Sharon Carry is a passionate visionary who has transformed post-secondary education for adult learners. Her determined commitment has been showcased in her achievements as a leader at Calgary’s Bow Valley College and a myriad of community groups.
Sharon Dawn Carry was born on March 31, 1950 in Calgary. Her family history is ripe with pioneering stories of great grandparents travelling from Ireland and Eastern Canada to the Northwest Territories to build a homestead and create a new life for their family. This was in the 1890s, before Alberta was even conceptualized as a province. Although Sharon is a fourth generation Calgarian, the city has not always been her home. She has moved many times in her life, at first due to the nature of her father’s business, and later for her own opportunities. In fact, Sharon has moved 38 times between different parts of Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.
A quietly determined yet adaptable woman, Sharon is an accomplished individual who has always reached for her goals without taking notice of the barriers placed in front of her. She credits the hardworking philosophy of her great grandparents, grandparents and parents for this. The men in her family were upstanding citizens who were involved in their communities; the women were strong female role models, fiercely loyal to the family as well as accomplished professionals. Her maternal grandmother was a good friend to pioneering Famous Five member, Nellie McClung, who also greatly inspired Sharon.
It was a relatively rare occurrence for women to go on to university when Sharon enrolled in 1968. In fact, she was among the first women to graduate from the Bachelor of Arts (Political Science) program at the University of Calgary in 1975. She went on to earn two more degrees, in addition to pursuing executive development studies at prestigious institutions such as Harvard, Oxford, Vanderbilt and McGill universities.
Sharon took her first job when she was 13, as a weed puller in a garden centre, and has worked ever since. Her career in the academic field began with Mount Royal College in 1972, but it was her 14 years in Olds that opened up a multitude of opportunities to Sharon and gave her the experience of different roles within the town’s college and community.
At Olds College, Sharon worked in Student and Support Services, moving through various roles from Registrar in 1983 to Vice President of Student and Support Services in 1993. As she served the students and their interests, determining their needs and finding ways to serve them compassionately and effectively, she also became embedded in the community and took on projects that helped her realize the nature of a community college. Such institutions invite residents in and they, in turn, reach out to the community, resulting in a mutually beneficial relationship.
At the time, Sharon was a single parent to a daughter under the age of two. She felt that the community had embraced them and wanted to help build the town her young family now called home. Returning that warmth and commitment, as her family had taught her, Sharon worked diligently, starting and working on a host of community committees that built swimming pools, created children’s playgrounds and organized music festivals. She founded the Olds Fashioned Christmas event in 1993, which is still going strong today. Sharon is very proud that the event is growing with every passing year, attracting more and more attention from communities outside of Olds itself. Held in November and December, the event brings the whole town together to celebrate cultural vitality, heritage and history amidst the spirit of the season. Throughout these experiences, Sharon gained further insight into the needs of the people in her community and continued to build her experience and knowledge. When it came time to join Bow Valley College in Calgary in 1997, she was ready to become the “entrepreneurial educator” she is today.
Sharon is described as a visionary with a never-ending spirit and commitment to facilitate positive life transformations for all adult learners. Proudly representing the diversity of Calgary and Alberta, she has steered the college to producing work-ready graduates who are able to meet and exceed the requirements of Alberta’s private and public sectors.
“Essential skills are the Velcro to which all other learning sticks,” Sharon says. The college has been led by Sharon to create learning partners for life by encouraging ongoing education and professional development through the workplace and online. The goal is to stay current and relevant: “learning any time, any place, any path, any pace.” Her wish for Alberta’s students is for them to become engaged, entrepreneurial and ethical citizens.
Sharon is very proud that Bow Valley College has grown to be Alberta’s largest college and is known for its success in designing innovative solutions that meet the needs of both individuals and the community. She has set pioneering solutions in motion with programs such as the Centre for Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement, the Corporate Readiness Training Program and projects such as Connexion Carrière. Through these initiatives, individuals are able to enter jobs at the skill level they brought to Canada instead of having to start at entry level. The college has benefitted from being entrepreneurial by looking for opportunities to bid against the other sectors for contracts that generate revenue. By tapping into these sources, the college need not rely solely on revenue from government grants and tuition fees. This has allowed new and improved technology infrastructure, allowing the college to become a leader in online learning.
Under Sharon’s leadership, Bow Valley College has been recognized as an Alberta Top 65 Employer in 2014 and received many other honours including, the Mayor’s imagineCALGARY Partner in Action Award in 2010, the Immigrants of Distinction Award in 2009, the Calgary Chamber of Commerce Salute to Excellence Award in 2004, and the Canadian International Development Agency Award of Excellence in 2002.
Sharon has never stopped volunteering and continues to be passionate about this aspect of her life, finding it energizing, invigorating and satisfying. She has a long list of boards and organizations to which she has devoted her time. She currently serves on the boards for the Alberta Council of Post-Secondary Education, Campus Alberta - Calgary Region Post-Secondary Presidents, eCampus Alberta, and is a member of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Petroleum Club. Past associations include the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, Association of Alberta Colleges and Technical Institutes, Women’s Centre at the University of Calgary, Youth Connect Calgary, Calgary Street Youth Task Force, the Mayor’s Panel on Urban Sustainability in Calgary and the Rotary Club of Calgary. When asked to join a board or organization, Sharon chooses according to her passions and whether the request relates to her on a professional level or to her sense of social justice.
As an example, Sharon has volunteered for the Calgary Homeless Foundation since 1997. She believes Alberta has taken giant steps forward to try and resolve the growing disparity in our province and country. She also dedicates time to the United Way of Calgary, working with children and youth, as well as to the International Women’s Forum. Sharon continues to be encouraged by the community spirit of volunteering. She whole-heartedly urges everyone to volunteer, crediting volunteerism with exponential career and personal growth.
Sharon has been described as a woman of outstanding vision, dedicated to improving the lives of Albertans. She has been recognized with many awards and honours during her career, including the Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Canadian Community Colleges in 2013, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, the City of Calgary’s Award for Education in 2010, and the Alberta Centennial Medal. She also received honourary degrees from Olds College in 2012 and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in 2014, and was selected as one of the Top 100 University of Calgary Alumni in 2005.
Sharon lives in Calgary, Alberta. She loves to spend time with her family who are her source of joy and comfort. She is extremely proud of her highly accomplished daughter, Stephanie, and is very excited about starting the next chapter of her life with her granddaughter, Shyla.