Nov. 15, 2023

A faculty turned community: Celebrating the Werklund School at 10

Visionary gift transformed former Faculty of Education and student experience at UCalgary
man and woman sitting on a platform with cheering students behind them
Surrounded by cheering students, David Werklund and Susan Norman celebrate the naming of the Werklund School of Education in 2013 Riley Brandt

Carson Reveen remembers feeling the rush. Sitting in his EDUC 201 class with other first-year students during the 2013 fall semester at the University of Calgary, his attention was grabbed. And, immediately, his outlook shifted.

Official confirmation had arrived — the Faculty of Education, in recognition of a $25-million gift from David Werklund, was being renamed. Suddenly, Reveen belonged to something called the Werklund School of Education. It felt meaningful then. And now, 10 years later, the moment remains vivid.

“When you get to UCalgary, you become aware of the communities around the Schulich School of Engineering and the Haskayne School of Business, and how there is a different bond, a different energy in those faculties,” says Reveen. “With our announcement, it was like, ‘OK, we get to have an extra level of pride as we build a new legacy. We’re more than the Faculty of Education. We’re Werklund.’”

There had been selfies to mark the occasion. Werklund swag, too. Five years after graduating, Reveen, BA’18, BEd’18, still wears the red scarf he received.

red scard branded with UCalgary's Werklund School of Education

The Werklund School of Education scarf given out to students on the day of the announcement

Dr. Dianne Gereluk, MA’99, PhD, then associate dean of undergraduate programming and now dean of the Werklund School, recalls the emotion that day.

“You could feel this sense of pride and excitement because somebody valued these students and the work they were doing for future generations,” says Gereluk. “Everyone was smiling — education mattered and somebody believed in them.”

In the decade since the gift — at the time, the largest donation to a Canadian education faculty — the Werklund School has thrived, rising 11 spots in the rankings of Canadian faculties of education, all the way to fourth.

“We feel quite honoured by what’s taken place at the university and the faculty. I’m very, very proud of the team there,” says Werklund, Hon. LLD’12. “It’s important — we’re giving back to our community for a purpose and recognizing the results of our contribution. I’m really excited about that.”

Driving university-wide priorities

What Werklund and his wife, Susan Norman, have supported — and inspired — is a lengthy list.

The investment set the stage for experiential learning to take off within the faculty, with the rate of students participating in such programming increasing by 2,000 per cent over the past decade. It’s a cornerstone of the student journey, says Gereluk, because it ensures future teachers are “out in the communities, serving the communities, learning from the communities.”

This growth supports the university’s broader goal of having all undergraduate students, no matter their faculty, participate in at least two hands-on learning opportunities during their time at UCalgary. Similarly, two of Werklund’s other passions, mental health and Indigenous initiatives, are also university-wide priorities advanced through the Werklund School.

The faculty has passed a purposeful Indigenous strategy — Moving Forward in a Good Way — working alongside Indigenous Peoples to strengthen education for all students, and established the Centre for Wellbeing in Education, part of a co-ordinated holistic vision for the well-being of children.

“Dave has always been interested in social-emotional learning,” says Norman. “He is really keen that teachers understand the importance of that in the classroom — to understand their impact personally when they’re in front of the students.”

Students front and centre

Students, of course, remain front and centre. In the 2022-23 academic year alone, more than $1.5 million in student awards went to Werklund undergraduates — 85 per cent of whom land jobs within four months of graduation.

Man with two students, one a young man and one a young woman

David Werklund (L) with Sam Sirianni and Carson Reveen

Jazhart Studio

“I am unbelievably grateful and forever in debt because of the skills I’ve developed for this very tough profession, where we’re having to do more and more with less and less, with greater complexities,” says Reveen, who received several student awards during his time at UCalgary and is now a social studies and psychology teacher at Dr. E.P. Scarlett High School.

“I feel I can succeed and help my students thrive in their journeys because of David, Susan and the Werklund School of Education.”

Likewise, Sam Sirianni, who teaches at the Rundle Academy in Calgary, credits Werklund — the school and the man — for giving her a leg up. She twice earned the Werklund Community Engaged Leadership Scholarship, worth $10,000 per year.

“This is where I get a little emotional, because he quite literally changed my life,” says Sirianni, BHSc’17, BEd’19. “Honestly, the only reason I could pursue this degree is because of him."

“He’s not a teacher, so it’s amazing that someone not even in the field sees this as an opportunity to better future teachers. That impact also betters kids — kids that I’m teaching. I feel that I can make a difference because of him.”

Sam Sirianni, BHSc’17, BEd’19

Gereluk concurs: “You get this reverberation, the impact beyond the scholarship. You wait five or 10 years and you really see it — this student is a superintendent now, this one created a food bank . . . these are their stories, right? If you’re creating leaders, it’s not just about their time at UCalgary, it’s about what they're doing now because of his gift, which provided the foundation. It’s become a catalyst for growth.

“Education is about creating the conditions for present and future prosperity so that the children and youth of today are our leaders for tomorrow. And David Werklund has that vision.”

Just as a single spark can ignite a roaring flame, philanthropy is the catalyst that starts something special at the University of Calgary. Explore more stories about the difference we’re making in the community and around the world with the support of donors like you.

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