Post by the BCcampus editorial team
Mary Burgess, executive director at BCcampus, recently announced they are leaving their current role to pursue new learning opportunities as director of Learning Services at Camosun College. As Mary’s time at BCcampus comes to a close, Amanda Coolidge will step into Mary’s shoes as interim executive director.
Now we all know Mary is leaving behind some big (and stylish — Mary really loves footwear) shoes to fill. The care, compassion, and commitment to equity Mary has brought into their leadership role has had a major impact on BCcampus as an organization, both externally and internally.
Welcoming and Caring About People as They Are
Mary has fostered a work culture that encourages people to bring their full, authentic selves to the table, always. Mary always placed a high value on employee mental wellness and flexibility and provided lots of opportunities for us to connect with one another. This was true even before the pandemic hit but was felt more when we were all forced into quarantine in spring 2020. (Mary wrote a reflective post about the benefits of having a flexible work environment on LinkedIn in early 2021.) Mary-led meditation mornings and anarchy hours (where staff meet to work on solo projects but together in real time) are two more examples of the ways Mary fostered a culture of care in the workplace. With Mary, vulnerability was embraced fully whenever we came together, and inclusion and empathy were paramount. This commitment to care can also be found in how BCcampus engages with the outward community and the core values we use to guide our work. Two posts that sum up Mary’s views on how we can be more inclusive in post-secondary education are “Exams: Who Are We Leaving Out?” and “HyFlex: It’s About Equity, Opportunity, and Inclusion.”
Indigenous Engagement, EDI, and Anti-Racism
Beginning with the creation of the Pulling Together guides, Indigenous engagement has grown significantly within our organization and is now being threaded into everything we do. Mary played an integral role in this shift, pursuing and encouraging learning about our personal histories and cultures in addition to celebrating the beautiful cultures and traditions of the First Nations peoples on whose land we reside, work, and play.
We’ve learned about and created personal land acknowledgements, read Indigenous authors together, held Indigenous cafés with many different themes, participated in Indigenous-led workshops and professional development both in person and online, honoured and learned about Indigenous artists we admire, and sourced Indigenous-owned businesses for events and gifts. We’ve each thought about our personal responsibilities for reconciliation and the cultural harm colonialism still inflicts today.
Externally, we’ve begun integrating Indigenous knowledge beyond the guides into many other collaborative resources. We’ve begun new and stronger relationships with Indigenous knowledge-keepers. We have continued to develop and share the work we are doing in the Pulling Together series: hosting webinars based on guide teachings and sharing out excerpts as well as stories of their adaptation to create awareness about the value of these incredible resources.
Through the development of the Pulling Together series, we were introduced to the concept of “nothing about us without us,” and the centring of this work has helped inform other social justice initiatives. We’ve looked at equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) within our own organization, developed an internal EDI learning team, had an organizational EDI audit performed by Bakau Consulting, and had staff-wide training workshops on such topics as unconscious bias, gender and sexuality fundamentals, and inclusive language. Externally we held the How to Be an Antiracist Book Club Hub as well as many other events geared specifically toward inclusion in post-secondary education. We spearheaded the Anti-Racism and Anti-Hate project and created an organizational Anti-Racism Statement. Throughout it all, Mary guided us as we continued to learn and unlearn.
At BCcampus we are always trying to find ways to improve the way we do things, to do better — our leader has personified this:
“Maya Angelou said, ‘If you know better, do better,’ and I really believe Mary lives by that in so many ways. Mary has encouraged all of us to learn more about our own ways of knowing and being, how we can be more inclusive and diverse, asking the question, ‘Who are we leaving out?’ and encouraging all of us to examine our own biases and do better.” — Amanda Coolidge
This growth mindset showed up in Mary’s coaching approach both as a leader and in the support they provided to our internal peer-coaching community of practice.
Mary was the first leader of open education at BCcampus as director of Curriculum Services and Applied Research. They later became open education director and guided the work of the Open Textbook project, a project with an original goal of creating open textbooks for the 40 most popular first- and second-year courses in the province’s public post-secondary system. The collection has grown from its humble beginnings to include nearly 400 open textbooks, open educational resources (OER) publishing guides, and other open resources. Open textbooks from the collection have been adopted by thousands of educators in the province, and to date, the project has saved students in B.C. over $30 million in textbook costs. The B.C. Open Collection has been made even better of late, with the launch of a new site that has more content and provides a better user experience for anyone looking for OER course materials.
As executive director, Mary also served as a board member for the global OER Foundation, an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides leadership, international networking, and support for educators and educational institutions. When asked in 2014 why open education and the open textbook project were so important to them, Mary said,
I believe everyone should have access to education. And for some, the expense is just too much to bear.
By producing free, high-quality openly licensed textbooks and other open educational resources, we begin to break down that barrier. There is a moral imperative at work here that relates to the kind of society we value.
For me, it’s a more educated society with equal access to learning for all.
While Mary has been making us more accountable to inclusion, equity, and Indigenization as an organization, they have also been holding us accountable in terms of budgets and reporting. Under Mary’s leadership we now know where every penny goes and exactly how much each of our events, activities, teams, and more costs. We’ve streamlined, optimized, organized, and prioritized, and we’ve done this while we’ve grown in size and scope.
Just Really Real
Mary is a real leader in more ways than one. Authentically themself, Mary has brought courage, laughter, and a deep, genuine love of learning to the role of executive director at BCcampus. Mary’s departure is bittersweet for many of us, but we are deeply grateful for the moments we’ve had with them. Mary, we wish you all the best as you embark on this next chapter, and we will miss you — and Picco too! Thank you for being the magnificent you!
More Words of Appreciation
With Mary, I have learned what it is like to be in a supportive and healthy work environment. How it is okay to make space to learn and grow and that making that space is an integral part to a high-achieving team! Mary is brilliant intellectually and shines in a way that lights up your day and inspires you to be great. Mary is the best boss I have ever had and has made better leaders out of all of us. I will strive to model their leadership to continue their legacy at BCcampus.— Valerie Cross
Mary is a friend, a mentor, a leader. Over the past seven years, I’ve learned so much from Mary — personally and professionally. They have been a constant source of encouragement, enthusiasm, motivation, and revelation: an innovator in education and personal development. Working and learning together — with endless laughter and priceless discussions — has helped me grow in my role. Mary saw something in me that I hadn’t, allowing me to excel by being supportive and clear. They saw I was far more capable than I believed I was, and I thank them for fostering that part of my world.
My story isn’t unique, as countless others at BCcampus are excelling in their roles, thanks to the support and guidance of Mary. Through Mary’s vision and guidance, many of us at BCcampus are living our best professional life and now have the skills to continue delivering service excellence in the post-secondary sector.
While I’ll miss our daily chats and affirmations, I’m excited to see Mary bring their talents to the teams at Camosun.— Erin Beattie