Bryan Dawson is a stalwart Bruin. You’ve likely seen him in his role as Chair of Sheridan’s Board of Governors at Convocation ceremonies proudly shaking hands with students crossing the stage, cutting ribbons for building openings and speaking at campus events. But you may not be familiar with his Sheridan story – and the fact he’s been volunteering here in a leadership capacity for nearly two decades. It’s safe to say he’s earned the title of Sheridan’s preeminent volunteer.
Seventeen years ago, with encouragement from then board member and fellow Brampton resident Heather Picken, Dawson met with President Rob Turner to learn about the role of a Sheridan board member. He was at first reluctant to take the meeting, unsure as to how his university experiences studying biochemistry and business, and work experience as the CEO of an aerospace company, could translate to educational leadership. It didn’t take long into their meeting for him to realize: I can contribute here.
In practical terms, contributions as a board member at Sheridan include stewarding the institution through governance and risk-management strategies, ensuring institutional objectives and outcomes are met, protecting assets, and ensuring long-term growth and sustainability. All things that Dawson had experience overseeing and executing as a business leader. But what attracted him to Sheridan and what’s kept him here for so many years connects back to some of his core values.
Dr. Turner emphasized the college’s focus on applied learning and pride in skilled trades and apprenticeship programs, which struck a chord with Dawson. He grew up on a farm in Alliston, Ontario and spent many years working with heavy machinery and learning to weld. “When it came to the equipment we worked with my father always said, ‘if you’re going to operate it, you have to be able to fix it’,” he recalls. “I became technically-oriented from a young age and developed a strong appreciation for the skilled trades.”
From his mother, Dawson learned the importance of giving back to one’s community. “I’m a chip off the old block when it comes to volunteerism. I do it consciously and with great enthusiasm,” he says. “My mother was actively involved in multiple organizations and causes well into her eighties.” Outside of Sheridan, Dawson has volunteered with organizations like the Brampton Board of Trade, the Brampton Safe City Association, the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, and the YMCA Development Committee, to name just a few.
“I’m a chip off the old block when it comes to volunteerism. I do it consciously and with great enthusiasm.” – Bryan Dawson
During his tenure at Sheridan as Board Chair, a board member and participant on various committees, Dawson has had his share of memorable moments. From breaking ground at the site of what’s now two wings of the Hazel McCallion Campus in Mississauga, to the launch of the Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Design Technologies and Skilled Trades Centre in Brampton, the Board has overseen infrastructure projects that have expanded Sheridan’s footprint with state-of-the-art learning facilities. He and his wife Janet have also supported these expansion projects as donors, contributing $100,000 to the Get Creative Campaign and $25,000 to the Student Capital Campaign.
In addition, Dawson has represented Sheridan on a trip to China to explore overseas partnerships, was in Gander, Newfoundland with local residents to watch a special tribute performance of the Tony-winning, Sheridan-incubated musical Come From Away, and even had lunch with the Queen during her visit to Trafalgar Campus in 2002.
But what stands out as the most rewarding of experiences for Dawson are the events that celebrate Sheridan’s people. “Since I started here, it’s clear that everything is done with students in mind,” he says. “Preparing them for their future doesn’t mean sending students out into the workforce with a credential for memorizing material, but teaching them to think on their feet, find creative solutions and shine brightly for employers. Seeing them cross the stage at Convocation is very meaningful.” At the long-service awards, Dawson proudly recognizes employees who have worked at Sheridan for 15 or more years. “It speaks volumes when an organization’s people stay for so long. Something’s being done right,” he says.
For his contributions, Dawson has received a Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal, a Rotary International Paul Harris Fellowship Award, a YMCA of Greater Toronto Volunteer of the Year Award and been recognized as Brampton’s Outstanding Business Person of the Year. While appreciative of these honours, he knows from 32 years as a CEO and his breadth of leadership roles that an organization does not succeed through one person alone. “It has to be a team effort,” he says.
“I have a passion for this place and truly believe in what it does and what it stands for.” – Bryan Dawson
Having recently sold his aerospace company in Brampton, one might assume that retirement is on the horizon for Dawson. But for our preeminent Sheridan volunteer, this may just mean more time dedicated to a place he loves. “My wife Janet however reminds me that I should be thinking about a succession,” he says. “But I have a passion for this place and truly believe in what it does and what it stands for.”
Pictured at top of page: Bryan Dawson, Chair of Sheridan’s Board of Governors. Photo by Sheridan Photography alumnus Jonathan Bielaski.
Written by: Keiko Kataoka, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan.