Introducing AU’s president designate: Dr. Neil Fassina

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Dr. Neil Fassina will become Athabasca University’s eighth president on October 11, 2016. The announcement was made Wednesday morning at the university’s main campus in Athabasca by Margaret Mrazek, the interim chair of the university’s Board of Governors.

Athabasca University President-designate, Dr. Neil Fassina

Athabasca University President-designate Dr. Neil Fassina

Fassina will lead Athabasca University as it develops and implements sustainable solutions to its financial challenges and modernizes its work to serve students in an increasingly digital world.

Speaking to faculty, staff and members of the community, Mrazek called Fassina “a person of very high integrity, who has proven himself to be an inclusive and collaborative leader, with the ability to make difficult decisions and achieve desired results.”

Edging the competition

Fassina assumes the role after an intensive international search that began in January where, as Mrazek attested, Fassina “stood out in a very competitive field of international applicants.”

She also pointed out Fassina’s effectiveness as a communicator with strong financial acumen, comprehensive knowledge of human resources and “a solid understanding of the research mandate of the university, and is very knowledgeable of the post-secondary system in Alberta including Campus Alberta.”

Fassina joins the university with a record of outstanding academic administration at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), where he has served as Provost and Vice-President Academic since 2013. Prior to this, he was Dean of NAIT’s JR Shaw School of Business, and its Department of Culinary Arts and Professional Food Studies. He has also held the position of Department Head in the department of Business Administration at the Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba.

Fassina will lead Athabasca University as it develops and implements sustainable solutions to its financial challenges and modernizes its work to serve students in an increasingly digital world.”

With respect to his new role  – which Mrazek fondly described as “a member of our Athabasca University family,” – Dr. Fassina acknowledged AU’s rich and tremendous history of “seeing beyond the immediate and reaching for the future.”

“I am going to hit the ground listening, and will be working with people from throughout the organization and government to create change we can all embrace,” Fassina addressed to the Athabasca audience.

“My commitment to everyone involved in Athabasca University and our community is this: Together, we will build on our strengths as a proud comprehensive academic research institution.

“I am confident that Athabasca University can emerge even stronger as a student-focused open university and global leader in online and distance education, research and technology.”

Raising the bar

Dr. Fassina succeeds Interim President Peter MacKinnon, who has led the university since July 2014. Mzarek thanked Mr. MacKinnon for his “steadying influence over the last two years that has helped us lay groundwork for what lies before us.”

This is a tremendous institution with a history of seeing beyond the immediate and reaching for the future. I am going to hit the ground listening and will be working with people from throughout the organization and government to create change we can all embrace,” ~ Dr. Neil Fassina, Athabasca University President-Designate

Also in attendance at the announcement ceremony (which was live-streamed on the web) was Alberta’s Advanced Education Minister, Hon. Marlin Schmidt who addressed Fassina directly: “This will be an exciting chapter in AU’s history and you have my full support. I know you understand the needs of this university and this community.”

The Minister acknowledged the considerable career time Fassina has spent dedicated to understanding relationship-building – a skill, which Schmidt stressed – “is so important at AU because it’s going to take us all working together for this to succeed.”

Moving forward

“I believe Dr. Fassina can lead Athabasca University, help find a sustainable solution to the challenges, and I believe he can do so in a collaborative way,” noted Schmidt, enunciating that “the past is the past.”

“I’ve said it already and I will keep saying it: Our government is committed to supporting Athabasca University, in Athabasca. We understand the critical role the university plays … and I’ve seen the opportunities it creates for students across Alberta.”

I believe Dr. Fassina can lead Athabasca University, help find a sustainable solution to the challenges, and I believe he can do so in a collaborative way.” ~ Hon. Marlin Schmidt, Alberta Minister of Advanced Education

On Fassina’s leadership prowess Schmidt remarked: “I am confident in Neil’s ability to lead this institution – that’s not to say that there won’t be challenges – but I believe that Dr. Fassina is here for the students, for the betterment of the university and to help Athabasca University find a sustainable path forward.”

Dr. Fassina holds a PhD in Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, and is a certified human resources professional, and a designated director for the Institute of Corporate Directors. He is also a former recipient of the CMA award for excellence in research and teaching.

UPDATE: Labour Day ‘Classic’

Over the September long weekend, AU’s incoming President Neil Fassina chatted with Newstalk 770‘s Peter Watts, host of The Alberta Morning News, about the exciting new AU adventure he’ll soon be embarking on.

Fassina talked about the opportunities awaiting him starting on October 11th , as AU’s eighth president — “an incredible opportunity to be able to join a strong team with unbelievable opportunities in front of them and, frankly, unstoppable passion,” he said.

He also addressed the unique and common challenges for any individual walking into a post-secondary institutional presidency, such as understanding the organizational nuances and “the different voices of Athabasca University … how they all interrelate and … to start looking to create that opportunity.”

Part of that unique opportunity, Fassina remarked, also includes creating a sense community and communication, “across such a geographically diverse area, utilizing as many tools as we have available to us – whether that may be face-to-face or digitally enhanced.”

Said Fassina: “I think what places Athabasca in a very unique position, and sort of poises them to lead that edge within that digital learning environment, is that they’ve been in that online and distance learning space for such a long time — that a lot of those conversations that some of the later entrants into the market would be having, are conversations that have already occurred at Athabasca.

“And so it’s a university that understands some of the stepping stones that need to be taken to be into that digital space, understand where the technologies and the pedagogies interact, in order to create the strongest learning environment for a digital learner.”

From there, adds Fassina, the AU student can apply what he or she is learning into their local communities, to ultimately affect positive change there — “whether it be urban, rural, remote, and regardless of where that community may be.”

Here is the full interview with Dr. Neil Fassina:

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