Susan Birnie says there are many McMaster people who deserve the honour of the President's Lifetime Achievement Award, so she is especially humbled that she was chosen.
She received the award today at a ceremony for the President's Awards for Outstanding Service. The President's Lifetime Achievement Award is annually presented to an individual employee who exemplifies outstanding performance and accomplishment and is considered a role model.
"That people around me think I am deserving of this and nominated me makes me feel very special and validates the hard work I've put in over the years," said Birnie, who is director of education services for the Faculty of Health Sciences. "There were a number of other tremendously talented people nominated who have done such great things at McMaster. To know I'm the one chosen is incredibly gratifying."
A McMaster alumna, Birnie graduated in 1975 with a BA in geography. In 1977, she returned to McMaster as a research associate of the Faculty of Social Sciences and, while working full-time, Birnie completed an MBA in finance at the DeGroote School of Business.
"I came to be a research associate but after a few years, I saw there were opportunities here," she said. "I could not have imagined when I was young how long I would get to work here and the work I would be able to accomplish."
Birnie taught at the business school before joining McMaster's new School of Rehabilitation Science as a program administrator for the occupational therapy and physiotherapy programs in 1990, becoming the school's senior administrator in 1996.
She was responsible for the move of the school to a purpose-built facility, the Institute for Applied Health Sciences, in 2001. Birnie also served as a clinical professor for the school from 1993 to 2010.
She was the senior administrator for the clinical Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences from 2002 to 2007.
"I've been a staff member, a lecturer, a researcher – I've got to dabble in all these different things," she said. "McMaster is big enough to offer opportunities and small enough to be personal."
Since 2007, she has been the director of education services for the Faculty of Health Sciences.
Among her many job responsibilities are overseeing all of the Faculty's academic programs, as well as units that support the programs, such as anatomy and simulation based learning. She has managed a 37 per cent enrolment growth in existing and new programs. Most recently she negotiated $18.5 million of capital funding and $16 million in annual ongoing Transfer Payment Agreement funding in educational program contracts with the provincial government.
"We have embraced growth and change, and we've blossomed," she said. "I call myself the enabler. I enable things to happen by making sure the resources are available and doing what it takes to get it done."
Birnie has an extensive list of accomplishments during her 40-year career at McMaster. Among these are establishing and growing innovative interdisciplinary programs between the University's Faculties, enabling innovation through such projects as redesigning the laboratories of the education program in anatomy, and supporting her staff's professional development, with several completing master's and PhD programs.
She has also received other awards, including a President's Award for Outstanding Service in 2001 and a McMaster Students Union Teaching Award in 1986.
"Probably the most significant, lasting accomplishment was being part of the creation of the School of Rehabilitation Science and the occupational therapy and physical therapy programs," she said. "I was there at the beginning, so it holds a special place in my heart."
Despite a busy career, Birnie has always made time for volunteerism. She co-founded the McMaster Employees' Spirit Society, represented the non-teaching staff on the University's Board of Governors and took on the role of co-chair of the TMG Committee.
She has also been a volunteer with the Girl Guides of Canada since 1984. Last year, she was awarded the Gold Maple Leaf, which is the highest national honour given by the organization.
Reflecting on her past four decades at McMaster, Birnie said she is content with the knowledge that she worked hard and helped transform great ideas into reality.
"I hope that I made McMaster a good place and that I've set up the processes, the procedures and the right people in the right places," she said. "I hope that will endure and really serve the Faculty of Health Sciences well."
Among the other recipients of the President's Awards for Outstanding Service was Laura Harrington, managing director of the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging who was awarded a President's individual award.
Harrington's career at McMaster began in 2004 when she joined the Department of Chemistry as a research scientist. She then served as laboratory manager for John Valliant before assuming two concurrent half-time roles: project director for Forward with Integrity and managing director of the Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative.
Harrington has contributed to a number of signature University accomplishments, including the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal. She is also an on-campus volunteer, having served on the McMaster Children's Party Committee, the Employment Equity Committee, the TMG Committee and the President's Awards Advisory Committee.
Other Faculty of Health Science nominees for the outstanding service awards were: Karen Gourlay, assistant director, CAF; Christine Humeniuk, project co-ordinator, Corporate Services, and Ada Smith, research co-ordinator, Department of Medicine.