that coalescing together made me realize this is something I want to see through. I had good support from the faculty. When we talk about someone moving into a leadership role, we think of it being an individual making decisions. But it’s not. It’s about helping guide a vision that was developed by members of the school and the faculty; that’s been the really exciting part. People are excited about a new vision, despite all of the challenges that come with change,” Misener explained.
“My role is to support all the faculty members and to move us into these new and exciting areas and to showcase we really do have world-class researchers doing amazing work that we need to get out there so people know us for that.”
The school’s three research pillars will leverage already existing strengths on campus, supporting clusters for which the university is already recognized. Kinesiology’s contribution to brain health research will tie in with Western’s Brain and Mind Institute and BrainsCAN; its mobility research will complement musculoskeletal research within the Bone and Joint Institute; its social impact focus will be bolstered with a new chair, the Frank Hayden Endowed Chair in Sport and Social Impact.
A recently approved capital request for renovations to the 3M Centre will allow Kinesiology researchers and collaborating colleagues from across campus to have a shared lab space. The Centre for Olympic Studies will also move back into the building, further underscoring the connection that already exists between sport, health and wellness.
“Looking at the broader university vision and how we align what we already do was a big piece for me. The changes that are going to happen will happen quickly. It’s a challenge, buying into a new vision and changing culture and ways we function. We have to look at how we work together and how we reach out,” Misener said.
As for being the first woman in the Director’s chair in Kinesiology, Misener acknowledges the challenges.
“We’re doing a good job across campus looking at equity more broadly. We are doing a good job from the faculty perspective but are still lagging behind in leadership. There are still challenges for someone like myself moving into a leadership role, people telling me it’s too early or you need to focus on your kids,” she said.
“Everyone needs to find balance in their own way. You need to find your own path and not apologize for the decisions you make. They are yours; it is personal; it is important you follow what you believe is right for you.”
“Make sure you have support. This is not something you can do alone. I have a fantastic faculty but also my husband, who is busy and away a lot. He’s the first one who said, ‘You have to do this; you’re good at this and whatever I can do to support you to make sure this is successful for you, I will.’ I’m fortunate to have those people with me who are going to support me.”