Incoming president Kathryn Le Gros, CASP embodies the leadership qualities shared by former NACAS presidents: a clear sense of purpose, an innovative vision, and a steadfast commitment to service. But it’s the unique combination of these qualities, layered on the geo-political, environmental, and economic complexities of a Canadian public post-secondary institution that add depth and color to Le Gros’ story.
As director of ancillary services at Camosun College in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Le Gros has been instrumental in evolving this mid-sized community college’s decentralized ancillary services into a strategic division that provides essential services and contributes to institutional finances, while stewarding innovations like environmental sustainability. “It’s quite a challenge to maintain critical services and introduce innovations in times of budget restraint, but I’m a creative person at heart,” Le Gros said. “Originally my creativity expressed itself in the arts, but now I get as much satisfaction in an elegant business plan or a new strategic alliance as I do from an intricate musical composition. The creative process is the same, and the satisfaction of finding the sweet spot is enormous.”
An inaugural CASP designate, Le Gros personifies the hallmark skills and knowledge of this emerging professional credential. Her career path serves as a case study that demonstrates how education, experience, determination, and accreditation can intersect to spark professional and institutional excellence.
The Canadian Ancillary Experience
When Le Gros was hired in 2003 to manage the Camosun College Bookstore, ancillary services were not consolidated under one department. Responding to an administrative need, she evolved into the manager, ancillary services role and in 2007 she became the first director of Camosun’s new Department of Ancillary Services.
Le Gros’ portfolio has continued to expand and the Department of Ancillary Services now includes a significant range of services, some of which even fall outside of the traditional ancillary services umbrella, but which are synergistic in nature.
“It’s fascinating how each Canadian ancillary/auxiliary services department is slightly different,” Le Gros said. “Camosun’s department includes the Bookstore, Child Care Services, Environmental Sustainability, Facility Rentals, Food Services, Print and Graphic Services, and Transportation and Parking.” Most recently, Co-Op Education, Student Employment, and Contract Training moved into her department. All services are provided on two campuses. “I love the diversity of my portfolio. Regardless of the jurisdiction—Canadian or American—ancillary services professionals understand that we play an important role in helping students transform their lives. Like my NACAS colleagues, we are inspired to provide outstanding service and feel privileged to interact with and assist students in their educational journeys. That often extends to providing good systems and environments for instructors and employees to fulfill their roles.”
Le Gros’ approach to providing service and programs at Camosun began with her experience at the Camosun Bookstore. There, she developed an integrated business plan, refined the business processes, and streamlined the reporting relationships. She created a baseline of customer satisfaction levels, benchmarked financial and service key indicators, implemented an integrated point of sale system (including the GL), and oversaw the renovation of both campus bookstores. This resulted in an increase in the return to the college of over 400 percent within two years. This approach was quite aggressive for Camosun, where the term “customer” was considered to be too commercial a term.
Applying this thorough approach to each new report assigned to Le Gros’ portfolio has yielded continued increase of net revenue to the college. By introducing commercial policies, as well as college-wide projects and plans, Le Gros continues to ensure relevancy and accountability for all campus ancillary services. She finds huge satisfaction in rolling up her sleeves and pitching in whenever she can. She can even be found interacting with preschool children in the child care centers.
Tipping her hat to other Canadian (and probably North American) examples, in 2012 Le Gros launched the “Get it Here” campaign aimed to encourage students and staff to buy local. The campaign tagline “When you buy on campus, you support other college programs and services,” proved popular. With a visible tent and print materials lauding this message, the increased exposure during campus-wide events ensures the conversation amplifies the value of ancillary services on campus. Le Gros goes out of her way to present this message to many of the student and employee orientation events on campus. With each new student intake, and with each new administrative or faculty hire, the message remains relevant.
Not all departments under Le Gros’ leadership have the mandate to provide revenue to the college. Environmental sustainability was identified as a pillar in the college’s 2011 strategic plan. Excited that the college’s ancillary services already had sustainability goals within their three-year plans, and seeing that no one else held ownership of this college-wide initiative, Le Gros pitched a successful proposal for it to be housed in her department. Two years after the decision was made, including 12 months of consultation with stakeholder groups, the first annual Sustainability Report was published, and the college’s first Sustainability Plan was adopted by the Camosun Executive Team. The cornerstone of the Sustainability Plan is to treat sustainability initiatives as a living lab. Operational projects involve students, while concepts learned in the classroom inspire college initiatives.
Because the Environmental Sustainability office operates with a very modest budget, it is essential to build cross-disciplinary partnerships to reach college-wide sustainability goals. For example, the Transportation and Parking division that Le Gros oversees partnered with Camosun’s Plumbing and Pipefitting program to develop a solar array that offsets the charging stations that power electric cars, scooters, and power tools. The solar collection contributes to Camosun’s power grid, and more than off-sets the energy used to charge the electric implements.
Passion and Commitment for NACAS
Le Gros has offered her collegial but strategic approach to NACAS in various capacities since 2006, and at the 2014 Annual Conference held in Montréal this October, she declared her oath to serve members of NACAS as president. She is immensely proud that she is the second Canadian to hold this title in the 46-year history of NACAS, and it seems fitting that she was conferred into the roll on Canadian soil—the second time in NACAS history that the conference had a Canadian host.
Two years ago LeGros was nominated by the West Region to serve as vice president on the NACAS board of directors. Every four years, each region of NACAS has the opportunity to nominate a member from their region to become the national president. This is a four-year commitment where she started as the vice-chair in November 2012, then became president-elect in 2013. She will serve as the past president starting in 2015.
While starting her time on the NACAS board as vice president, she simultaneously took on the role as co-chair for the recent conference in Montréal. Even though miles apart geographically from Ed Kane, AVP campus services at Carlton University in Ottawa, and the conference in Montréal, Kane and Le Gros easily shared responsibilities and ideas to lead the committees and endeavor to make this conference a tremendous success.
In 2012, Le Gros was awarded the NACAS Volunteer of the Year. Again nominated by the West Region, her roles on various committees for several years had been recognized: participating as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) for the first few set of CASP exams, a member of the Certification Commission which oversees the policies and procedures for the CASP certification, leading the Business Partner Committee as chair, and actively involved with the 2011 Annual Conference Program Committee.
When asked why she chose to get involved with NACAS, she easily responds, “When I started at Camosun, I wanted to accelerate my learning curve by learning from others. I’m grateful for the ready welcome and spirited generosity of colleagues who shared their experiences and perspectives.” Serving NACAS is Le Gros’ way to pay-it-forward and perpetuate the goodwill she received from others before her.
Le Gros muses that Canadian NACAS members often wonder if the differences in how Canadian versus American institutions and auxiliary services departments operate pose too great a divide. However, she noticed early on that the NACAS mandate includes serving Canada; she has always expected the differences would be addressed, and considers it her responsibility, along with other Canadian members, to bring the Canadian perspective (and our expectations) to NACAS. And as we learn from each other what and how we do things, it is very easy to find common opportunities and challenges.
As Le Gros has become more familiar with how NACAS operates and how North American post- secondary institutions manage their ancillary/auxiliary services, she has started to cast her eyes even more globally. She first recognizes that NACAS has many “products” that could be seen as valuable in other countries, such as the annual conference, the professional certification program (CASP), the myriad webinars, and the virtual roundtables. In turn, those same “products” could benefit from NACAS’s international colleagues.
“Just as we, in Canada, think we are ahead in some areas relating to ancillary services (i.e. credit and debit technology), we can learn from the approaches and technologies being pioneered in other countries,” she said.
“I want to learn about them to improve what we offer NACAS members and to improve services at Camosun College. I’m very interested in how ancillaries/auxiliaries are treated in other locations such as the UK, Europe, Asia, etc. as their approach may be very different than what we share with each other in Canada and in North America.”
Year as President
NACAS has been around for 46 years. Lots of wisdom has preceded Le Gros and this board of directors in laying a foundation in providing a relevant and valuable organization.
The last several months have seen the review and refresh of the NACAS Strategic Plan. President-Elect Bill Redwine led the process, involving the regional representatives on the board of directors. More recently, at meetings in Montréal during the annual conference, the rest of the NACAS leadership, including committee chairs and committee members, provided input and feedback. The board will review all feedback, amend the plan where appropriate, and put the finishing touches to it before the Leadership Team Meeting in February 2015.
Le Gros sees an opportunity for her leadership to ensure there are systems in place to deliver on the renewed strategic plan. This includes confirming that members are engaged and supported in NACAS activities, such as:
- Task forces to review/refresh attention to inclusive excellence and community colleges
- Virtual roundtables and webinars
- National and regional conferences
Le Gros proposed a new standing committee: the Canadian Committee, which was supported by the board. The committee is now up and running and will serve to support and grow Canadian membership. The committee will develop an annual plan and calendar that may include:
- Coordinating Canada Day at the annual conference that includes content and sponsorship.
- Coordinating virtual and/or in-person meetings/workshops or webinars.
- Recommending Canadian speakers at regional and annual conferences.
- Ensuring NACAS policies and procedures and activities (including Certification Commission and CASP) are inclusive of Canadian references.
- Identifying other NACAS committees that may benefit from Canadian participation/membership and provide recommendations during the annual recruitment of committee membership.
- Recommending or coordinating programs/activities to promote Canadian attendance at regional and annual conferences.
- Supporting and leading Canadian membership retention and recruitment efforts.
- Recommending qualities/actions to the NACAS board of directors that will better serve NACAS members.
As a part of the strategic plan, Le Gros is looking forward to exploring ways to make NACAS a more global organization, including leveraging the experience that many of our business partners have in other countries and considering sustainable models for global initiatives.
NACAS has seen lots of internal change in the last few years, both on the professional staff front and on the committee leadership and participation front. The strength in the organization is the generosity of commitment and investment of time to work together to keep building on what has been before us. “I feel very honored to be able to continue this tradition.”