A Woman on a Mission
BY TERESA PITMAN
|One of Sue Bennett's 2007 projects was a visual display on Level 4 of the University Centre that traces U of G's history from 1874 to the present day. If you haven't seen the murals, she invites you to visit the fourth floor but advises that you'll need a bit of time to take them all in. “Guelph has a long and interesting history,” she says. Photo by Martin Schwalbe|
Sue Bennett, director of university and community relations, is on a mission to put the University of Guelph on the tip of everyone's tongue. And she believes this is the perfect time for attracting a little attention.
“The areas where we excel are the things that people are concerned about today, the issues that are in the news — the environment, biodiversity and health, for example,” she says. “I want Guelph to be a buzzword so that we're the first organization people think of when they discuss these issues.”
Bennett worked for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for 17 years before coming to U of G in 1997 to work in communications and development in the OAC dean's office. After 2½ years, she was seconded to do special projects and events in the president's office, then was appointed to her current position in 2005.
On the university relations side of her job, Bennett directs convocation and other public academic events, providing support to colleges and administrative units that want to put on programs or events that will have value for the broader University community. Working with the senior executive, deans and directors, she is always scouting out opportunities to attract the attention of a diversity of constituencies to Guelph. She also oversees the administration of the president's office and directs its information technology activities, which includes supporting a network of more than 80 users.
On the community relations side, her goal is to build relationships with the community, which she defines broadly.
“I work to develop partnerships and connections with the City of Guelph, other organizations, companies, funders, various government ministries, ‘friends' and more. I want to keep Guelph's name in front of people who can make a difference for us. But that's not the whole story, because we're talking about partnerships, and that means we help them, too.”
One partnership she'd like to build on is the one between the University and the city.
“I'd like there to be a presence that brings together the city, the University and the growth sectors with a common brand and profile that will lead to a common ‘elevator speech,' so people think of Guelph in general as representing quality in education, quality of life and the ability to translate research into real opportunities.”
She notes that the entire Guelph community benefits from many of the special events hosted at the University because they bring in business and expertise.
Bennett is quick to acknowledge that achieving her goals wouldn't be possible without the contributions of special projects manager Claire Alexander and convocation and annual events co-ordinator Leslie LaCelle. “I simply couldn't do all this without them.”
For Bennett, one of the most satisfying aspects of her work is that many of her tasks and projects are self-directed.
“I'm encouraged to go out and be creative. My goal is always to improve the quality of everything we do and really boost the ‘wow' factor.”
In keeping with one of U of G's strengths, one project she's currently working on is the “greening” of University events, which she says will become “a cornerstone in our best-practices tool kit.”
She also loves the variety in her job and having the opportunity to work on new and different activities. Good thing, because the number of activities just keeps growing. A statistical review Bennett completed showed an increase in activities and events of more than 800 per cent between 2003 and 2007. “You have to wear your running shoes to keep up in this job,” she says.
Being able to keep track of a million details is obviously an essential skill in her job, and so is the ability to communicate well.
“The University is a huge organization, and it's important to talk to everyone. When people know what's going on and what you're planning, they will have their own great ideas to contribute and new twists to add.”
Case in point is last year's “Shakespeare — Made in Canada” festival, which drew on the talents and expertise of hundreds of members of the University and local communities.
Among the events Bennett is looking forward to this year is an October celebration of the 100th anniversary of the publication of Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. U of G has an extensive collection of archival material about Montgomery's life, and Bennett is working with the Japanese Consul and the Japan Foundation to bring (for the first time in North America) two Japanese animated movies about Anne to be part of a four-day conference.
The conference will also feature the launch of a new Montgomery biography by University professor emerita Mary Rubio, English and Theatre Studies, and an exhibit that includes some of Montgomery's photographs of Canada as it was 100 years ago.
“I see this as another chance to reveal another facet of the University,” says Bennett. “People don't generally think of us as an arts or humanities school, but we have so much to offer in that area.”
Her excitement about the event is intertwined with her desire to promote U of G.
“It's reaching out to another community, people who might not think of the University of Guelph. Now I hope they will.”