McGill’s tradition of excellence reflects not only the outstanding quality and dedication of its students and professors but also of its administrative and support staff.
On Tuesday, during the Fall Convocation ceremonies, Principal Suzanne Fortier handed out the annual Principal’s Awards for Administrative and Support Staff, recognizing four individuals for their exemplary performance in support of McGill’s teaching, research and service missions.
Here are their stories.
[Editor’s note: Harry Pacheco was not available to be interviewed]
When Leslie Copeland reflects upon her 40-year career at McGill, the word “blessing” comes up. A lot.
Beginning her career with the Student Society, Copeland has spent her whole career working with, and for, students.
“I’ve always been involved in student support – and what a blessing,” she says. “It wasn’t a career path. It was just getting into a position that led to one thing and then another – it was a perfect match for me. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to work with students all of these 40 years.”
Where once orientation activities competed against each other, Copeland spearheaded efforts to unify and coordinate the orientation experience for first-year students.
“Leslie Copeland has been instrumental in bringing together numerous campus services and student associations to collaborate for a better, more cohesive first-year student experience through the creation of University-wide orientation planning groups, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels,” said Diana Dutton, Associate Vice-Principal, Human Resources, at the presentation ceremony on Tuesday.
“The result has been the creation of a very successful and well-attended university-wide orientation event, Discover McGill,” said Dutton.
In addition, Copeland has built accessible and inclusive online orientation options; developed a comprehensive pre-arrival email campaign; and created pre-arrival webinars to support new students from around the world.
“I am so grateful to have been involved in the creation and development of so many different initiatives that never existed before and have, one way or another, have continued to be offered and/or built on,” she says.
Copeland is the first and only person to hold the position of First Year Coordinator within the Campus Life and Engagement Office of Student Services. Under her 20-year tenure at the position, Copeland and her team has helped support some 200,000 incoming students.
As one might expect, Copeland has nothing but praise for the people she serves. “When I started, I was one person for 4,000 students,” she says. “Students themselves came to me with ideas on how to develop and grow our efforts, and they continue to do so. They are so bright and engaged.
“And the volunteerism… Orientation alone takes 1,500 to 1,800 volunteers every year – and the students always answer the call,” says Copeland. “They have a generous spirit of wanting to make things better for the people following in their footsteps. Whether they get involved in an organization or just schlepping equipment or putting up tables – they aren’t in it for the glory. They are there for the give back.”
In talking about the many successful initiatives she has led at McGill, Copeland is quick to point out that she’s just one member of a large, sometimes very large, team. “I have worked with every faculty, every unit, every department – really across McGill,” she says. “I have collaborated with so many committed staff members who were part who were part of our Orientation planning groups, implementation teams, workshop presenters, etc. The staff here is so wonderful.”
But, to quote Geoffrey Chaucer, all good things must come to an end. Copeland has retired.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, but what a way to go,” she says. “I’m looking forward to creating a new normal for me. I have grandchildren, and a little shack by the sea in Nova Scotia where I hope to spend more time.”
“What an amazing opportunity I have had here at McGill, what a wonderful gift. It was something I will treasure forever. I have been truly blessed.”
Like most people in the workforce, Martin Chaumont knows exactly when each workday will begin. In his case, as the Chief Agronomy Technician for the Macdonald Campus Farm, the day begins precisely at 7 am.
At what time he punches out is a whole different question.
Chaumont grew up on a farm, so he’s used to the demands of the job. “This fall was a wet, so the days aren’t as long, but when the weather is nice we have stay out longer,” he says. “For things like corn silage or soybean the window is very small to get it at the proper moisture so sometimes we have to work longer.
“We know when we start but some days we don’t know when we stop. I’m used to it because it’s like that at home.”
Chaumont is responsible for the crop yields at the Mac Farm, meaning “everything related to fieldwork. Seeding, harvesting – I really don’t work inside anymore. I’m outside all the time.”
Fieldwork also means equipment maintenance. Lots of maintenance. Chaumont estimates that almost half his time is spent working on machines in one way or another. He is the person who, quite literally, keeps Mac Farm humming and – clearly – he’s good at his job.
“Since taking over the management of the field operations, the quality and yield of the crops at the Mac Campus Farm have been the best in decades, and repair bills have been reduced by tens of thousands of dollars,” said Diana Dutton, Associate Vice-Principal, Human Resources, during the presentation ceremony on Tuesday. “Martin Chaumont’s innovative improvements – such as fine-tuned tillage, crop rotation, modified equipment and spray-free pest control – have made the Farm a leader in sustainability and efficiency.”
Although much has changed when it comes to the science and technology of farming, one factor remains constant, everyone is beholden to the weather. “We spend much of our time in the winter planning for the new season, but those plans almost always change,” says Chaumont. “We plan to plant corn in one field but the spring is too wet and, because we start running out of time, we plant beans instead.”
“In the end, the weather is the boss.”
Chaumont says the most successful farmers are those who have a Plan B, a Plan C and probably a Plan D. “Weather, issues with machines – no two days are the same. You have to adapt to every situation.”
This ability to react quickly was put to the test on Halloween morning in 2013, when a fire broke out in an area adjacent to the dairy barn, home to some 135 dairy cows at the time. “It could have been a lot worse, but our quick-thinking employee, Martin Chaumont, closed the fire doors between the feed storage area and the actual dairy barn,” Paul Meldrum, Manager of the Mac Farm told the McGill Reporter at the time. As a result of Chaumont’s quick actions, no people or animals were harmed.
In the end, Chaumont says the payoff comes at harvest. “At the end of the year, when you’re picking the crops and the crops are good – that’s a job well done.”
The Administrative and Student Affairs Coordinator for the Department of Pathology’s Graduate Studies Program for the past three years, Hua Ling is very close to her charges. “I love my students,” she says, “I feel like I’m their mother.”
That desire to establish close connections is an important part of Ling’s makeup. She likens the Graduate Studies Program and the Department of Pathology to a “family” where people feel “at home.”
That sense of closeness is due, in large part, to Ling herself, who earned praise for her ability to bring people together.
“Following the Royal Victoria Hospital’s move to the Glenn site, Dr. Ling recognized and addressed the challenges that resulted from the geographic division of the department, and introduced several significant initiatives using virtual tools and in-person events,” said Diana Dutton, Associate Vice-Principal, Human Resources, during Tuesday’s ceremony to present the 2019 Principal’s Awards for Administrative and Support Staff. “Her efforts have reinforced a sense of community spirit throughout the Department of Pathology.”
This desire to foster a feeling of family may stem from her childhood in China, where she lost an older and younger sister to illness. “I was very close to my younger sister and every day when I was coming home from kindergarten I would stop at her daycare and give her a cookie or a candy,” she says. “One day, I brought her a candy and I was told she was no longer there. I still remember and I still feel so sad… From that day, I knew I wanted to help people.”
Ling went on to earn her medical degree in China before coming to Canada to do her graduate studies, earning a PhD in the Department of Experimental Surgery at McGill.
Students benefit from Ling’s vast experience, as an academic, an international student – and a mom. “I had my son when I was doing my graduate studies, so I understand the pressures felt by some of our students who are also new parents” she says. “Sometimes I help them with applications and things like that, but other times we talk about the challenges of being a new mother.”
Hua is responsible for some 200 official applications to the graduate program each year, and, as such, she responds to the many questions submitted by applicants. In addition, she handles hundreds of unofficial enquiries via email and telephone, often dealing with potential candidates from other countries who require a great deal of information to understand the complexities of applying to McGill and its rigorous academic requirements.
“My main task is to organize and monitor the students. Right from the beginning I evaluate their applications, and transfer important information to the committee. Once they are in our department I constantly monitor them, advise them and help them with problems they may have,” she says. “I work with them from the very beginning of their graduate experience right through to the end.”
And that dedication does not go unnoticed. Recently, at the end of an oral defense, a student took the time to acknowledge Ling, thanking her for the years of support. “I was told that this is a very rare occurrence, to have someone working in the office highlighted like that,” says Ling. “It made me feel very special.”
[Editor’s Note: Mr. Pacheco was not available for comment]
Harry Pacheco has been a valued member of the staff at McGill’s Faculty Club for 25 years where he works as a cleaner. Trained at the Institut d’Hôtellerie du Québec, where he received his Hotel Management diploma, Pacheco is considered one of the most adaptable employees at the Faculty Club.
“Mr. Pacheco’s versatility makes him an invaluable employee always ready to step up and support his colleagues, gracefully adapting to any changes that come his way,” said Diana Dutton, Associate Vice-Principal, Human Resources, at the presentation on Tuesday.
Pacheco is also praised for his commitment to the Faculty Club and to his colleagues, often going “above and beyond” when needed.
“Constantly searching to improve the service offered at the Faculty Club, he never hesitates to do what ‘must be done’ to create a lasting memory for every client,” said Dutton in the citation for Pacheco. “He is keenly aware that the work of every employee has a direct impact on the favourable outcome of an event.”