To read this profile on Sheridan President Jeff Zabudsky, click.
By Michael Burton
“Coffee?” she asks me.
“I, uh, um, ab—” I stumble over my words, and stare back at her with a lengthy awkward silence. I call this the deer in the headlights look. “Oh, no thank you.” The receptionist just offered me coffee, but I was barely able to get a sentence out. This is going to be good, I thought to myself as I walk into a large, intimidating office.
I’m nervous—I’ll just go ahead and admit this—as I’m about to sit down with the new Sheridan president, Dr. Jeff Zabudsky. I’ve never met him before. He’s only been around for a couple of weeks. But make no mistake; he’s the new sheriff in town. He’s a true Sheridan Bruin.
“The president will see you now,” the receptionist says to me, probably laughing to herself. Zabudsky, a dark haired, suit-wearing man with an inviting face, takes my hand and shakes it.
“Coffee?” he asks. “Oh no, thank you,” I say quickly. Maybe a little too quickly. Coffee seems to be popular in these woods. By now everyone in this office thinks I’m afraid of coffee.
“So, TRAVIS Magazine” he says, stirring his coffee. And that sets everything in motion.
We begin our chat discussing his career leading up to Sheridan. Zabudsky, 46, graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism some years ago. From there, he worked in radio for 10 years at CJRT 91.1, which plays jazz and classical music. You can tell as you listen to him go on in his radio-friendly voice. He’s affable in person, hardly intimidating like his title at Sheridan might suggest. President, that is.
Throughout his radio career, Zadusky worked heavily with college-produced radio programs that focused on distance education. He helped create the materials to complement distance learning back in the day. He’s been involved with out-of-classroom learning since the start. Before the Internet, before all those fancy bells and whistles were put on your MacBook. Back when distance education utilized the radio and when materials were sent out in the mail.
Over his career, Zabudsky saw every corner of Canada. He worked in Nova Scotia as a distance education specialist. He was vice-president of academics at Sault College in northern Ontario. Then onto President of Red River College in Winnipeg. A post he gave up in January to take the reins at Sheridan.
“I think Sheridan is lucky to have him,” Catherine Rushton says, now interim President and CEO of Red River College. “Here, he was very good at linking the college to the community and increasing the college’s profile with the city of Winnipeg. He’s extremely energetic, personable, dynamic, positive and very committed to college education. He will bring all those things to the table.” Along with all his experience, Zabudsky also bring a healthy dose of know-how in education with his Ph.D in educational policy studies from the University of Alberta.
“You learn different perspectives on things,” Zabudsky says, reflecting on his travels across Canada. “Different ways of looking at the world, different provinces do different things with education. You learn from it. It was a great experience. But it’s nice to come home.”
Zabusky is home—his family lives in Southern Ontario—and was blown away by the warm embrace from the Sheridan community. Signs were draped across both campuses welcoming him to his new stomping grounds. Not bad for his first day on the job.
“Sheridan has a fine reputation, not just in Ontario, but right across the country,” he says through a smile. “I wouldn’t have come back to Ontario to just any college. It had to be the right place. I’ve come to many new jobs, and I really have a feeling that this is the perfect place for me, at the perfect time of my career.”
I wouldn’t have come back to Ontario to just any college. It had to be the right place. — Dr. Jeff Zabudsky
So the big question, which he must have anticipated: What’s next for Sheridan? Upfront, it sounds like Zabudsky has quite a plan. “Sheridan will be a much larger institution in the coming years,” he says first in the macro sense. “We’ve got to grow.”
With the addition of the Mississauga campus, Sheridan is going to get bigger, more diverse in both its programs and students. There will also be demographic changes as Sheridan is seeing an aging student body. There will be more programs offered, particularly more degrees offered. Students will be continually integrated into the workforce and there will be more applied research.
Distance education is a big point in Zabudsky’s strategic plan for Sheridan. There will be more of it. He also plans to make it more effective for as many prospective students as possible.
“I want this organization to be one of the leading edge technological facilities in Canada. I need to set that compass and say that’s the direction we’re going in,” he says. “You can’t have good education without a good teacher,” Zabudsky further notes.
“People think you can take materials, put them online and suddenly you don’t need a teacher anymore. Nothing can be further from the truth. Good education to me is about a strong relationship between faculty and students. Everyone who recalls the best experiences in their education was about those interactions between the teacher and the student.”
Zabudsky faces a big challenge ahead of him—students are becoming even more integrated into social networking tools. We, students, are a complicated breed, but we are the future regardless of how distracted and networked we are.
“I think there is something to be said for the multi-tasking nature of today’s emerging students. Technology can be a distraction, but we have to figure out together—faculty and students—how we make this new world of technology work,” Zabudsky notes. Yup, we’re talking about the lovely world of Facebook. We’re talking about how students can’t seem to get through a lecture without double-clicking their news feed. But I’m only basing this on personal experience.
So what’s the answer? We can’t close the laptops—we paid for this technology; it’s integrated into our learning. Are we really learning as we Tweet, Stumble and update? “There’s a certain point when you’re not learning, just because there is so much going on,” Zabudsky admits. “I think people who grew up without technology are pretty linear in our thinking.”
“We have to acknowledge that technology may have changed how people are learning. It’s a bit of give and take with the traditional faculty saying, ‘This is how you learn.’ But we have to adapt to how the next generation learns.”
It’s all about the big picture. By working with technology and things like Skype and Facebook, Sheridan’s learning experience will become even stronger, even more current. “Students are going to be solving problems of tomorrow. That’s going to be a big deal and we need to work together. We will be viewed across the country as a leader with technology. We will be innovative and looked upon as an institution by industries that want to work with Sheridan.”
A scary thought, graduation. Growing up, getting a job, entering “the industry.” But that’s Zabudsky’s aim; to make it an easy, successful transition into the workforce. But just in case, he has some advice to spread as graduation looms for many of the student body.
“Follow your passion,” Zabudsky says. “Say yes to everything, get as many experiences as possible. Embrace everything. Immerse yourself, run for student government and get involved.” This isn’t the first time someone suggested that I say yes to everything. It’s good advice.
“If you don’t test yourself, you won’t know what you’ll love.”