A learner success strategist with Lakeland College is receiving international recognition for her work.

Karen Harris was given a 2020 Gold Award of Excellence from the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics for helping students become better learners.

“I was completely overwhelmed,” she says. “I was honoured and humbled to be selected for that award. It’s a job you don’t do it for the accolades, you do it for the magic you see with the students in front of you.”

Harris spent 30 years in the classroom as a high school math teacher before transferring to her new position at Lakeland College three years ago. Harris was teaching part-time at the college and was presented with the role of learner success strategist in 2017.

“In the classroom, you have to know how people work. I tell my students that my advantage is that I am outside your picture frame. Everybody gets too close to their picture and they can’t see their strengths sometimes. I know what I’m looking for and through that I’m able to pull out some information, reflect it back to them and we have a conversation. Through that I can make a strategy and help them make their own strategy to get to success.”

Harris spends an hour and a half with students in the first meeting to get a sense for the student and to help them start a strategy to overcome any difficulties. She says it’s all about the follow-through after that. Students will follow the plans while Harris keeps them on track and makes adjustments when needed.

“Watching someone gain their power, feet and balance back and take off to do some extraordinary things, that’s one of the things working in post-secondary or any education actually, is the ability to see them take the next step and off we go.”

Harris says there’s a common misconceptions about her job in that she only works with students who have a learning disability. She says this is untrue as she works with students of all ages in different programs to help them destress and adapt to change.

“If you’ve got a strong team that you can bounce off of and people you can trust, then you can handle change. If you can handle change, you can handle stress. When you put that all together, all you need to do is take the next step and you’re fine.”

Other finalists in the category include Dr. Paul Phillips CBE of Weston College in the United Kingdom who received silver. Tourism College of Zhejiang and Zhengzhou Railway Vocational and Technical College, both in China, were given bronze.