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The People Teaching People Podcast Episode 42: Elevating Education Through Community and Change with Jelena Bajic

042: Elevating Education Through Community and Change with Jelena Bajic

In this episode of The People Teaching People Podcast, I’m joined by Jelena Bajic, the Dean of the Faculty of Business, Environment, Technology, and Continuing Education at NorQuest College in Edmonton, Alberta. Jelena shares her journey from Yugoslavia to South Africa, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and ultimately Canada, highlighting her passion for high employee engagement, motivation, and professional development. 

Jelena discusses her belief in community-driven impact, her experience at various educational institutions, and her role at NorQuest College. She offers insights into organizational transformation, interdisciplinary learning, and the future of education. Jelena also touches on the importance of mentorship, continuous learning, and embracing change. 

Jelena believes in community-driven impact that elevates individuals and the collective. She has a special interest in high employee engagement and motivation during organizational transformations. Her experiences have taught her that prioritizing staff learning and professional development always pays dividends through increased innovation, engagement and productivity, driving greater team and organizational impact.

Over the past 20+ years Jelena has worked with highly skilled individuals in South Africa, the UK, Saudi Arabia and Canada in various capacities, from Energy Advisory as an Advisor at Tetra Consulting in the UK to Research Operations as the Managing Director at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

Today, Jelena is the Dean of the Faculty of Business, Environment, Technology and Continuing Education at NorQuest College in Edmonton, Alberta. NorQuest’s purpose – At NorQuest, we transform lives. And when we do that, we transform communities, we transform the world, we transform the future. – is so strongly aligned to Jelena’s view of the role and impact of education.

As an Energy Futures Lab Fellow, Jelena continues to explore the intricate interplay between business, technology and environmental disciplines which is undeniably shaping our communities and economy today and will continue to do so into the future. Some of this work is also shaping priorities in her portfolio at NorQuest College with regard to skill and competency development for learners, as well as workforce development.

Jelena is passionate about empowering others to act and engages in many working groups, events and committees. Beyond her work-related commitments, Jelena is also the President of a childcare society, a SHE Leads Mentor and an avid supporter of the Edmonton culinary and arts scenes.

Jelena earned a PhD in Environmental Biology from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. She is trained in Business Management, Change Management and Strategic Communication. 

 

Listen in as we talk about:

04:09 Jelena’s story

13:03 NorQuest College in Edmonton, Alberta #WeAreWhoWeInclude

17:49 Strategic direction and faculty development with educational change

22:35 Interdisciplinary opportunities and the future of education

24:30 Educational change and personal development

27:20 The multifaceted approach to the energy transition 

31:04 Embracing diverse learning styles

33:57 Decolonizing curriculum and anti-racism efforts

35:34 The importance of curiosity and unlearning

38:09 Collaborative problem solving and diverse perspectives

40:16 Audiobooks: A new way to read

42:53 Hockey and community spirit

46:03 Jelena’s favourite teacher

48:09 Jelena’s pride in teamwork and engaging with mentors

51:35 Jelena’s words of wisdom

 

Connect with Jelena:

 

Learn more about NorQuest College:

 

Connect with Tiana:

Today’s episode is produced by VOLT Productions, a full-service podcast production agency helping creators and entrepreneurs launch, grow and monetize their shows. You can learn more about the agency’s founder Simona, their work and their team by going to www.voltproductions.co

 

Jelena Bajic is the Dean of the Faculty of Business, Environment, Technology, and Continuing Education at NorQuest College in Edmonton, Alberta.

EDUCATIONAL CHANGE AND PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

Jelena is deeply committed to her own learning and development journey, which she openly shares with her team and anyone willing to listen. In an environment of constant change and evolution, she emphasizes the importance of establishing anchors such as a strategic faculty document that guides without prescribing. This approach enables individuals to align their personal learning and development plans with broader institutional goals. Whether it’s innovating new programs, refining curricula, or excelling as a mentor, Jelena encourages exploring one’s strengths and potential contributions within the educational landscape.

 
EMBRACING DIVERSE LEARNING STYLES

How do we shift and change our approach with students to align with the evolving needs of our world? Embracing diverse learning styles is crucial. Recognizing that people learn in different ways is becoming more accepted in post-secondary education. The traditional methods of teaching and learning are already shifting, with a growing focus on open educational resources (OER) to make education more accessible and affordable. This movement aims to reduce the financial burden of expensive textbooks, highlighting the importance of accessible education for all.

The shift towards authentic assessments is another significant change. We are moving away from traditional assessments that focus on rote memorization, towards evaluating how students can apply the skills and knowledge they have gained in the classroom. This means transitioning from transactional classroom engagement to more integrated, applied learning. Applied learning is now an interdisciplinary space where students from different specializations, such as HR, finance, and management, can collaborate on assessments that test their practical skills. These shifts are essential and reflect the evolving landscape of education.

 

DECOLONIZING CURRICULUM AND ANTI-RACISM EFFORTS

There’s a lot of conversation, work, and action around decolonizing curriculum. This process involves unlearning certain things before learning new ones, which is a complex endeavor. At NorQuest, we have a dedicated team that provides guidance and support to our instructors, helping them navigate this long journey. Having access to resources and support has been invaluable in this effort.

Similarly, anti-racism work is a priority at our college. Addressing biases and challenging our assumptions is crucial. This process involves holding a mirror up to ourselves, both individually and collectively, to uncover and address layers of bias we might not have been aware of. It’s unsettling but necessary, as it reveals areas where we can grow and change. Personally, I’ve realized that despite thinking I was open-minded, I still had unconscious biases that need to be addressed. This journey is about shifting our mindsets to create a more inclusive and equitable environment.

 

Jelena Bajic, the Dean of the Faculty of Business, Environment, Technology, and Continuing Education at NorQuest College, says “Now that we know a bit better or we have new information, what are we going to do with that?”

THE IMPORTANCE OF CURIOSITY AND UNLEARNING

“Now that we know a bit better or we have new information, what are we going to do with that?”

Jelena emphasizes the importance of recognizing and addressing biases in educational settings. She believes that educators must model the process of unlearning and stay curious, acknowledging that their perspectives might be limited. This continuous curiosity and reflection are crucial for creating a more inclusive and comprehensive understanding of various narratives. She notes that this approach is essential in all communities, regardless of location, and should be a priority for educational institutions to set a positive direction for everyone involved.

 

COLLABORATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING AND DIVERSE PERSPECTIVES

Jelena shares her personal experience with the phrase, “You don’t know what you don’t know” which she finds frustrating because it is universally true. Instead, she focuses on what can be done with new information and emphasizes the importance of collaborative problem-solving. She highlights the value of diverse perspectives and the power of working together to address issues. Jelena believes that moving away from the default acceptance of ignorance towards proactive engagement with new knowledge is key to making meaningful progress.

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