Parker: St. Mary's University expands team with aim of 'Expanding Minds, Inspiring Hearts'

St. Mary’s has come a long way since being founded in 1986

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The vision of St. Mary’s University is to be the pre-eminent Catholic University in Canada. President and vice-chancellor Sinda Vanderpool and her board of governors have approved a new strategic planning process that will ensure St. Mary’s will be known as a centre of academic excellence, providing a vibrant and engaged student experience that prepares authentic leaders committed to the service of others.

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Vanderpool has led the university for the past two years after relocating from Baylor University in Texas and, working alongside board chair Gary Strother, has set a bold vision for the future — Expanding Minds, Inspiring Hearts — focused on equipping her students to navigate the challenges they will face as global citizens.

To help support the vision, it has welcomed Lisa Laskowski, who was excited to get the call from Kevin Gregor, managing partner of DHR Global, inviting her to apply for the position as vice-president of external relations that she was delighted to accept.

Laskowski was most recently regional vice-president and member of the national senior leadership team at Make-A-Wish Canada Foundation, where she rebuilt and led the team of staff and volunteers in Atlantic Canada. Before that, she led the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s successful $140-million capital campaign.

But Laskowski is a proud Prairie girl — growing up in Middle Lake, Sask., and being the first female from the village to attend a college of commerce. At the university in Saskatoon, she earned degrees in commerce and music performance, and furthered her education with a post-degree McConnell Fellowship in Institutional Development. With a wealth of experience in fundraising, which includes positions with St. Peter’s College and the Royal University Hospital Foundation in Saskatoon, Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, Man., and membership with several external relations boards — including as Canada’s appointed representative to the International Committee of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy — Laskowski is well suited to perform her tasks at St. Mary’s that will include development, marketing, communications. alumni and government relations.

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“An award-winning and results-oriented executive with more than 25 years as a collaborative leader in Canada’s higher education, health-care and cultural sectors, Lisa is ready to champion St. Mary’s new strategic plan and bold vision for growth and exceptional student experience,” says Vanderpool.

St. Mary’s has come a long way since being founded in 1986 by committed lay Catholic men and women, and with the assistance of the bishop of the diocese of Calgary. Since then, it has risen in the Canadian post-secondary landscape by delivering strong, student-focused liberal arts and sciences degrees, as well as a bachelor of education after-degree, known industry-wide as one of the top programs in Western Canada.

Open to people of many faiths and cultural backgrounds while grounded in the Catholic intellectual tradition, there is much to be done to achieve the university’s vision. Focused on people first, there is a definite aim for the highest standards of academic and professional excellence, but to achieve this there is a critical need to provide sufficient growth and capital infrastructure to ensure a vibrant, challenging and uplifting student-centred university experience.

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Today, classrooms are full, and with a maximum of 40 students per class and with an aggressive growth plan to boost enrolment from 1,000 to 1,500 within the next five years, more space is needed.

An under-discussion master-facilities plan is looking at the feasibility of providing an on-campus residence building. It wants to grow its international student body, and there are many from rural areas of Alberta needing places to stay.

Despite having winning sports teams, St. Mary’s basketball players have to use the courts at Glenmore Christian Academy, so a gymnasium would be a priority within a multi-purpose building, to also include additional classrooms and gathering spaces as well as administration offices.

Developing a revenue generation to focus on capital expansion and endowment growth will be high on the list of Laskowski’s initial tasks, but she is well qualified, committed to her faith and deeply passionate about respecting the inherent rights and dignity of all individuals.


A land-use change for the corner of 4th Street N.E. where Shawarma Ave. is currently located, could result in a 24-storey building going up there. Hope we will still be able to find the Calgary Italian Cultural Centre.

David Parker appears regularly in the Herald. Read his columns online at He can be reached at 403-830-4622.

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