Creating space for transformative conversations


My First Day as Director by Shauna Sylvester

September 02, 2014

As I embark on my first day as the new Director of the SFU Centre for Dialogue, I can’t help but recognize the giant shoulders that I’ve had to scale to step into this position. 

Over fifteen years ago, Jack Blaney had an idea to create a unique centre in the heart of the city devoted to fostering dialogue. Working with the Wosk Family, Joe and Rosalie Segal, Rudy and Patricia North, Lis and Bruce Welch and a well chosen and experienced steering committee, he brought that vision to reality. The beautiful Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue opened its doors on September 20, 2000.

Under the programming leadership of Ann Cowan and later Joanna Ashworth, the SFU Centre for Dialogue began to play a critical role in animating discussions on important and, at times, pressing local issues. The Centre became a magnet for early dialogue Fellows and Associates such as Tony Penikett, Glenn Sigurdson, Daniel Yankelovich and Barry Stuart.

In 2002, Dr. Mark Winston, a globally recognized bee biologist, brought the goals and aspirations of the original founders and embedded them within the university by developing the Semester in Dialogue, a globally distinctive academic offering which now boasts almost 600 alumni. In 2006, Mark was appointed as the first Academic Director of the Centre for Dialogue. For those of you who have had the pleasure of working with Mark, you will know how committed he is to creating unique student-centered programming.

Mark’s leadership did not stop at the classroom. With the support of the Welch Family, and through the bi-annual Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue, Mark stewarded a diverse range of dialogue programming involving thought leaders such as Mary Robinson, dance choreographer Liz Lerman, Charter for Compassion founder Karen Armstrong, Reconciliation Canada Ambassador Chief Robert Joseph, and AmericaSpeaks founder Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer.

For over ten years, Mark steered the SFU Semester in Dialogue and Centre for Dialogue – teaching, providing an open door to students seeking mentorship, coaching Fellows like me through various programmatic issues, sharing our dialogue model with other institutions or working with faculty across the university to embed dialogue programming into existing and new courses.

Now Mark has stepped back and, in doing so, has enabled both Janet Moore and myself to step forward. As the new Director of the Semester in Dialogue, Janet will bring her own pedagogical brilliance and commitment to students and community to the Centre.  And as the new Director of the Centre for Dialogue, I get to channel my energy and ideas to helping to realize Jack Blaney’s original vision – of creating a truly global centre for knowledge and practice on dialogue.

One of the benefits of stepping onto the shoulders of giants is that I get to inherit their legacy and build upon it. And I am able to work with some incredible people, most notably the core and program staff of the Centre for Dialogue, the Fellows, the Dialogue Associates and our donors. 

Minutes ago, I received a beautiful bouquet of flowers marking this special day. Their vibrant colours and unique arrangement reflect that excitement and energy I feel on my first day on the job.  But, unlike the flowers which will likely wane in the coming week, I know my energy is going to grow and flourish as it will be nurtured by the visionary leaders who have come before me and who continue to be connected to this Centre.