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Remembering Dr. Sue Vajoczki, the students’ champion

I recently received the sad news that our McMaster colleague, Dr. Sue Vajoczki, associate professor of geography and geology, has passed away, far too early. Her passing is profoundly sad news for McMaster’s students and faculty. As director of McMaster’s Centre for Leadership in Learning, Dr. Vajoczki was passionately committed to students and thought that McMaster’s teaching mission should always advance in step with our great university’s research mission.

Dr. Vajoczki believed that students are an integral part of a the learning community that is the university. She didn’t think of students as “clients” or that they are somehow a burden to be shouldered so that we can get on with research. Rather, she believed that McMaster should be a learning community that integrates – as much as possible – undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and the professional world.

Dr. Vajoczki also thought that the university should spill into the city. She thought that McMaster shouldn’t be an island separated from the communities of practice that conduct professional research and end up employing our students. Rather, she thought that students learning should be integrated with businesses, activists, cultural organizations, cause advocacy, government offices and not-for-profits. Dr. Vajoczki did not think that university students should feel that they are sitting in society’s ante-chamber, looking in on the action, faces pressed against the glass. No, she thought that students should feel like they are part of a larger society from the first day of their time at university.

She was a committed proponent of problem-based, experiential and challenge-based learning. Her commitment, passion and tireless work helped make McMaster a leader in the integration of professionals and real-world problems into the curriculum. I am proud to say that we structured our new Honours Bachelor of Professional Communication (BPC) to implement many of her ideas. In fact, it was her legacy of institutional reform at McMaster that allowed us to build a program that is completely unique in Canada. Dr. Vajoczki’s caring voice will echo long into the future through the BPC’s integrated curriculum.

When we first started to plan the BPC, Dr. Vajoczki was off sick to fight her first bout with cancer. After undergoing chemo, her cancer went into remission and she bravely came back to the university. I will never forget how her husband would push her wheelchair to all of her meetings, the image of caring love. She would get tired after an hour or so of discussion, and then go quiet for a few minutes until she was ready to join the conversation again. Even while silent, her presence assured that students would be at the centre of any dialogue in which she participated.

I heard that the cancer had returned recently and that this time it was serious. I must say that I prayed for her recovery, but this time it was not to be. She was called to take her place in the gardens of paradise.

Her passing leaves a void in our learning community at McMaster that will not easily be filled. We can only strive to try and live up to the example she set and continue to innovate by further integrating university life with the worlds of public, private and not-for-profit practice. Above all, we must continue to strive to put students at the centre of our professional lives as faculty and staff.

Dr. Vajoczki will be sorely missed. May she rest in peace.

 

 

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