Q & A with Lidia Surman, Chief of Staff, President's Office

April 16, 2020 - 5:30am

When Lidia Surman decided to accept the position of Chief of Staff to the President, she couldn’t possibly have imagined she would be relocating and beginning a vital role at VIU in the midst of a pandemic. Her first weeks on the job were filled with emergency meetings and her orientation was, in a word, brief. Before she knew it, she was working from her home office rather than in the President’s office in Building 300 above the Welcome Centre on the Nanaimo Campus.

However, never one to back down from a challenge or a new opportunity, Lidia has brought bright smiles and enthusiasm to her new role and been generous in sharing her knowledge and expertise during this challenging time. Here, she shares a bit about her background and what she hopes to do in her new position.  

What was your previous job before starting as Chief of Staff in the President's office? 

Most recently, I was the Chief of Staff and Director of Strategy at NorQuest College in Edmonton. Prior to that I predominantly worked in the healthcare sector for both the Alberta and British Columbia governments in strategic and corporate planning, ministry relations and policy development. I am a Public Health Inspector by profession and worked in that field for about 10 years before my transition to government and administration. I also taught part-time at the British Columbia Institute of Technology for three terms in the Environmental Health Program. 

What do you enjoy most about working in post-secondary education? 

My driver when working in the post-secondary sector is the students and their success. We have so many opportunities in this world and a rewarding education will help you find them. A post-secondary education gives students and individuals some core skills that are transferable to any position in life. For me personally, it’s the continuous learning environment that I love – it is always pushing me and challenging my skills. 

You started at VIU during a strange time; care to share any observations you have made?

I am blown away by the dedication and commitment of the individuals I have met so far. The commitment to our learners is something unique and special. It’s amazing how people have come together in this time of uncertainty to do what’s needed for our students. Every challenge they face is discussed in our meetings always with a frame of how we can ease their problems so they can focus on their education and completing their semester.  

What do you like most about yourself? 

I would say I love my ability to bounce back. No matter what the situation is that I'm facing, I'm always able to regroup, turn around and get back on my feet. I always say, “It’s all part of the experience!” And two, I’m always up for an adventure! 

What are you chomping at the bit to do when we all get back to our regular work situation? 

First and foremost, I want to actually meet people in person and familiarize myself with our beautiful campuses.

What are some of your favourite things about living on Vancouver Island? 

Well, coming from Edmonton, what else … THE WEATHER! I love the greenery, the smell of the air and escaping by sitting near the water.

Professionally or personally, what excites and inspires you? 

I love learning new things and trying out new ideas. As a Chief of Staff, you need to know that there are always a half dozen different ideas and ways to tackle things. I thrive on challenges and am always open to what others have to say and how they might think in non-traditional ways. A dedicated team inspires me to always be the best I can be. 

What are a couple of things people should know about you, professionally? What can they expect to see from you in this important role?  

I see myself as having a helicopter view of the organization with an understanding of where we are going in the future. To do this, it is important to me to build relationships within the university to understand how we are working together to reach our outcomes. 

I also like to push the envelope and I ask a ton of questions. If there are innovative ways we can change something to serve our community better – then, Iet’s do it! The change might not be easy, but it sure will be rewarding. 

Anything else you want to add? 

Although I originate from Edmonton and have spent most of my working career there, I have had one foot in Nanaimo for almost 14 years and I am very excited for this great opportunity of working at VIU as I begin to join the community in a new way. Looking forward to working with you all.


Tags: In the Community