When your role at a university is to assist others in reaching their potential, it can often be the case that you build a passion for helping and working alongside others. This perfectly describes Dr Brenda Wolodko, current Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning (ADTL) in the HASSE Faculty at UNE.
“I grew up on a small property in western Canada. My parents believed that caring for the land and the people on that land in a sustainable way was essential to becoming a caring responsible adult. I was the first in my family to attend university. I began a Bachelor of Education in early childhood and primary education in my mid-twenties after a career as a display artist/fashion merchandiser.”
After a time as a primary teacher in first nations and high poverty communities, Brenda completed her PhD and began working at the University of Alberta and the University of Toledo in Ohio. This career path eventually led Brenda to UNE where, 13 years ago, she began as a Senior lecturer in early childhood and later moved to mathematics education. Such a monumental move may be intimidating to many, but looking back Brenda sees it as a positive force in her journey. “Moving to Australia and UNE has made all of the difference in being able to realise my potential.”
Currently the ADTL in the faculty of HASSE, Brenda’s role involves “supporting students to realise their potential through building resilience and empowering them to recognise that they can make a difference in the world.”
“I am particularly interested in supporting students for whom coming to university is beyond what they ever imagined for themselves. I also thrive from helping staff to realise what they are capable of and where they might take that potential.”
To further her passion of helping others in reaching their potential, Brenda has been involved in various university committees over the years. Moreover, she was the chair of the Teaching and Learning Committee at UNE during an exceedingly difficult time.
“I became the Chair in March of last year just as the reality of COVID hit the world. This made for a challenging entry into university level committee leadership.”
“I am by nature most comfortable leading from the wings rather than being on the stage. I really enjoyed thinking about how to ensure that this committee served an important role and that all voices were heard.”
Despite these hurdles, Brenda brought the lessons of her youth to bear and flourished. In her own words, “through the challenges of COVID and the many important meetings and committees connected to surviving and even thriving as a university I relied on the resilience and tenacity I learned from my family.”
There are multitudes of benefits and positive outcomes for those who involve themselves in committees at UNE, whether they be a student, alumni or staff member. One of the most notable outcomes for Brenda was the connections she made with amazing people across the UNE community.
“James Comer says that “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.” Who I have become as a leader at UNE is a result of the relationships that I have developed through involvement in committees. Knowing I am not in this alone makes a big difference.”
Brenda’s journey at UNE would not be the same without the many individuals who have made her work all the more rewarding. “Marty and Jane Schumde and Judy Miller who saw I could lead before I had any idea that I might be able to. Mike Wilmore who keeps reminding me to keep my eye on the horizon. Robyn Bartel, Gabrielle Price, and Hayden Gray who help me untangle the importance and purpose of governance. Steve Warburton and Ewan Evans who listen with intent and act with integrity. My UNE sister Barb Shaw who relentlessly places the needs of students first and insists on collaboration between and among directorates. Finally my past students who continue to keep in touch with me and remind me why I am here.”
Working with students and staff to help them reach their potential has given Brenda a piece of insight that she would like to share with staff members and students.
“Don’t wait until you feel you are ready to do something new or to be brave in the interests of others. You will likely never really feel ready. You get ready by actually doing it. It’s OK to feel like a fraud, this means you are humble and authentic.”