By Tessa Perkins Deneault
When Marion Walter celebrated her Staff Achievement Award on March 5, 2020, surrounded by friends and colleagues, she didn’t realize that her world would change dramatically a few days later. That was the last in-person event she attended before isolating at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ever since, she has been carrying on from her home in New Westminster with “three cats, two birds, one gecko and a very annoying adult son,” as her email signature reminds co-workers.
Walter, who was recognized with a Work Performance Award for her work as Assistant to the Director in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT), is calm and practical with a natural ability to bring people together and build community in her workplace.
Her earliest memories of being on campus at SFU include escaping from daycare and hiding in the men’s washroom. Both of her parents worked at SFU in the early 1960s, and as a young girl she spent a great deal of time on the Burnaby campus. In 1980 she became a staff member herself, and in 1989 she joined the temporary pool.
As a temporary employee with control over how much she worked, Walter was able to have flexibility while her son was growing up. It also gave her a broad understanding of the university as she worked in a wide range of departments over the years. In 2003, she joined the Department of History as a graduate secretary in her first permanent role. In 2008, the department restructured and she was transferred to the Department of Geography. After another restructure in 2016, her graduate assistant role became part-time and she was again in search of a change.
“I keep working myself out of a job,” she jokes.
Since joining SIAT and the Surrey campus in January 2016, Walter has been a tireless advocate for both the SIAT program and inclusion for faculty and staff across SFU’s campuses. Never missing an opportunity to share her thoughts, when Walter ran into President Petter at the Heathrow Airport she explained that SIAT feels isolated in Surrey and gave him some ideas about how that could be improved.
Walter continually looks for ways to streamline processes and make her work more efficient, and she always goes above and beyond the duties of her role to build a sense of community.
While in History, she started a potluck event that was attended by faculty, staff and graduate students. In Geography, she organized an orientation event for graduate students that involved a potluck lunch and scavenger hunt, and in SIAT she is the lead organizer of their annual Halloween festivities. Last year, 750 elementary school students were greeted with treats and elaborate, spooky decorations. Over the years the event has grown to involve more staff and faculty members and now includes a social.
“I have lots of crazy ideas that go above and beyond my job description,” Walter laughs.
She is grateful to work with a supportive team in SIAT, who have given her the honorary title of “community engagement officer.” She misses the informal conversations that happen as she walks around campus, but she continues to engage her team while working from home by running activities such as “guess the workstation” where staff submit photos of their home office and the team guesses who it belongs to. Her next activity is identifying baby pictures.
“It’s keeping us all connected during the pandemic,” she says.