Hasenfratz: Love finding ways to connect

On Oct. 22, Chancellor Linda Hasenfratz, BSc’89, MBA’97, LLD’19, and President Alan Shepard were installed into their respective positions in a first-ever joint ceremony celebrating the two top spots. The text of Hasenfratz’s installation address follows:

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It is with great pleasure that I step into the role of Chancellor at the University of Western Ontario today.

I have a long history with this institution from my days as an undergrad in the late 80’s in the Chemistry program to my days at Ivey achieving my MBA 10 years later.

Today, all four of my children have, or are pursuing, degrees here at Western.

I have learned so much from Western, academically, of course, but also in terms of how to approach learning, how to create balance in my life, and the importance of critical-thinking and data-based decision-making.

In today’s world of non-stop information flow, these lessons have never been so important.

In fact, in today’s rapidly changing world, driven by the enormous speed of technological change, we have never needed the support of our educational institutions more.

We are bombarded with information from so many sources. We have more information available to us than we ever have in history, and yet I feel like we’re less informed than we’ve ever been.

It’s hard to sift through all of that noise, to decide what’s real and what’s not real. That’s where critical-thinking skills come in to play. More than any time in history, we have to step back and question the conclusions and solution being presented to us, make sure we really understand them, and then conclude for ourselves what we think is right and wrong, and let that guide our actions and decisions.

I believe Western will play an increasingly important role in teaching young people how to approach this new world of information overload and change in a balanced, fact-based, end-to-end, holistic way.

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Since agreeing to take on this role I have reflected on the role of a Chancellor and what I did and didn’t want to get involved with here at Western. Not surprisingly, I did a little research to find out what other chancellors in Canada were doing.

Many chancellors today are choosing to get more involved in different ways, not in terms of governance (thank goodness), but more in terms of interacting with students and finding ways to inspire and reach them. I love the idea of doing that and finding a way I can connect with students and bring some of my experience and thinking to the table to help challenge them, and challenge the way they think.

I have always enjoyed connecting with students as I find I frankly learn a lot from them; they always have great questions that make me think a little differently, challenge my own decision making and direction in a positive way.

Now I have to admit when (former Western President) Amit (Chakma) first came to me to propose the idea of me taking on this role I said to him as far as I knew, most chancellors were appointed at a much later stage in life, even post retirement. I said, ‘Either you think I am a lot older than I am, which is obviously a concern, or you are trying to do something different.’

He assured me it was the latter, hopefully he wasn’t just trying to make me feel better. I quickly came to realize that although taking on the role at a later stage in life would have the benefit of many years of experience taking it on mid-career can bring the added benefit of real time experience.

I’m still living with challenges as well as opportunities every day. I am real time taking technology changes and using them to create a strategy for tomorrow. Finding out what works and doesn’t work. I like the idea of sharing that experience under fire with students in some way.

When I look ahead to my tenure here at Western I think there are a lot of areas I would love to explore with (Western President) Alan (Shepard) and understand his strategy and vision around.

As noted, empowering critical-thinking is high on the list, but so are things like bringing more workplace experiences to education through co-ops and internships, exploring the benefits of more dual-degrees which is such a wonderful program that in many ways Western is uniquely positioned to deliver, and continuing to boost the number of women in science, technology, engineering and math. These are all areas that I think are very important to the future of business.

I also of course am a huge believer in the power of entrepreneurship and the role incubators at universities can play in that. I love the fact that Western has an incubator and think that is absolutely a step in the right direction. A way for students to take a great idea and take a chance on it, to be an entrepreneur.

I also love the fact that I begin my tenure at the same time as our new President Alan Shepard.  There’s obviously going to be change happening as Alan starts to build a vision and a plan for Western and I am excited to have a chance to play some small role in that.

Thank you again for this honour. I am thrilled to get started in this role with this wonderful institution that I have always called home.