Coffee With A Co-worker: Sandra Woloschuk
The job of a good facilitator, says Sandra Woloschuk, is to be invisible to the process. “I might be the one at the front of the room, but it isn’t about me,” as she puts it.
Woloschuk may work at being an invisible hand in guiding a facilitation process, but her touch is deft and sure. On her (very neat) desk sit “thank you” cards from university staff who’ve participated in her sessions — “Thank you for your gentle guidance,” says one entry. Her manner does seem gentle — calm, quiet, introspective. She has a serenity about her; perhaps it’s why people respond to her.
The Input Gathering Sessions for the updated Strategic Planning Framework (SPF) were one such facilitation guided by Woloschuk, whose official title is Learning & Change Consultant (Learning & Development Services).
Almost 1,200 people participated, and she was responsible for facilitating the majority of the stakeholder input gathering sessions (38 out of 53 sessions were facilitated by her).
“And they went incredibly well!” she says. “Lots of attendance, great data — everything the committee needed to move forward. Everything we could hope for.
“I did a session with the alumni; I’m not sure how many people were there in total. It was a cross-section of alumni and they were so engaged in the process and in answering the questions — they really wanted to give feedback — that at one point I had to stop them in order to move on to the next question.”
Woloschuk started at the university 17 years ago, in 1997. Her first position was in the department of civil engineering, working with the co-op program. Right before ‘the flood of the century,’ and surrounded by engineers who were predicting it, engineering was a busy and exciting place, she says.
Her work at the university has always been in a capacity in which she was able to follow her interest of “learning for work, and the relationship between work and learning.”
Woloschuk: ‘It really is a helping profession, and I find that very personally rewarding.’
Woloschuk’s graduate studies were in “learning for work and credentialism (she has a master’s degree in adult education). Woloschuk also worked in Continuing Education for a number of years and there was a stint during which she was manager of Alumni Relations. It was a time that also provided one of her more memorable work moments: recognizing her father during Homecoming; as alumus, at the time he was organizing the 50th year reunion for the Faculty of Education reunion.
One thing that you may not know is that she is also the voice of the call direction system for Purchasing Services. She laughs, “Yes, you can call Purchasing Services and hear my voice, directing you which button to push to get to the department you want.”
In addition to incidental voice work, she’s also tried an acting class — she “wanted to try something new.” Pretty brave for someone who considers herself to be a bit of an introvert. She says, “I feel comfortable in front of a group of people, so I thought I’d might like it [acting].” Probably not something she’ll do again, she laughs. She finished the course, but “the instructor suggested that I might want to try directing instead,” she says.
What does she enjoy most about her work? The opportunity to engage with every constituency across the campuses and the opportunity to be of help to others, she says — whether through facilitation or through strategic planning, her instructional design work or delivering training.
“It really is a helping profession, and I find that very personally rewarding,” she says. “It does recharge my batteries to know that there’s value in the contribution to what is done. You may not see it immediately, but you know it’s going to be there.”
In fact, Woloschuk has always viewed the university as “a land of opportunity,” she says. “You see it first from the pure education side — going to university and getting an education (Woloschuk is also a U of M alumna). But as an employee, I’ve had so many opportunities to do interesting work, to learn and advance my own learning and experiences.
“So it still is for me a place of opportunity.”
— Mariianne Mays Wiebe
Q + A with Sandra Woloschuk
Coffee or tea? A coffee each morning, with milk and sugar.
One thing not too many people may know about you: I can tap dance. I started taking lessons when I was six and kept it as an activity/ hobby on and off for 30 years. I like that while you can practice it as an individual activity, performing it is better when you are in a group. If it wasn’t so hard on my knees, I would probably keep doing it. My favourite style is Broadway, made famous by the big movie musicals of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.
Woloschuk: ‘My favourite style [of tap dancing] is Broadway, made famous by the big movie musicals of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.’
What puts a smile on your face? Stepping onto a cruise ship that is about to spend at least seven days touring the Caribbean islands. Cruising is my favourite way to vacation. Every day is different and can be as busy or as relaxing as you want. Hanging in my office is a poster-sized enlargement of a photo I took of my view from a lounge chair on a beach in the Bahamas looking towards the beautiful blue ocean water, and every time I look at it, my mind goes right back to the peace and beauty of that view and how I felt that day. Whenever I move to a new office, I make sure that I can see that photo from my desk chair.
Dinner with friends: Out or cooking at home? Definitely cooking at home. I like spending time in the kitchen and my favourite dinner to serve is slow roasted chicken with traditional sides and warm, homemade cheese biscuits. A friend from Extended Education gave me her no-fail cheese biscuit recipe and it is a new favourite. Dessert would be my New York style baked cheesecake.
You are always thrilled to spend any free time doing: I rarely say “no” to an invitation to see a movie. I am a huge movie fan and am resisting the temptation to subscribe to a movie channel or internet streaming service for fear that I may never leave the house once I can access 24-hour movies at home.
Place to visit: Hawaii has been on my ‘must visit’ list for a while now along with New York. I’d like to spend a couple of weeks in Hawaii to really see the islands and spend time both in, and away from, the tourist areas. I’d like to travel to New York to see in-person all of the iconic places I have read about or seen in movies or on television.
Something essential or enjoyable every day: Breakfast! It is my favourite meal of the day. I’m on my third waffle iron because I keep wearing them out.
A goal: I’m still on the search for a new hobby. Acting clearly wasn’t in the cards, so I am looking for something else that I can try.
A favourite childhood memory: I got my first summer job when I was 13 years old in an ice cream parlour and I loved it. My co-workers warned me that by the end of the summer, I would be sick of eating ice cream since we could have all we wanted. Never happened. I tried every flavour of sundae topping and never found one I didn’t like.
Where did you grow up? I grew up in Winnipeg. My dad was a teacher so we had long family summer vacations and camped our way across Canada visiting every province, except for PEI (there was threat of a ferry strike the year we tried). Every few summers we would travel to southern Ontario, where my mother was raised, and stay at the family farm. To us kids, it was picturesque and idyllic: chickens, cows, corn fields, a huge barn complete with a rope swing hanging from a rafter, and the seemingly endless stacks of hay bales.
Favourite Blog: I am following Winnipeg Free Press columnist Lindor Reynold’s blog http://gooddaysandgreatdays.tumblr.com/ where she is chronicling her journey while she battles brain cancer. She is an excellent writer and I find her perspective inspiring.
What is your guiding principle or motto? Turn a disadvantage into an advantage: whenever possible, if faced with a problem or challenge, I try to see if I can turn it around — to find if there is a positive that can come from whatever has happened or the problem we have been asked to solve. This approach forces me to look at problems from a lot of different angles and I apply it in both my work and personal life.