Image from SFU’s Meet the Families of SFU
Rob McTavish has recently made headlines. Volunteering to provide a home to two Ukrainian refugees, Rob has been distributing much-needed medical supplies to war-torn Ukraine. But this new commitment is just an evolution for a person who is always helping others. From serving as an Infanteer in the Royal New Westminster regiment to his 27 years of helping students, Rob’s big why has always been to serve others. But things didn’t always start this way. Rob was labelled as a problem student in elementary school and was expelled from five elementary schools and three high schools in Surrey, where he grew up.
Despite his high reading level and intelligence, Rob’s constant questions often made teachers think of him as a “class clown” and disruptive. After grade 12, Rob joined the military.
“In the military, it’s all about respect; I felt like I was finally treated like an adult.”
He spent 20 years in the military as an Airborne Infantry soldier and retired as a sergeant. When asked what made him look for a change, Rob replied, “As a paratrooper, my body was not taking the breaks as well as it had when I was young. My last jump was bad. I broke my back and shoulder and blew out my knees. As a sergeant, I needed to lead, and that was becoming more difficult with all my injuries. I also worried about where I would be in 20 years without an education.”
During his time in the military, he began to teach and became interested in pedagogy and the use of technology in teaching and learning.
“So, I decided to take advantage of the mature student program that allows an individual to enter post-secondary education without the requirement of a high school diploma.”
He worked at the Ministry of Education in the Technology Distant Education branch. After, he became one of the first two online Learning Technicians at SFU.
“I completed my M.A. in Education and eventually a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, both degrees investigating issues related to study environments and behaviours in the online classroom.”
Rob applied to be a director of SFU’s Nights or Weekends (NOW), a program developed for students to complete their degrees by taking only evening and weekend classes.
“I am passionate about supporting students, and when the position as director of SFU NOW became vacant, I was excited at the prospect of helping advocate for students who were often our non-traditional students, such as mature students returning to pursue their education while working full time. I loved the role of both advocating and supporting these students. It was a highlight of my career. I felt I was making a difference.”
He wasn’t only passionate about advocating for students. He joined APSA’s Advocacy Committee in 2015.
“I decided to become an advocate when I learned about the work that this committee undertook. I liked the idea of supporting my fellow APSA members. I met so many wonderful people. It was an incredible way of learning about aspects of the University that I had never interacted with in my previous positions. This exposure to other campus units was invaluable when I became Associate Dean and needed to be incredibly involved with units such as MECS and Facilities. I feel good about the cases I handled and investigated and cherished all the relationships I made as an advocate.”
Rob McTavish and his family have been integral to the SFU community. Last year SFU highlighted Rob and his family in their article Meet the families of SFU. The article featured Rob and his family as they handed out scratch-and-win lottery tickets to lift operators and ski patrols to spread holiday cheer.
After his many years of helping students through technology, pedagogy and education, Rob is retiring, but that doesn’t mean his passion for helping others has diminished.
“I fell into my work supporting Ukraine by accident. A request went out to our neighbourhood asking to house a family from Ukraine. My wife saw the post, and within minutes we had spoken to the kids and were all on board.”
This decision led Rob to meet a nurse who sent supplies to Ukraine at one of the socials he and his family hosted for displaced Ukrainians. Once the nurse learned from Rob’s wife that he was a retired paratrooper, she asked if he would be willing to send supplies to Ukraine.
“My wife, knowing me well, said, ‘yes, of course, he’ll go.’”
Rob began collecting high-end surgical equipment from his contacts and soon gathered several suitcases, ready for delivery.
“Because of my experience as a soldier, I felt I was the best candidate for taking much-needed supplies to the front line. The supplies that I got to the front line were badly needed and extremely valuable in saving lives. It was truly heartwarming to see the soldiers’ reactions as I distributed tourniquets, quickclot bandages and water. These soldiers are the front line of democracy. They are putting their lives on the line to ensure that tyranny fails. It was the least I could do to help, having lived a life that benefited from the freedoms we enjoy here in Canada.”
APSA would like to thank Rob for his many years advocating for our members and his 27 years of experience at SFU. We have been incredibly fortunate to have him volunteer his time and expertise for our members. He will be missed here, but as he’s shown, he has plenty to give. As he says in his LinkedIn post, he’ll be taking a hiatus before looking for his next full-time opportunity. And we’re sure it will continue to be onward and upward for Rob from here.