Stratford Campus at the intersection of humanities and technology

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Stratford campus boss has ambitious plans

From the Stratford Beacon-Herald Fri Nov 11 2011 Page: A1 Section: News
By: Mike Beitz, Staff reporter

Ginny Dybenko calls it "that insane drive for excellence."

She sees it at the University of Waterloo. She sees it at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

And she's hoping to make it a hallmark of the University of Waterloo Stratford Campus, where she recently began her role as executive director.

"This is the promise. This is the future," Dybenko said Thursday night during a break from a well-attended meet-and-greet at the Wellington St. facility.

The former dean of Wilfrid Laurier University's School of Business and Economics said it wasn't easy giving up that post, but the opportunity to take on a leadership role in an initiative that combines business, digital media and the arts was simply too good to pass up.

"It was just one of those situations in which there was a confluence of elements," said Dybenko, who officially started as the Stratford campus's executive director Oct. 1. "Digital media has been a part of my life from the earliest stages."

As an executive with Bell Canada, she was already helping to advance things like electronic commerce and multimedia television along before they became commonplace.

She recognized then something that has become even more relevant now with the explosion of information technology and digital devices -- the human element cannot be ignored.

"I believe the real contribution of young graduates today will be at the intersection between humanities and technology," said DybenkoIt's not enough just to be technologically competent. The university needs to turn out graduates "who understand that technology is most effective when seen through human eyes," she added.

She pointed to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs as an example of someone who realized the need to "humanize" hard technology.

(Her son, by the way, happens to be a mechanical product design engineer at Apple, and was responsible for the development of the slim cooling fan on the newest MacBook Air.)

It's clear that Dybenko, who was recognized in 2008 as one of Canada's 100 most powerful women by the Women's Executive Network, has ambitious plans for the university here.

As the permanent building at the corner of St. Patrick and Cooper streets starts to take shape, Dybenko said she'd like to see every inch of the property put to good use, not just by the students and faculty, but by the community as well.

"We hope to have spaces where, on a regular basis, citizens of Stratford can rub shoulders with the professors and the students," she said, "so it becomes an exchange, a valuable exchange, of information."

A "robust" adult education program is just one facet of Dybenko's vision of a "town-and-gown kind of place," in which the university is seen as a partner in the community, and not some inaccessible ivory tower.

So far, so good, she said.

"I'm overwhelmed with the way the community has embraced the university," said Dybenko, suggesting that both enthusiasm and expectations are high. "Our job is to deliver on that promise."

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