Agassiz’s own Leah Whitehouse holds the humble but respected title of cashier at the cafeteria at a Chilliwack college campus. Her exceptional leadership skills, however, extend far beyond her title.
Whitehouse is this year’s recipient of the University of Fraser Valley (UFV) Inspirational Leadership Award. Whitehouse is known across campus for getting to know the students who shuffle through the line, according to a statement from UFV issued on Wednesday (May 20), understanding their trades, their financial and educational struggles and the trials and triumphs of balancing school and part-time work.
Whitehouse has worked for UFV for the past 20 years. She has worked as a cashier since 2013, previously working at the university as a janitor and a bookstore clerk.
“Although she maintains a professional manner and never probes, her reputation for caring means that students will seek her out to share their problems,” UFV officials stated. “She’s always there with a sympathetic ear and a list of UFV contacts and resources right at her cashier’s station, so that she can steer them towards the appropriate university resource, whether it’s counselling, the UFV Food Bank, financial aid, or academic advising.”
Whitehouse has taken initiative to create a number of projects for the local student body, including the Trades Tree, which is a drop-off station for winter coats, used tools and work-related gear.
Electronics professor Joel Feenstra nominated Whitehouse for the exemplary award.
“She encourages faculty and students, whether passing along overheard accolades, planning social events, or just listening deeply and emphatically while she is working,” Feenstra said.
“I try get to know the students, staff and faculty. I do care how my customers are doing and if there are issues I can help with in any way I will, or direct them to UFV’S great resources,” Whitehouse said.
While her care for the students is inspiration enough for them, it’s really the students who inspire Whitehouse in the end.
“The students are why we are here!” Whitehouse said. “They give our buildings so much life! You sure can see that now with the COVID-19 distancing that we are having! I miss them all very much and hope everyone is safe!”
She added it’s the love for her students and her career at UFV that keeps her going.
“I love the ‘family’ feel of UFV,” Whitehouse added. “I decided to start the Trades Tree of Compassion because I was seeing students pass by the cafe and not eat and I couldn’t stand to watch that happen if we could help.”
Whitehouse is humbled, honoured and grateful to receive the Inspirational Leadership Award.
“I am among many at Trades that go above and beyond for our students!” Whitehouse said. “I love to inspire others to take the time with the students and get to know their stories. They have so much to offer, like innovative ideas on how we can improve the student experience. I will continue to work hard and give 100% in everything I do at UFV!”
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