Sept. 10, 2019

Graduate College welcomes inaugural head of college

James Wasmuth takes on a five-year term leading the newly autonomous unit
James Wasmuth with members of the UCalgary Graduate College
Dr. James Wasmuth, PhD (centre) with members of the Graduate College Dan Ferguson

It’s been a big year for the University of Calgary’s Graduate College. In May, the college was made an autonomous unit on campus following a four-year pilot project. Now, Dr. James Wasmuth, PhD, associate professor of veterinary medicine, has been appointed the first head of college since the unit gained autonomy.

Dr. Wasmuth isn’t afraid of trying new things. He moved from the UK to Toronto in 2006 before accepting a faculty position at the University of Calgary in 2011. Since then, he’s learned to ski at the age of 34, and learned to skate at the age of 40. His openness to new experience may prove helpful as he embarks on his adventure as head of college, a five-year term playing a key role in establishing the direction and character of the fledgling unit.

Making the most of graduate education

A Brit by birth, Wasmuth cuts an imposing figure – he once worked as a nightclub bouncer in London, UK. Don’t be fooled; ask him about his passion for creating an exceptional grad student experience, and he quickly becomes animated with the warmth, wit and enthusiasm that are his true calling cards.

“I’m interested in graduate education from the perspective of students,” says Wasmuth. “Grad students gain skills that can be applied in so many ways, and it’s important that we help them recognize how those skills can help them succeed. I believe the Graduate College has great potential in empowering grad students to realize their potential and become engaged citizens and leaders.”

For Brit Paris, a doctoral student in education and a member of the college’s search committee responsible for selecting the head, Wasmuth was an obvious choice.

“I could tell right away that James was passionate about the graduate student experience and that at the centre of his vision for the college was his desire to enrich the graduate student experience,” says Paris. “Not only was James excited about the potential of the college, his ideas got me excited about the future of the college right along with him.”

The Graduate College

The college has a membership of 60 graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, medical residents and professional students. While membership is limited, the college is far from exclusive. Members are called on to look outward and make connections across and beyond the university, with programs that support grad students engaging with each other and making a positive impact in the community.

Kyle McCallum, a college member and doctoral student in kinesiology, is excited to welcome Wasmuth. “He sees the Graduate College as a central hub to connect and energize the Graduate Scholars, while also fostering collaborative, innovative, and interdisciplinary events to enrich the graduate student experience,” says McCallum. “The level of excitement that James brings to the table speaks volumes to the growth of the Graduate College as a centre for energizing the graduate student experience.”

Next steps

Looking forward, the college is developing a new website and programming for the 2019-2020 year.

Wasmuth’s vision for the college builds in part on his innovative work with the training program in Host-Parasite Interactions (HPI), which gives graduate students and postdoctoral scholars opportunities for career development, community outreach and engagement, social events, a speakers’ series and more.

“Working with the college is a great chance to expand the supplementary programming we developed at HPI to the full campus,” says Wasmuth. “We’re going to provide opportunities for students to grow their leadership skills in a safe environment. Failure is OK. The college will be a place for students to try things and learn from their mistakes. That goes for me, too – I see it as a learning opportunity and a chance to grow alongside our students.” 

And with a little luck, it won't hurt quite as much as learning to skate at 40.

The Graduate College was created as a four-year pilot project under the direction of Dr. Robert Thompson, PhD. As an autonomous unit, the College is supported through the Faculty of Graduate Studies.