Cheryl Hamelin, the new Vice-President University Relations at the University of Saskatchewan.
USask alumna Cheryl Hamelin began her role as the new Vice-President University Relations on June 1. (Photo: Submitted)

New VP Hamelin has high hopes for future of USask

Thirty-four years after cramming for final exams at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), Cheryl Hamelin is immersed in a crash course on all things USask since starting as Vice-President University Relations on June 1.

“Getting up to speed on all aspects of USask is daunting, but people have been so welcoming and supportive and I can’t say enough about how embraced I feel coming into this role,” said Hamelin, who has returned home to Saskatoon and to USask after former VP Debra Pozega Osburn completed her five-year term.

“I feel like I joined at the perfect time, in that June is such a busy month of convocation and donor events and celebrations as people start to wrap up for the summer. I had the benefit of meeting hundreds of people, right from donors to honorary degree recipients, to Indigenous leaders, to deans and directors, as well as researchers, staff, students, and alumni. It has been a wonderful opportunity to get to know the people who have made, and will make, USask the world-class institution that it is.”

Just one week after her official start date, Hamelin joined USask senior leaders on the stage at Merlis Belsher Place to honour the Class of 2022 in Spring Convocation ceremonies, a fitting way for Hamelin to rejoin her alma mater.

“Participating in convocation was an amazing experience. It really made me feel like I had come full circle in my career journey. I was deeply honoured to be able to place hoods on some of the students,” said Hamelin, who graduated from USask in 1988 with a Bachelor of Science in Home Economics (Consumer Studies). “As a graduate of this university, I felt very privileged to be welcoming new USask scholars into their professions.”

Celebrating convocation at the state-of-the-art Merlis Belsher Place is just one of the many changes that have occurred on campus since Hamelin moved west to Calgary in the late 1980s. Since then, USask has undergone a transformation in programs and priorities, as well as in world-class faculty and facilities.

In addition to USask’s two national research centres—the opening of the Canadian Light Source and the developing of the Vaccine Infectious Disease Organization into a world-leading centre for pandemic research—over the past three decades USask has also established the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation, global institutes for water and food security, as well as the School of Environment and Sustainability. The impressive Agriculture Building is also new to USask since Hamelin’s time on campus, while the Health Sciences Building underwent a half-billion-dollar renovation, and the iconic Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre became an inclusive hub for healing and student support since its unveiling in 2016.

“So much has changed. I am pleased to see the incredible growth and prominence of USask’s commitment to Indigenization, decolonization and reconciliation, as well as the focus on equity, diversity, inclusion, anti-racism and anti-oppression. And many of the major research centres and research initiatives that we have now weren’t even on the horizon when I was here,” said Hamelin, who most recently was serving as executive director of faculty development at the University of Calgary (UCalgary). “When I left USask, I knew the university had a tremendous grounding in agriculture, business, law, and arts, but it didn’t have that strong research focus that would enable us to be the university that the world needs. And now, the strength and sophistication of the University of Saskatchewan puts it not only as a solid member of the U15, but an impressive player on the world stage.”

“There is so much to offer here,” Hamelin added. “We need to continue to be bold about communicating and promoting our areas of excellence, because a lot of what we are doing here is critical to the future of what the world needs, whether that is food and water security, vaccine innovation, or medical interventions. It is such a different place than when I left 30 years ago and I am committed to continue to bring USask’s successes to the forefront on the provincial, national and international stage.”

And that is where Hamelin’s expertise comes in. Over the past 30 years, Hamelin has helped lead many major fundraising efforts, including community initiatives with the non-profit Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary in support of women and youth engaged with the justice system, to Junior Achievement locally and nationally, to serving as executive director of the RESOLVE campaign that had a goal of raising $120 million to provide homes for homeless and vulnerable Calgarians. Most recently, she was an integral part of the overwhelmingly successful $1.4 billion comprehensive campaign at UCalgary that was the third largest in Canadian history.

For Hamelin, who spent 16 years at UCalgary in senior fundraising and alumni relations positions and has raised her three children in Calgary, her specialty has become helping her teams put donors together with projects that they are particularly passionate about.

“The gifts that I am most proud of working on wouldn’t necessarily be a dollar amount, but rather that magic when you find the thing that lights a donor up, that they are intensely passionate about,” said Hamelin, who holds her professional Certified Fund Raising Executive accreditation. “And when donor interest and desire for impact matches something that is really going to transform the university and truly going to make a massive impact on students, on research, on health care, on the condition of living, that coming together and that magic, there is nothing like it.”

At USask, Hamelin will take the torch to lead a successful comprehensive campaign by serving as the senior leader responsible for overseeing development and alumni relations, strategic communications, and operations and services, all while spreading the important story of USask.

“Being involved in the USask comprehensive campaign will mark the fifth large campaign that I have worked on in my career,” said Hamelin, whose extensive Calgary connections will also help her connect with the roughly 10,000 USask alumni in and around the Alberta city. “The key to success is maintaining strong donor, stakeholder and community relationships, above all else. It’s not just about money, it’s about sharing the story of the University of Saskatchewan with more people so that they will engage, so that they will be advocates and champions for this remarkable institution. Building a bond with the community is imperative to having stakeholders engage in the journey we are on together.”

Part of Hamelin’s portfolio is also oversight of Huskie Athletics, a key reputational piece of the puzzle for the USask brand.

“I couldn’t be more pleased that Huskie Athletics reports in through University Relations,” said Hamelin, whose brother Glen Thomson graduated from USask with an education degree in 1991 and whose nephew Jarvis James earned a commerce degree in 2017 while playing Huskies football. “The Huskie brand is so strong. The way that athletics brings together the community and the institution is absolutely critical. I look forward to working closely with the Huskies to further leverage the brand for greater community engagement and impact that drives excellence both within and beyond the University of Saskatchewan.”

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