People of SFU

Excellence in Media Relations and Storytelling Hallmarks of Exemplary SFU Career

November 09, 2023

After more than 30 years of working with media relations teams at SFU Marianne Meadahl is preparing to write her last -30-, a symbol signifying the end of a press release. Over three decades, Meadahl, assistant director of media relations and public affairs, has worked tirelessly to promote SFU’s reputation, as well as the expertise of researchers and faculty, to the SFU community and beyond. Her story-telling and photography skills, along with a relentless pursuit to get SFU in the news, has garnered significant attention for the university.

She is being honoured with a 2022 Staff Achievement Award for lifetime achievement, for her decades of leadership, dedication and commitment to the university

Her SFU career began on January 15, 1991 amidst a wild winter snow storm. She wasn’t sure her car could get up the famous Gaglardi Way hill to arrive for her first day of work at the university, but she gripped her steering wheel and her journey began. Since then, Meadahl has connected hundreds of media with SFU experts to share their research as well as insights andexpertise, from major global events like 911, wars and weather disasters, to the latest trends, mysteries like crop circles and washed up feet, and even the Royal Family.

“I have come to know Marianne as extremely skilled in communications and photography, and someone who can always be counted on to go the extra mile,” says Joanne Curry, vice president external relations.

One successful initiative started just one day into the job. The Gulf War began and numerous media calls for experts to explain the region’s history and politics followed. After identifying several the list was proactively shared with media, marking the start of Issues & Experts, a resource of experts on news topics that has been produced for and sought by media ever since.

Asked about her most memorable media hits she recalls the wave of media interest that ensued when criminology professor Gail Anderson began her forensic entomology work and research on insect activity on pig carcasses (from a local butcher shop) that she buried, burned and dropped into the sea—before the CSI TV show began. That intrigue factor—showcasing SFU ingenuity—led to dozens of media hits over a two-week window following the first media release.

A similar onslaught of media hits surfaced around former engineering professor Tim Collings’ V-chip technology, invented to enable TV users to filter offensive content for their children, and which became used worldwide—exemplifying early days of SFU’s innovative research and global impact.

The evolution of communications and media relations has been extensive during her SFU tenure, from using a typewriter and mailing, then faxing, news releases to media, to sharing university news at warp speed on social media channels today. She has also seen many changes within the university and work team that includes working with six presidents, seven directors and five iterations of the department name.

A selection of Marianne Meadahl's photos from her career at SFU

Meadahl has been involved in many university-wide initiatives and major projects, including new president installations, openings of new campus buildings/programs and more than 100 Convocation ceremonies, as well as supporting government events and announcements. She has also been a fixture at the Surrey campus, working to uncover stories of research and innovation as the campus continued its expansion.

She has also travelled with the SFU Pipe Band for their competitions in Scotland, met the Dalai Lama during a special honorary degree ceremony, photographed Grammy-award winner Sarah McLachlan as she performed on convocation stage after receiving her honorary degree, and witnessed Trevor Greene, a wounded army veteran, walk for the first time, post-injury, thanks to SFU Mechatronic Systems Engineering researchers.

More personal moments to be remembered include pinning her son’s convocation sash, and attending her last SFU Convocation ceremony in October 2023, where she met Orange Shirt Day founder Phyllis Webstad, whom she nominated for the honorary degree she received.

Known for her quiet and kind demeanour, Meadahl is preparing to pass the media relations torch by sharing her wealth of experience and knowledge to mentor junior staff and co-op students and set them up for success.

Inspired by the late Thelma Finlayson, she is already planning another career chapter with a focus on giving back, beyond storytelling. While Meadahl says she has much more to offer and accomplish through continuing her learning journey, it’s likely she’ll have more time to pick up her guitar and strum some more chords too.