Dale Mullings is the Associate Vice-President, Students, for UBC’s Okanagan campus. In this role, Dale supports services and programs that facilitate student learning, development, and engagement providing students with a strong foundation for success. With a focus on student access, equity, and wellbeing, he is committed to creating a sense of belonging and connection between students and their peers, across the institution, and in the community.
Prior to joining UBC, Dale worked at the University of Toronto Mississauga, where he held the role of Assistant Dean, Students and International Initiatives, and taught Education Studies. Before that, he served in student-facing roles supporting student life and housing. Dale holds a Master of Education from the University of Toronto, and is a PhD candidate in Leadership, Higher and Adult Education at the Ontario’s Institute for Studies in Education.
While most people know that Dale is an enthusiast for higher education and the great outdoors, few people know that back in the ’90s when Dale was a child, he modeled for, and acted in TV commercials – you may have even seen him in ads for SEGA video games.
Q1. What quality do you most admire in a leader?
DM: The ability to listen. It sounds simple and intuitive as if it should be an expected quality in a leader, but to be a good listener takes patience, practice, and vulnerability. There’s a tendency to think that in order to contribute to a conversation, you need to formulate a quick response, but contributing also means being open to other people’s opinions, reflecting on what was said, and creating the space for other voices to be heard.
Q2. What makes you laugh?
DM: I have four kids, so it’s not a stretch to say that my kind of comic relief is the wit that comes with “dad jokes”. I keep all of my dad jokes in a “dad-a-base” too. Do you want to hear my two current favourites?
How many tickles does it take to make an octopus laugh?
What’s a pirate’s favourite food?
Q3. Who inspires you, and why?
DM: As an undergraduate, my Director of Residence encouraged me to read Martin Luther King, Jr., on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips. I was really taken by Martin Luther King’s story – his ability to communicate a clear vision with conviction and tenacity was really inspiring. He was remarkable in that he fought for what was right against insurmountable odds, but he was still a flawed individual. I really admire the way he took the time to reflect on his actions and experiences and made an effort to learn from his mistakes to help his cause.
Not only did he make the time to listen to his community, but he also had meaningful conversations and a willingness to engage with the people that didn’t agree with him. To make space and listen to perspectives that are different than your own is a really important quality in a leader. I’ve read this book about a dozen times. It’s dog-eared and marked up a thousand different ways, but it never gets old.
Q4. For you, what makes UBC different?
DM: It’s inspiring how much effort goes into relationship building here. These relationships lend themselves to an environment of trust and collaboration. Trust enables our subject matter experts to shine and guide the way, while collaboration allows us to work together to problem solve and form opinions based on a multitude of perspectives.
Even though UBCO has grown exponentially in the last few years, it has still retained the values of a small campus – it’s the best of both worlds. We’re a super intensive research university, yet, we’re still focused on, and care deeply about ensuring students have a positive experience.
Q5. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned, in your career to date?
DM: In my role as AVP, Students, often times I represent our collective student voice, but no one person can be expected to have the shared lived experience that makes up the diversity of our student body, so it’s my job and my duty to create opportunities to hear from them, learn about the range of their experiences and identify both the collective and underrepresented voices that deserve a spotlight too.
It’s important for me to recognize and acknowledge that I am a white, straight, cisgender male. All of this, coupled with my role and my title, means that I am afforded a lot of opportunities “at the table”. In meetings, for example, my perspective is often valued and I’m given opportunities to speak my mind and share my opinion. Therefore, I need to use this privilege wisely and give the underrepresented voices a chance to shine.
Q6. How do you like to recharge?
DM: Moving to the Okanagan has given me the chance to get back into snowboarding. It has also afforded me an opportunity to share this activity with my kids. Every Sunday we get up early, take a quick 45-minute drive over to Big White, and spend the day on the mountain.
This year, I ordered my very first custom-made board. The design means a lot to me, as it features six aspen trees – one for each of the six members of my family. The neat thing about aspen trees is that they have a common root system with the other aspen trees around them, so they symbolize being able to stand independently, while still being deeply rooted in family. I also chose aspen trees to honour my son Aspen. Then, built into the trees’ deep root system is a calla lily representing my daughter Calla, and two identical music notes, representing my twin daughters Hayden and Sloane – you might recognize that they are named after Canadian musicians. As you can see, I’m all about family, getting out on the mountain, and spending quality time together.
Q7. What is the best advice you were ever given?
DM: When I was 17, I became a manager at McDonald's. My boss at the time told me to “treat people like they’re going to be your boss one day” and I’ve carried that advice with me ever since. It sets up a really strong foundation for mutual respect – it ensures you are listening to other people’s needs, ensuring their voice is heard, and engaging them in a way where they feel valued – just like you’d hope to be treated if they were your boss.
Q8. What do you value in your colleagues?
DM: The ability to be innovative, iterative, and to try to learn from what we’re doing in an effort to improve. The student body – and by extension, the student experience – is constantly changing. Students’ needs continue to evolve, so it’s important to work with colleagues who strive to create something in partnership with students in order to offer them top-rated support and service.
Q9. What do you hope will be your lasting impact at UBC?
DM: I’d like to know that I’ve had a meaningful impact on students in achieving their goals. One-hundred percent of students come to UBC with the intention of completing their degree, but for some students, their original goals may change – they might change their degree, they might change their career aspirations, they might realize that traditional modes of learning aren’t the right fit for them – so it’s up to us to help them find the right path forward.
For some students, they may find that they want to study abroad, get more involved in community-service learning, or engage in research with faculty. My role involves helping find ways to give students awareness and equitable access to these opportunities.
Q10. If you could have a super power, what would it be?
DM: I would love to be able to teleport. Flying would be so inefficient – it takes too much time! Teleporting would enable me to still go to work, but then, be home in an instant and spend extra time with family. The ability to be wherever you want to be, whenever you want to be there, really excites me. Teleporting would help me to maximize experiences in my life.
Could you imagine having the ability to visit every single country and immerse yourself in different cultures?! I’ve been to Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia and Oceania, North America, Central America, South America… but I still haven’t been to Antarctica, so that would be the first trip on my list.
Q11. In your view, why does student engagement matter?
DM: The research is clear – students who immerse themselves in, and engage in university life, do better academically and benefit from a more fulsome experience at UBC. Finding opportunities for students to engage early and often is really important for cultivating a connection to their institution. We want them to feel like they belong here and get the most out of their experience, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Q12. 12. In your experience, how have conversations about student mental health and wellbeing changed over the years?
DM: The most important change has been the shift away from stigmatizing mental health challenges and the shift towards normalizing conversations about wellness overall. When these conversations become more frequent and commonplace, students start to recognize that they are not alone in their struggles. When this happens, they are much more likely to ask for help and reach out to their peers, or our staff and faculty for support.
We, as an institution, have a shared responsibility to support and provide students with access to resources, but we can’t do this effectively unless students are open to talking about the student experience and the struggles they’re facing throughout the academic year. We still have a long way to go, but we’ve already made considerable progress compared to where we were a few years ago.
Interviewed by: Rivka Parris, UBC Internal Communications