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Leading with heart: Meet Staff Achievement Award winner Corbin Saleken

April 19, 2022

By Alyssa Quan

Over the past 15 years, SFU associate professor Christopher Pavsek says he has seen one name thanked again and again in the closing credits of almost 1,000 student films – Corbin Saleken.

The film program’s department resource specialist, Saleken is responsible for managing film and video equipment and bookings. He was recently honoured with a 2021 Staff Achievement Award for work performance.

Saleken began his career at SFU in 1999 after completing his own film degree. His student experience helped shape his demeanor, described by Pavsek as one of boundless patience and enthusiasm, coupled with a sense of care and empathy that takes Saleken far beyond his job description.

“Maybe you've had the experience where you go to a computer store or a mechanic and you’re not familiar with the subject,” says Saleken. “You don’t quite know what you’re looking for and then the person who is the expert makes you feel like an idiot. I'm very conscious when a student comes to me because I don’t want anyone to feel that way.”

“It's touching to see the kind and understanding way he treats first-year students, who each year enter the program looking a little bit like deer in the headlights,” says Pavsek, who nominated Saleken for the award.

“I try not to be a ‘no’ person because there are way too many ‘no’ people in this world,” says Saleken. “When someone comes to me with an idea or a request, I try to always say ‘yes’, or at least find a way to make it work.”

With an office next to the equipment room and student lounge, Pavsek recalls the many conversations he’s overheard of students expressing their gratitude toward Saleken for suggesting interesting shots, arranging extra mics to record sound from different angles and even coming in on the weekend to swap out a bad storage card and save the shoot.  

“As a filmmaker myself, I understand how important every project is,” says Saleken. “I do everything I can to ensure that everything is working properly. If I think a student might have forgotten to add something, I make sure to add it to their pile. I know from experience how awful it is when you're on location and you pull out a piece of gear and it doesn't do what it's supposed to do, or equally terrible, when you realize you don't have something that you need.”

“As multiple students told me, Corbin has more than once ‘saved their behinds,’” says Pavsek. “Actually, another word was used.”

While Saleken excels at the technical aspects of his job, the core of his success is in his ability to connect with others and build relationships.

“I really get to know these students over the years, because I spend so much time with them,” Saleken says. “One of the most rewarding parts of this job is watching their growth and success and continuing to be inspired by their work.”

As a testament to his support of others, the SFU Film community has supported him in return. In 2015, Saleken developed his first feature-length film, Patterson's Wager. Nearly the entirety of the film crew were connections he had made at SFU. Students also lent their time as extras, and the Contemporary Arts department and SFU Facilities contributed spaces to shoot.

Upon the film’s completion, Saleken held a public screening at SFU Woodward’s.

“The house was packed and buzzing. The show was sold out,” says Pavsek. “The majority of seats seemed to be filled with past and current SFU Film students. I was so happy for Corbin, because I could think of no greater tribute to, and no greater evidence of, the role he has played for the hundreds and hundreds of students who have passed through the film program.”