Besides having a beautiful, sunny corner suite in the new, state-of-the-art Goldring Student Centre, many of us remain unaware as to what being the Dean of Students truly entails. And while of course “Dean of Students” denotes a high level of importance, sitting down and chatting with Dean Castle in her sunlit corner suite made me realize just how integral her position is to the success of Victoria College’s entire community.
When I ask her what a day in the life of Dean Castle looks like, she chuckles and exclaims “oh my goodness!” before delving into an eclectic and impressive list of responsibilities. “It’s an amalgam of a whole bunch of different things. On one day it’s hosting and attending discussion groups for Ideas for the World, which are academic, outside of the classroom conversations, but those might be taken over by a high-risk student issue or discipline case, and of course there are Council of Deans meetings, alumni meetings, letters of reference…. figuring out how to stuff an actual turkey!” she jokes.
Yet this seemingly non-exhaustive list of responsibilities proves to paint only a small fraction of the portrait; for, what truly distinguishes Dean Castle as Victoria College’s Dean of Students is not an intimidatingly hectic schedule, but rather her passion for student success both in the academic and co-curricular spheres. When the position for Dean of Students opened up four years ago, Victoria College President Paul Gooch explains why Kelley was the perfect candidate for the role: “Kelley has a very good understanding of student life as being integrated so that what happens in the classroom is not unrelated to what goes on outside the classroom. In universities we tend to put things into silos, so Chairs, Deans, and Principals deal with academics while Deans of Students deal with the non-academic side. I wanted to bring those things together and [Kelley] was the perfect person for that.”
Dean Castle’s commitment to creating a holistic student experience is embodied in Ideas for the World, a relatively new program that she and President Gooch initiated, and one that she tells me is “very near and dear to [her] heart.” In short, the program aims to provide a forum in which students, faculty, alumni, and community leaders can discuss ideas—be it current events, science and medicine, mental health, or even future career planning. There are no examinations or grades—the only expectation is that students come out and benefit from these discussions on both a personal and academic level.
And if an incredibly packed schedule and Ideas for the World isn’t enough, Dean Castle is renown for her ability to personally connect with students and help them through whatever challenges university might throw their way. “I think Kelley is approachable because she’s strong enough to let her own personality and humanity come through, and can let those walls down because of her strength of character,” Associate Dean of Students Krista Steeves says. “When she works with a student she is willing to find the best solution for them and is wise enough to know that not one solution fits all. She finds out what that person needs and finds a solution that fits.”
From her genuine approachability to her ability to lift programs like Ideas for the World off the ground, it is evident that Dean Castle has had and will continue to have a resounding impact on the Victorian community. And as we wrap up our conversation together, I ask her if there are any parting words of wisdom she would like to share with the students of the 2014-2015 academic school year. “It’s important that we look at university as a fluid time in our lives, and a time that will change us from first year to second year, from second to third, and so on. At the beginning of undergrad, we think that we need to figure out what we need to be by the end of our program, but we don’t realize that [the program] itself is a process that changes you completely. No one ever grows up thinking ‘I want to be the Dean of Students!’ but many careers and lives unfold by meeting people and learning things that will impact and change us along the way.”