Sandra Banks, VP University Relations, University of Waterloo


Watch Magazine sat down for this issue to talk with Sandra Banks, the University of Waterloo's new VP of University Relations, to talk about the university's stellar reputation at home and abroad and the importance of building bridges to the community.


Watch - Tell me about your mandate as VP of University Relations? What excites you about this role and its potential?

Sandra- Well, I'm 100 days in. I joined University of Waterloo in April. So far it has been a fantastic experience. It truly is a privilege to be in a position to serve at this exceptional academic institution. This leads me directly to my mandate: to work hard to elevate and amplify the profile of the university and to build on the exceptional reputation it has cultivated over the last 60 years. Today we are recognized as the most innovative university in Canada. For us to meet the ambition to be one of the top innovation universities in the world, we are going to need to think about what we do differently in terms of communication and how we tell the Waterloo story going forward. We're probably going to have to do some things differently than we did in the past. For instance, part of my mandate is to build an integrated communications and government relations plan, starting in University Relations of course, but in time, broadening our reach by establishing critical partnerships across the university. I think there is a tremendous opportunity to coordinate our actions for greater impact, and to use our communications strategy to arm everyone with a coherent story that ignites the pride that exists within our students, staff and faculty.

Watch - What has changed in the broader post-secondary community in the past few years?

Sandra - Many things have changed of course. It's a much busier communications landscape these days, with a lot of postsecondary messages and competition for the - attention and support of key audiences, including government, industry partners, alumni and students.

That said, the University of Waterloo is extremely fortunate, because we have and will continue in the future to play to our strengths -- cooperative education, an entrepreneurial spirit and environment, and incredibly impactful research that is changing and will change the world. These are the planks that support our innovation reputation.

Watch - Are you able to speak to specific projects/activities that showcase the University's commitment to the local community?

Sandra - It's important to be good neighbors. Everything at the University starts at the local level. We all live here, work here, study here. As a newcomer to the University of Waterloo and to the Waterloo area, it's been a pleasure for me to experience first-hand the incredible impact this institution enjoys within this community.

For instance, for the last 31 years, we've hosted the second largest Canada Day celebration in the country outside of Ottawa, which is a great opportunity for us to connect with our community and celebrate our great country together.

Recently, I visited the beautiful Kitchener Public Library on Earth Day where I sat in on a lecture series featuring three members of 3 our Faculty of Environment, speaking to the economic, business implications and policy implications of climate change.

There are also countless ways that our students, faculty and staff are engaged in this community as volunteers, raising money for charities and making a difference for children and youth. And our community influence extends beyond Waterloo as well. In May, the University of Waterloo played host to the Dutch Royal Family, who purposely chose to visit our campus during their state visit to Canada because of the strong historic connections between the Netherlands and Canada. During the visit, the royal couple visited the Institute of Quantum Computing and participated in the signing of agreements between the University of Waterloo and Delft Institute of Technology and between Waterloo Region and Brainport Eindhoven Region.

Watch - Why is community engagement such a strategic priority for the University? How does benefit flowback to the University through this kind of active community involvement?

Sandra - Community engagement yields mutual and ongoing benefits.

In September, we are launching the results of an extensive outreach to many community partners and leaders that happened over the last 12-18 months by way of a Community Impact report. The report will look at both sides; how we interact with the community and how we each benefit from those interactions. It will cover a wide variety of actions and outcomes, and early indications of interest lead us to believe it will be very well received. That's a signal that there are mutual and ongoing benefits on both sides.

The other benefit that is clear to me is the way we, as a community, have been able to create an innovation ecosystem here in Waterloo region. We believe that innovation wave began within the epicenter and brain trust of the University of Waterloo, but extends out to the business community, to governments, as well as partners like the Accelerator Centre and Perimeter Institute.

In September, the University of Waterloo and Communitech will celebrate this spirit of innovation at the Waterloo Innovation Summit. The event will showcase how a community builds a successful innovation ecosystem and will feature a powerhouse roster of speakers from Silicon Valley's Steven Blank, to author and economist Mariana Mazzucato, to Salim Ismail of Singularity University. More than 200 delegates are expected to attend including prominent business leaders, government officials, senior policy makers, entrepreneurs, and founders from Waterloo region, Canada and the world.

Watch - How does the external relations effort scale at a national, international level?

Clearly we wish to advance reputation on an international scale. And it is happening now. We touch different parts of the globe every day, through our faculty, our students, our alumni and our research partnerships. In the last three months alone we have signed partnerships in Israel and the Netherlands and expect to sign yet another East Asian partnership in the fall.

But I think we also have the opportunity to expand our profile closer to home - in Toronto, in Montreal, in Ottawa and Western Canada. Despite our very strong alumni network, our research pedigree, and our grad students, we still have unfinished business in telling the Waterloo story here in Canada. So that remains an important priority for us.