10 quick questions for a busy new president

Ilene Busch-Vishniac moved into the president’s office July 1 and shortly afterward, took time from her busy schedule to sit down with On Campus News to answer 10 quick questions.

  Welcome to Saskatoon. Have you made any surprising discoveries about the city since you arrived? Â

Ethan and I were delighted to discover the Farmers' Market, which is lots of fun, and we've discovered the Meewasin Valley trails. We have bikes but we've mostly been walking them. I have to say that crossing the river on the train bridge is about as high as I care to be above the ground, but the pelicans are lots of fun to watch. And we're working our way through all the great restaurants in Saskatoon.

  I assume you're a bit weary of living out of boxes since you moved to Saskatoon in mid-May. What are you most looking forward to unpacking once you move into the President's Residence?

There are two things I've missed but for completely different reasons. The first is the detritus of a normal family life—our family pictures, memorabilia, the things we've collected over the years. We're living in a condo that comes complete with furniture, dishes and even art on the walls. We walk in and it just doesn't feel like home.

I also miss, on a weekly basis, my tools. I'm a mechanical engineer and when something needs fixing, I need my tools. My sunglasses have a tiny screw that needs tightening and I probably have 12 screwdrivers that will do the job but I can't get at them. I even had to buy a Phillips-head screwdriver to put the vanity plate on my car (please see next Q & A).

  Speaking of vanity plates, you've been spotted around driving town in a unique green car. Are these reports true?

Yes, they're true. I see myself as the university's chief advocate and cheerleader and when I arrived in Saskatoon, I wondered what the chances were that I'd be able to wander Saskatchewan without being recognized. Soon they'll be slim to none so I decided to embrace my role. I have a Toyota Camry hybrid that was completely wrapped in U of S green and then I bought a vanity plate that reads "UofS4U." Some people have stopped to ask me about the car, and a few assume it means I'm a Roughrider fan.

  One of your first activities as U of S president was to attend the new president school at Harvard. What's the best piece of advice you received there?

There were about 50 new presidents there so probably the most important thing was just the connections we made. The most important message came on our last day, from Drew Faust, the president of Harvard. What she told us is that as faculty members who do research, we write it up in a journal article or book, maybe give a talk or two, and then move on to a new body of work. As university presidents, we have to give the same message over and over and over again. It was a reminder to me to think about the message I'm trying to convey, and to consistently convey that message.

  Have you got a trick to help you remember people's names and what they do around here?

Absolutely not. I'm terrible with names. I can remember conversations and recite them back to you verbatim, but I can't remember names so if anyone has any advice, I'd be happy to hear it. I am, however, great at remembering phone numbers.

  Is there any part of campus or a campus building that you haven't seen yet but would really like to explore?

After Ethan and I arrived, on weekends when it wasn't raining—all two of them—I'd take it upon myself, with a map, to explore the campus so I have a very good idea where everything is located. I was given a wonderful tour of the Agriculture Building and I'm setting up tours in the fall for the other academic buildings on campus. What I haven't done yet is explore the library, particularly the special collections. I think you get the real flavour of an institution when you know what's in the special collections.

  The U of S is using six "us" slogan words—adventurous, curious, studious, ambitious, ingenious and prestigious. If you could add another, what might it be?

The one I see missing is joyous because we love what we do. Many people could be doing other things but we're here because we love what we do.

  Since we last spoke in December, you've become a grandmother but your granddaughter is many miles away. Have you discovered the miracle of FaceTime or Skype?

Yes, we use FaceTime, Skype, we text and we phone but my granddaughter is only three months old. She's not very good on the phone.

  Another Saskatchewan winter is looming on the weather horizon. Have you figured out how to get from your office to the Starbucks in the Library without setting foot outdoors?

I haven't done that yet but once I'm very confident with what's above ground, I'll have a better idea of where I am underground, particularly if I make a wrong turn.

  Finally, if you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Every busy person will tell you they would like to freeze time but I would like to be able to see the future. It seems to me that this university has done a fabulous job of planning in four-year increments but I want to raise my eyes to the horizon, to see where our university might realistically expect to be in 10-20 years down the road. It would certainly allow us to shape our plans more precisely. n

Editor's Note: In addition to her duties as president, Ilene Busch-Vishniac has received an academic appointment with tenure in mechanical engineering. Ethan Vishniac has also been appointed with tenure in the Department of Physics and Engineering Physics.

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