Creating inclusive spaces beyond the public realm

Jen Sheel, Director, Municipal Services

The VPFO is made up of diverse, excellent individuals doing important work to support the university. Like Jen, each of us in the VPFO plays a role in driving UBC forward.

VPFO Strategic Direction 1
To deliver our best for UBC, inspire, recruit, develop and support people, through a unified VPFO culture.

Jen takes pride in what her team does… and it shows. When you meet Jen Sheel, one of the first things you see is her dedication to making UBC a place that invites and builds connections. She fiercely believes that by getting things right with people, our people can get the other things right.

In her day-to-day role as Director, Municipal Services in UBC Facilities, Jen leads the Municipal department to develop and maintain UBC’s public realm, and offering key services across UBC’s Vancouver campus. The Facilities’ Municipal Services team looks after 113 hectares of landscaped grounds, 32 hectares of roads and 44 hectares of hard surfaced areas (consider that most sports fields are about one hectare in size), and offers the campus community a complement of fleet maintenance, waste management, moving and materials management services.

Jen believes that building and maintaining places for people to interact and connect is one more way we care for and build our community. Beyond her day-to-day, Jen lives her deep commitment to building an inclusive workplace for faculty and staff as the Co-Chair of the VPFO’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) Committee and Chair of the UBC United Way Executive Committee.

In this Q&A, Jen shares how she delivers the best for UBC in the multiple roles she plays — a leader, a team player, a visitor on the Coast Salish Territory — through VPFO’s strategic directions and values.

What does a typical day at your job look like?

I‘m part of a team that looks after the outdoor spaces on campus. We make sure the public realm is safe and inviting and an opportunity for people to connect. We also provide key support services to the broader community such as vehicle, moving, waste and material management.

My day consists of a lot of meetings, planning, collaborations with different groups on campus; but most importantly, I am here to support my team.

Jen believes we can build a unified, innovative, and creative VPFO by striving to become more diverse and inclusive."

Jen believes we can build a unified, innovative, and creative VPFO by striving to become more diverse and inclusive.

Which part of the VPFO’s values (Excellence, Integrity, Respect, Accountability and Safety) do you identify with most?

In thinking about the VPFO values, and while I identify with all of them in different ways, Respect, Integrity and Safety speak to me the most. I believe that by creating a culture where people feel safe, valued and pride in their work, you can bring out the other values as well.

It’s also important to view safety as part of a more holistic approach. Psychological and cultural safety are just as important as physical safety. If you don’t feel like you can be your authentic self at work, it affects your mental wellbeing and ability to excel at work.

You chose to take your photo by the Musqueam Post, sʔi:ɬqəy’qeqən (double-headed serpent post). Why is this location meaningful to you?

To me, this location represents inclusion, wellbeing and belonging. The Musqueam Post is a representation of UBC’s indigenous partnerships and the fact that we live, work and play on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. In fact, I keep a Musqueam flag in my office too, which was gifted to me in a project with the David Suzuki Foundation and the Musqueam community years ago.

It’s also relevant to what our team does: creating lasting and positive experiences for our campus community. The public realm is an inclusive space for everyone regardless of their titles and backgrounds, and no purchase is necessary to be part of it.

What is one thing that you’re proud of during your time at VPFO?

I’m most proud when my team comes together for a common purpose — whether it’s a team barbecue where we get together to celebrate, or a major snow event that requires our joint effort to help the community.

For you, what makes UBC different?

As a university, we exist because of the students. Seeing students using public spaces to connect with others makes me feel like I am part of something greater. Just knowing that I am supporting someone’s future offers me a sense of purpose!

Jen and the UBC campus in motion

Jen sees it’s our responsibility to learn, reflect and act on our relationship with the Musqueam.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Be courageous and learn to set your boundaries. As a female in a traditionally male-dominated area, sometimes it takes courage to communicate my boundaries. Figure out what is most important to you to maintain resilience and happiness, and don’t compromise on it.

A typical weekend for you is?

I love a good adventure — a lot of family time, outdoors, and exercise. I also love the changing seasons. I enjoy biking and hiking with my family and my dog in the Fall and look forward to skiing in the Winter.

Tell us something people don’t know about you?

I was born in Labrador City in Newfoundland. My name was spelled “Jenniffer” because my dad forgot how many ‘n’s and ‘f’s there are in the name when signing my birth certificate. I’ve never met anyone with the same spelling so far. There are so many letters in my first name that I prefer to go with Jen!