Oct. 21, 2020Print | PDF
Gail Forsyth, the director of teaching, learning and retention, is retiring after a 35-year career at Wilfrid Laurier University. Over the past three-plus decades, Forsyth has watched Laurier grow from about 5,000 students and a few buildings on the Waterloo campus in 1985 to two campuses, several locations and more than 20,000 students.
She played a big role in Laurier’s transformation over the years too. Over the course of her career, she worked in a variety of administrative roles in the Faculty of Social Work; Graduate Studies, Research, and Instructional Development (all one office then); the dean’s office in the School of Business and Economics; the MBA program office; Undergraduate Admissions; and launched Learning Services in Student Affairs, which is now part of Teaching and Learning.
During her time in undergraduate admissions, for instance, she helped the office transition from a paper-based system to a virtual one; recruit for the newly created Brantford campus in 1999; lead the university through the double cohort (when Ontario eliminated Grade 13); and launch partnerships with the University of Waterloo, Conestoga College and Nipissing University.
Over the course of 35 years, she’s built strong connections with university leaders, who’ve trusted her to think outside of the box and try new project ideas.
“We don’t often boast about our innovation, but here at Laurier, we have the freedom to try new things. We’re willing to take a risk and try something new. Even if it doesn’t work out, we still learn from it,” she says. “I never felt like I had to stick with the status quo. There were always people to pitch ideas to and people willing to work with you on something new.”
In her current role, overseeing student academic support programs and services, she has spearheaded many initiatives, including the development of retention reports, Lift Off to Higher Education, which helps demystify post-secondary education for Grade 7 and 8 students, including pathways to reach their goals; and Building Bridges to Success, which aims to help underprivileged youth succeed in higher education.
“I'm a strong believer that most people have the capacity to learn and can excel, as long as they have the right supports in place,” she says. “If you invest in those students, they'll do well and they'll transform their lives, their family’s lives and their communities.”
“Through our professional networks, I have long known and admired Gail for her deep commitment to students and her skilled implementation of a comprehensive set of services, resources and programs to assist students in their development as critical thinkers, writers, life-long learners and problem-solvers,” says Mary Wilson, vice provost of Teaching and Learning. “Many Laurier graduates will carry with them the benefits of engaging with the services that Gail brought to fruition at Laurier. She has also been a mentor and a friend to many within our community and she will be greatly missed for institutional knowledge, kindness, wisdom and guidance.”
Forsyth completed her bachelor’s degree in geography from Laurier early in her career at the university. She has many cherished memories at Laurier, some of which she shares with her two daughters, who both also studied at Laurier.
Once she’s retired, Forsyth is looking forward to travelling, when COVID-19 restrictions lift, but she will continue to maintain ties with Laurier, particularly through the friends she’s made here.
Forsyth plans to start reducing her hours in November and will fully retire May 1, 2021.
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