Recalling Lakehead Moments – a conversation with Dr. Doug West

November 19, 2015

by Stephanie Edwards, a fourth year Lakehead University student who works with Lakehead Orillia’s Communications office

As part of our celebrations of Lakehead University’s 50th Anniversary, I spoke to some of our faculty and staff to learn more about their experiences at both the Thunder Bay and Orillia campuses. My conversation with Dr. Doug West, associate professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and Political Science, is the final article in our anniversary series.

When did you start working at Lakehead?

July 1, 1991

Can you describe your first impression of Lakehead in three words?

Far, far away.

Are there any exceptional or meaningful moments that standout in your memory from your time in Thunder Bay?

The day I got tenure was a really amazing day for me because it seemed like the end of a long process. I had the pleasure of meeting interesting people along the way, including many from a variety of community organizations. The highlight at Lakehead would be receiving a grant from the McCall Family Foundation in 2006. My colleague Connie Nelson and I received $985,000 to start the Food Security Research Network.

What is one thing you want people to know about Lakehead, or an interesting fact that not many people know?

I think a lot of people don’t realize that Lakehead is a comprehensive university. It’s small, but it covers a lot of ground. I’m very proud of Lakehead’s ability to be a significant university and it reflects in our research capacity. The Lakehead way is to always embed itself in the community, to serve the needs of the community, and to keep growing as a comprehensive university.

What personal success are you most proud of accomplishing during your time in Thunder Bay?

Raising my son. He is a product of Thunder Bay and I couldn’t imagine a better place to raise kids. He is a political science graduate of Lakehead University and I’m really proud that he attended Lakehead and also proud that Lakehead took care of him the same way that I did. I’m also very proud of the Aboriginals Peoples Conference that I ran, which was a wonderful experience, including the opportunity to meet David Suzuki.

What is a Lakehead-wide achievement that you think the entire Lakehead community should be proud of?

The Law School, the Medical School, remaining steadfastly in Northwestern Ontario, and the Orillia campus.

How did you first hear about Orillia/the development of the Orillia campus?

I was invited as the Chair of Political Science to participate in the discussions around Orillia. We heard various pitches about what it might look like and it was a privilege to be part of that conversation, but now it is a more of a privilege to be here. I would invite more of my Thunder Bay colleagues to come and live the Orillia experience.

What was the biggest reason behind your motivation to cross the province and come to Orillia?

A number of personal reasons, but also academically, what really attracted me to coming here were three things: one was Kim Fedderson, whom I’ve known for 25 years. His approach to academia is one that I like to follow. Also, getting closer to home. I grew up in Montreal. I love Thunder Bay but I wanted the challenge of a new place.  My third reason was the Interdisciplinary Studies program here. Most of the work I’ve done has always been interdisciplinary, so the challenge of actually making it official was very attractive, and also helping Lakehead embed itself in the communities of Simcoe County. 

What is one similarity between the two campuses and one difference?

A similarity is the commitment to students and a student-centered experience.  I see this as mirroring Thunder Bay – that spirit. We strive to have small classes; we strive to have quality instruction. Differences: the communities are completely different, but still have similar challenges. It is different here because there are more communities like Orillia in the vicinity, whereas Thunder Bay is on its own. Orillia is part of a unique region within Simcoe County that is growing in ways no one ever predicted. Thunder Bay and Orillia aren’t the same kind of towns, but they are both multicultural and there is a significant indigenous presence, which I find very refreshing. That was a surprise when I came here.

What do you hope Lakehead can achieve in its next 50 years?

Depth. Depth of programing, responding to changing demographics, responding to the community’s needs. Making sure that the programs we offer are in step with the economic, social, environmental, and political cultures of where we are. We’re also connected to the university community in Canada and around the world. I hope that that kind of connectivity can continue.

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Dr. Doug West

Dr. Doug West, Associate Professor, Lakehead University Orillia. He is also featured in Lakehead’s 2015 Streets Alive! door, as shown in this photo.