The thought of actually joining and being part of the team and community was very exciting.
The description is high praise, for sure, but that initial perception is nothing compared to how he feels now that he’s spent more than a month in his role as provost and vice-president academic.
“It’s something else entirely to help drive it, as we collectively move it into top gear,” he said of his new workplace, chuckling at the comparison. “This institution can go as far as it wants to achieve its aspirations, and has all the potential to do so, but it’s going to find the right speed.
“My responsibility as the provost, along with other leaders, is to let the institution achieve its mission and goals in the direction that they should, with guidance so that we stay on the road to success that will shape our future.”
Vannelli, who is also a professor of in the College of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, came to the U of S with a lengthy background in both academics and administration. While his most recent positions included a 10-year term as dean of the College of Physical Science at the University of Guelph and another two years as associate dean, research and external partnerships at the University of Waterloo, he said it’s his time on the front lines of academia that has most shaped his beliefs and leadership style into what they are today.
Despite initially pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics, Vannelli learned early on in his doctoral work—after shifting his interests to engineering—that a focus on interdisciplinary learning and research can grant the ability to see issues from a variety of shifting perspectives.
“With any kind of problem that you think you have, you may actually have an opportunity in front of you if you look deeper,” he said. “I always try to change the lens on problems. In life, sometimes if you can flip the lens and view the problem from a different angle or with a different light under it, you might see something you’d missed initially. Then the problem might be solved in a slightly different way, or even an easier way.”
Vannelli is excited about the balance between his roles as provost and VP academic, and said he looks forward to leveraging his time in each as a chance to forge robust resources and support for ongoing and new initiatives on campus.
“It’s very, very important to me that we maintain strong academic programs across the board, have the appropriate resources to support them and ensure stability across the institution for years to come—both to maintain that and to move into new directions and new opportunities.”
There’s a sense of encouragement in the way Vannelli discusses the U of S, speaking at length about its strengths as a U15 school and describing how, when he was offered the job by President Peter Stoicheff, it “just felt right” to accept and be part of this strong collegial university.
More than anything, it’s clear he knows the university has potential to do even greater things.
“People can realize their dreams here,” he said. “This institution goes about its business—in a very modest way, I find—of training the best students and doing the best discovery and scholarship. I think they’re just starting to fully realize how good they are, and I think they can go even higher.”