Rita Irwin, EdD’88

Rita Irwin, EdD’88

Professor Rita Irwin currently resides in Richmond and instructs at UBC. Dr. Irwin shares her experience navigating change throughout her distinguished career and provides introspective advice on how to navigate times of change. 

Tell us about your role

After completing my EdD'88 at UBC, I taught at Lakehead University in Ontario before returning to UBC in 1992. Since then, I have moved through the academic ranks and have also been Department Head [6 years] and Associate Dean of Teacher Education [10 years]. I am currently a Distinguished University Scholar and Professor of Art Education where I am able to concentrate on my international a/r/tographic research studies, teaching in art education, and service to the profession.

Describe a situation where you have had to navigate change in your career

During my role as Department Head and later as Associate Dean of Teacher Education, I navigated many changes. What stands out to me are two very large initiatives. While Head, I worked with an interdepartmental group to create the first fully online Master's degree in our Faculty and perhaps the university. While Associate Dean, I worked with an interdepartmental committee, and indeed the entire Faculty, to create a new BEd program that incorporates contemporary concerns and pedagogies.

What did you learn about yourself from that experience?

Both of these experiences involved negotiating interests and concerns between and across departments, and both are very large Faculty-wide programs. I learned that I needed to listen intently, be transparent in my communication, and share my responsibilities with a dedicated community. Most of all I learned that a distributed form of leadership creates the largest sense of commitment to a new effort. I also learned that time is of the essence and one must pursue change with a steady pace.

Do you have any advice for someone who is experiencing change in their career?

For all kinds of change, I think we have to realize we do not create anything in a void nor on our own. We need to learn how others have navigated change and we need to surround ourselves with others who are committed to the same or similar changes. Isolation or division will exacerbate positive change efforts. With that said, one still needs to question that which is taken-for-granted, even with our own beliefs, in order to ensure we are not blinded by a narrow vision of what is possible.

What opportunities arose from navigating change?

The greatest opportunities came from the enthusiasm and energy that emerged from people working together to create innovative programs. While we created these new programs, existing programs were also reimagined, and new lines of scholarship strengthened and expanded. Never under estimate the human spirit and its creative potential for taking a project even further than first imagined. Moreover, never under estimate the power of gratitude. Appreciating the efforts of others is immense.