Austine MacKinnon   2012 Distinguished Service Award

Austine is always at her desk quietly and efficiently getting the job done. That work takes place in the midst of the chaos of the main office in the Department of Nursing & Health Sciences.  The interruptions from people, phones and computers are many and varied, but Austine calmly wades through the confusion with her characteristic smile.

Austine has worked as Secretary in the Department of Nursing & Health Sciences for a long time (nearly twenty years).  She started out with the Nursing faculty members in “Annex N”, back when we were a part of the Department of Biology & Nursing.  At that time all four faculty members taught in the BN/RN program, and video and audio teleconferencing and course pack sent around the province by courier were standard fare.  She moved with us to Oland Hall and later to KC Irving Hall, crowding in with the Engineering secretaries, Donna and Jane, before moving upstairs to the third floor into her own space.  She was here when we started the BN program, when we became a Department, and when we expanded with the addition of the Bachelor of Health Sciences (BHS)Program. Thus, she carries the “institutional memory” of the Department.

Austine provides information and practical assistance to everyone and makes them feel welcome. Roberta was hired one month before she was in 1992; otherwise, she has been in the Department during the hiring of each and every faculty and staff member currently working in the Department. There have been five Deans of Science, Applied Science & Engineering, and she has worked with seven Department Chairs and five Nursing & Health Sciences Program Coordinators.  She patiently gives advice to the numerous Contract Academic Employees (CAE)s who teach our students. She has also assisted a large number of full-time and part-time secretarial personnel, including those who have gone on to other roles on the campus: Joy Roy in the VP’s office and Kerry Hoyt in the Dean’s office both worked with Austine.  She also helps the hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students and the various student employees that have come through the Department over the years. Austine goes out of her way to help colleagues and provides enormous support to faculty and staff.

Austine is a source of continuity and stability within the Department.  Reception is a large part of her role, as she is the first line of response to faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, visitors, and service personnel coming to the Department. She is the “go-to person” for faculty, staff and students who have difficulty with computer software and audio-visual equipment; she can often solve problems or determine that more technical help is needed.  She effectively navigates the complicated and ever-changing world of computer-generated forms and is willing to try new programs when the opportunity arises. While all of these changes s lead to repeated interruptions placing more pressure on Austine she is consistently pleasant, helpful and cooperative, provides accurate information, and uses her extensive knowledge of the university environment to respond to inquiries.

Then there are the dreaded minutes of meetings, a matter that elicits groans from this otherwise serene secretary!  However, Austine is skilled at capturing the essential ideas of the discussion in summary format, and produces well-organized minutes in a timely manner. She takes advantage of workshops and conferences relevant to her work to increase her skills, and seeks opportunities to expand her areas of responsibility.  She is always interested in the work of the Department and appreciates receiving explanations that provide context for the projects she is working on.

Austine has an extensive network among support staff and service department personnel to draw upon and consult. She is supportive of institutional projects, selling tickets and collecting donations for worthy causes. Just about everyone on campus knows Austine, and she probably knows them.

Austine demonstrates professionalism and discretion as she carries out her assigned work. However, when I canvassed her co-workers about what she is like to work with, I consistently heard the same message that a big part of her success is her attitude: “you can’t beat that attitude”.  She was described as “approachable”, “helpful”, “friendly”, “non-judgmental”, “well-liked”, “even-tempered”, “good listener”, “big-hearted” and “never flustered”. She is part of the “A-team” of administrative support for the Department. She treats everyone the same, makes people feel at ease, has a great sense of humor, and is “a joy to work with”.

The thing is that sometimes those who go about doing a consistently good job and who do not seek credit for that work can be taken for granted.  The Distinguished Service Award would bring recognition to an individual who makes a huge contribution to the smooth running of a very busy Department and does it with grace and calm.

Roberta Clark and Linda Yetman, Department of Nursing, UNBSJ
March 14, 2012