A life of service

    Alumni Honour Award winner Oryssia Lennie’s 35-year career in public service has been an exhilarating ride

    By Donna McKinnon on September 14, 2015

    As we look forward to Alumni Weekend (Sept 24-27, 2015), the Faculty of Arts is proud to share the stories of our inspiring alumni. The Faculty of Arts hits a key milestone this year with 50,000 alumni contributing in all areas of life worldwide. Watch for more in the coming days.
    We encourage all Arts grads to proudly identify as #1of50K on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all year long!

    Oryssia Lennie (’69 BA) believes that public service is a noble calling. The 2015 Alumni Honour Award winner spent more than 35 years in public policy development and administration within the provincial and federal governments, bridging the years following her retirement in 2009 with work as a volunteer in community and public policy organizations. “Public servants can make a real difference in the lives of others,” says Lennie. “It’s an arena where real change can happen.”

    Among her accomplishments, Lennie contributed to the Alberta Government delegation’s successful negotiation of the Constitution Act (1982) and was again called upon to lead the Alberta team in the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accord negotiations. She was the secretary to the Alberta Senate reform task force established by Don Getty, and served as deputy minister of federal and intergovernmental affairs. Later, she became deputy minister for Western Economic Diversification Canada. At the U of A, she served as vice-chair of the board of governors. Currently, Lennie is a member of the board of directors for the United Way, serves on the board of the Canada West Foundation, and is chair of the Alberta Research and Innovation Authority.

    As a recipient of the Peter Lougheed Award for Leadership in Public Policy and the Lieutenant Governor’s Gold Medal for Excellence in Public Service, Lennie is quick to acknowledge the collaborative nature of of her chosen career. “None of this happens without a very capable, hard-working team,” she says. “One of the things I feel best about is that I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many smart, strongly-committed, conscientious and ethical individuals in both governments, and I think together we have made a positive difference in the direction of government and lives of citizens.”

    When Lennie received her BA in Political Science in 1969, she did not have a clear idea of where her degree might lead, but she was confident that it had provided her with the educational foundation required of a service-oriented life. Her education instilled in her both an appreciation of how governments operate and an understanding of the complexities of politics. Beyond that, however, Lennie cites other, less quantifiable skills that would later prove so invaluable to her career. “I firmly believe that my time as an Arts student taught me to think critically about complicated concepts and systems,” she says. “The ability to analyze situations from multiple perspectives, and to have a deeper understanding of the historical and social context of an idea — about human behaviour and how people think and interact. Most importantly, it taught me to ask better questions.”

    Lennie’s skill as a creative problem-solver is reflected throughout her career and in her volunteer activities. To this day, it inspires her to make the world a better place. “I expect that many Arts graduates, like me, would regard themselves as generalists, as opposed to specialists. This is not a bad thing,” she says. “Governments operate in a complex environment. They have to deliver on policy objectives in an environment that is characterized by economic and social uncertainty, challenging fiscal needs, and by citizen demands and expectations. Finding creative solutions to a particular problem requires a range of perspectives to be brought to bear on solving that problem. The political science degree I received at the University of Alberta equipped me to step forward, seize opportunities and have a career which has been more fulfilling than I could have possibly imagined. It’s a wonderful and exhilarating ride, and it’s been most rewarding to see the difference that one can make in the community, province and country.”