2020 Retirees: Dawn Wilson

Every year, we are honoured to recognize members of the SMUS community as they retire and take on new adventures. Read the 2020 Retirees series to learn more about their outstanding contributions to the school. In this story, we recognize Dawn Wilson, Director of Education Extension.

With a deep love of international travel and meaningful connections, Dawn Wilson landed her dream job as the Director of Education Extension when she joined SMUS in 2006. This dynamic position involved spearheading programming to bring both international students and students from the broader Victoria community to enjoy programming on campus. Although there were pre-existing programs at SMUS, Dawn was given autonomy and was able to rebuild them from scratch.

Equipped with a strong vision, Dawn created a vibrant summer, winter and spring break camp program. Collaborating and building relationships with partners like Byte Camp and Passion Sports, these holiday camps welcomed the broader community onto campus. It was wonderful to be able to work with professional groups, she says, and those partnerships with the school remain robust to this day. The programs were very well-received by the community but they were also a way to introduce more people and prospective students to what SMUS has to offer.

Dawn earned her BA in French and International Relations at UBC. She won a scholarship to study French translation at the Sorbonne in Paris then returned to Canada and obtained her teaching degree at Uvic. Next, Dawn travelled to Japan, where she taught in Chiba for two years and Tokyo for four. Back to Victoria, she taught French, English and Japanese at Oak Bay High School and Reynolds Secondary. She completed an MBA and taught briefly at Royal Roads University before joining SMUS. Dawn believes in international education to deepen understanding and explore and celebrate cultural differences. This passion and lived experience spending extended amounts of time teaching in other countries fuelled Dawn’s work at SMUS.

Dawn was instrumental in creating programs that attracted groups of international students to visit SMUS. Travelling to different countries and fostering relationships with schools in order to attract these groups were integral to her job. When she started, there were two groups from Japan that came to SMUS annually. By the time she retired, groups of students from seven Japanese schools and several other groups from Mexico and China came to SMUS. Dawn thrived creating programs that brought students together in a new place with new ideas and people. The impact felt by many of the students carried through their lives as they forged international friendships, explored new ways of life and, for some, discovered an enduring love of travel. Many students would visit others in their respective countries and homes following the programs. Some of the students would also become SMUS students as a result of the experience and the programs.

In addition to customized groups, Dawn introduced the International Summer Programs for Youth (ISPY) for 8- to 18-year-olds to learn English. Visiting students stay in the boarding houses during the summer taking languages classes but also enjoying many diverse activities and field trips as they explore the beautiful West Coast. These are hugely popular. She notes that this cultural experience is pivotal for students, especially for those from predominantly monocultural countries. They meet people from all over the world, learn about them and learn more about themselves. Also, for students from urban areas, the access to and time in BC’s natural environment can be profound. “There’s something special in the summer with this brief encounter, and those kernels can grow into something big,” she beams. Dawn is also committed to sustainability, and becoming aware of the environment and how we can reduce our footprint and help out is a new concept for many of the visiting students. For some, it kindles a refreshed way of thinking and interacting with the earth.

Dawn appreciated the unlimited access to leading-edge technology and space at SMUS. She says it’s “a state-of-the-art, stunning community.” She always felt lucky to be part of the community, working alongside the students and her coworkers, and she was consistently amazed at how accommodating each department was, including IT, grounds, maintenance and food services. “There were so many resources.”

Now Dawn has more time to dedicate to other things she enjoys: running, cycling, gardening, hiking and even beekeeping. Dawn continues to serve as President of The Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research (SIETAR) BC, focusing on workshops and events on diversity, anti-racism and intercultural education.

She admits that she doesn’t miss getting up every morning to go to work, but there are elements of work that she does miss. “The friendships, the people, the professional stimulation of having meaningful conversations with colleagues– you can’t really replace that. I have to create my own new network.”


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