University of AlbertaEdmonton, Canada
1 November 1996
By Ron Thomas
The University of Alberta's new Associate Vice-President (Human Resources) says she faces a big learning gap in terms of understanding the culture of a full-service, researchintensive university.
"It's not something you can find in a book," says Wanda Wetterberg, who took up her new duties in mid-October after a glowing career with the City of Edmonton. She started out in Parks and Recreation in 1975, and took over as general manager of the city's personnel department in 1992.
The betting is that because the University's in her blood, Wetterberg will close the gap with all due speed. She grew up in neighbouring Belgravia (her father is an Engineering grad), took her elementary schooling at University School in Corbett Hall (a number of programs were piloted there) and later got everything that "all the Varsity Guest Weekends" had to offer.
Determining that Recreation Administration was where her future lay, Wetterberg enrolled in 1970, with a major in community recreation planning. One semester of the four-year program was devoted to studying community recreation in Britain. In 1980-81 she completed the coursework towards a master's in Recreation (her major was in Marketing). Intramurals complemented academics, with Wetterberg trying her hand at various sports and shining in at least one-fencing. She won a spot on the U of A fencing team and her proficiency in the sport also landed her on the Canada Winter Games team of 1975, the year after she graduated.
Wetterberg's education was not simply a means to an end. In her position as president of the Alberta Parks and Recreation Association, she went to bat for the Recreation and Leisure Studies program which was in danger of being dropped in 1991. The lobbying by her (including one presentation to General Faculties Council) and others paid off when the program was taken off the critical list.
She has returned to her alma mater any number of times as a sessional lecturer and as a presenter on marketing, leadership and strategic planning. In 1994-95 Wetterberg was a member of the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation's first Visiting Committee.
"I've always believed in the importance of students being exposed to practitioners and the work they do," she says, adding that "from a selfish point of view, I really enjoy teaching and making presentations."
Building/sustaining healthy, productive and rewarding work environments is Wetterberg's forte and she's sharpened it by taking additional senior management training, for example, a course on organizational change offered by Stanford University School of Business.
"I liked the way the University was going," Wetterberg said when asked about the change of "Halls." "Its vision to be one of the best was very appealing. If you don't have a vision, mediocrity will result."
"I'm impressed with the total dedication that I see here. "There's a real belief in what the University does and a commitment to making it successful."
Wetterberg has been meeting one on one with directors and has had lots of "hall walks" in which she's spoken informally with people she'll be working with directly and indirectly. As was the case downtown, the meetings are "wall-to-wall. I can't believe the number of committees I'm going to be sitting on ...tons."
Is it more difficult to be a leader than it was a few years ago? Definitely, Wetterberg says. "It's difficult to lead today because all the old systems you could rely on for black and white answers are being challenged. Autocratic leadership is simply unacceptable for individuals or organizations for that matter."
She says she hasn't taken any pages from any leader's book, preferring to develop her own style.
"I'm basically a hands-on manager who's concerned with providing my group [Human Resource Group, Campus Security Services, Organizational Development, Environmental Health and Safety, Office of Human Rights] with the tools and resources they need to be successful."
Strengthening the administration's relationship with the Non-Academic Staff Association is a major priority, as is preparing for a big item on next year's calendar, collective agreement negotiations with NASA.
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