Meet KPU: Marlyn Graziano

Graziano won the Corporate Leadership Award at the Surrey Women in Business Awards for her contributions to the community

Marlyn Graziano at KPU Tech with Surrey firefighters for the Surrey Fire Fighters’ Charitable Society’s Ignite a Dream event, which raises money for educational opportunities for youth in Surrey who have shown resiliency in overcoming adversity. (submitted)

Marlyn Graziano is currently KPU’s vice president of external affairs and the chief executive of the KPU Foundation. She previously worked as a journalist and later an editor and publisher of Lower Mainland regional newspapers before joining KPU as the director of external and government affairs in 2013.

Her roles include overseeing “marketing, communications, alumni affairs, fundraising, community engagement, major events and government relations” of the university, as well as “establishing, developing and monitoring the [KPU] foundation’s policies, goals, initiatives and strategies.”

She was previously awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for significant contributions she made to her community and plans to retire from KPU this summer.

When did you join the KPU community, and why?

I joined the KPU community February, 2013. At the time, I’d spent nearly 25 years in media, mostly community media, and had worked my way from being a reporter, an editor, an editorial director for a group of newspapers, to finally a publisher. And if there’s ever a time that makes you start to think, ‘Hm do I want to do something else?’ Approaching a 25 anniversary in an industry is definitely one of those.

Before that I had the privilege of being invited to the installation of president Alan Davis in 2012 as the new president of KPU, and before that I had been connected behind the scenes with Kwantlen for a long time as a member of the journalism advisory committee, so I knew some of the faculty; I had been involved in the shift from the [journalism] diploma to the degree program and had a sense of some great stuff going on at Kwantlen.

When I attended the installation ceremony, I was blown away, not just by what president Davis had to say about his vision for KPU, but, as part of that ceremony, there were speeches from students, somebody from faculty and the BCGEU, and the words of excitement from all of them really captured my attention and I went home that night and said to my husband, ‘I think I want to work at KPU.’

And anyway, a few months later, a job posting came up for the director of external and government affairs, and I applied for it and got the job, and here I am!

What is your favourite story of your time at KPU?

As I was looking back through some old photos and videos the other day, do you remember the ice bucket challenge for ALS? So one of the first things I managed to do when I got here was be challenged, and the president was challenged, and we both had ice dumped on our heads.

For me, I got this sense that that was sort of the turning point for the university community to see how KPU could actually intersect with something that was happening globally, and you know, the fact that people actually got to dump ice on our heads was probably a really big part of it too.

It was just a lovely way to raise money for an incredible cause and just build a little bit of community spirit as well.

What is something you’d like to say to people new to the community?

That’s really interesting because we’ve had so many students join us over the last year who’ve never set foot on campus, so the part of the KPU community when we can get back together, come and get to know fellow students, broaden your involvement with KPU beyond your classes if you’ve got the time and the space to do that.

I’ve seen our student groups and associations do so many incredible things and really work together to achieve other goals beyond just pure academic ones, so really immerse yourself in the community that is KPU, if you can, rather than just coming and going to class, going home to study and or to work. I know that there are a lot of pulls on people’s time, but when I have seen us come together — and we saw it through the ice-bucket challenge — as a community, it really helps cement, I think, that whole ‘Where thought meets action’ mission of KPU.

What are you working on right now?

The big one is, ‘What will the fall semester look like?’ Public health officials are encouraging us, within safety guidelines, to consider bringing more people back to campus for more in-person learning and working, and so we’re really, really busy in the background trying to sort out what that balance is. What we’ve heard, very clearly, is that people want more flexibility going forward, so they don’t necessarily want to come back to what KPU used to be.

Now we’re trying to imagine what the new KPU will look like, and that means perhaps a mix of in-person and online classes, a mix of in-person, on-campus working and remote working. So we’re trying to fit all those pieces of the puzzle together, and we’re doing it at a time when case counts are still high, and people are still going like, ‘Are you sure it’s going to be safe?’ And safety is our top priority.

We know how to put safety plans together, we know how to work with public health to make sure that whatever we do is going to be done with the highest standards of safety in place, and so that’s our big project now, imagining what it will look like to bring more people back to campus in the fall.

What is something you would like people to know about you?

I think, people are everything, and you know my teams and I spend a lot of time interacting with people, that’s what we do, it’s called external relations because you’re building relationships, but our success comes as a team, with a common vision and passion, and people are the foundation of everything we do.

I really subscribe to the school of thought that says human resources always come first in an organization and definitely come first in external affairs. ‘Value the people around you’ is my golden rule, and it always has been, and that’s how coming to work everyday you enjoy the people that you’re with and the people you’re going to meet and see.So I don’t think it would be a surprise to anyone that I value people, but without people I haven’t gotten anything.

The other thing I would like people to know is that I loved every minute that I’ve worked at KPU. I mean it is just so inspiring. How can you not love being part of an institution that helps create tomorrow’s leaders?

Our alumni are going to make a huge difference in the world, and they already do. But it really is all about the team, you can’t do it alone, and when you have a rockstar team, you get things done.