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Dr. Ainsley Carry sitting at a table while talking to someone who's out of frame
February 9, 2024
5 mins read

A Q&A with Vice-President, Students, Ainsley Carry

To most of us, the responsibility of making sure that all of UBC’s 70,000+ students have a great university experience would be more than a little daunting.

But this is what Ainsley Carry and his team have spent the last five years at UBC working towards. 

In the broadest sense, the Vice-President, Students’ job is to oversee the student experience outside the classroom - from campus housing, dining, and student health and wellbeing to career services, athletics and recreation, the first year experience, and accessibility - just to name a few. Advocating for students and ensuring they are able to access all UBC has to offer are also part of the job description. 

On April 1, Ainsley begins his second term, furthering the priorities that have been his focus at UBC so far: career development, health and wellbeing, communications, and equity, diversity and inclusion.

On the eve of his second term, we sat down with Ainsley to chat about his path from being a kid who wanted to play pro sports to being an advocate for students, and what he hopes to get done in his next term as VP Students at UBC. 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. 

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

As a kid, I wanted to be a professional athlete. I fell in love with football as a teenager. Growing up in south Florida, that was the sport. 

And I grew up in a single parent household, so I saw sport as this way to come back and help. I went to university with that in mind - I wanted to play football so I could get to the next level. 

Was there a turning point in your life that put you on the path you're on now?

In my second year at the University of Florida, one of my assignments was to write my resume. So I put down my high school, my sports activities, a summer job at Burger King, and my resume wasn’t even one page. In class, I saw that other students’ resumes had two or three pages of experience. 

It started to dawn on me that I had very little to show for my time in university. Up to that point, my career was always going to be football, and that was the only thing I focused on. Meanwhile, my classmates had internships and other extracurricular activities they were involved in, and their resumes showed it.

That same week was the NFL draft. There were 17 players on our team who were expected to get drafted that year, but only 3 of them got picked. I started to realize I needed options. My coaches and parents and pastors and teachers had been telling me this my whole life: “Ainsley, you need a backup plan”. I finally started hearing it.

So, that one week changed my life. I became a demon in the classroom. I took everything I learned from sports and applied it to my studies. That familiar training sequence of preparing, executing, and taking feedback became how I tackled all my classes. 

As I became more intrigued by the puzzle of learning, football slowly became less important to me. I went to every study session, read all the required material, and all the extra material. I realized that if I worked hard enough, I could learn anything I wanted to. 

So I finished my bachelors, went off to work for a year, came back and completed my Masters, then earned a Doctorate. Since then, I've earned an MBA and a Masters in Law. 

That was all triggered in that second year of university, when I had this half-page resume and the best players on our team didn't get drafted. That was the turning point for me.

Dr. Ainsley Carry sitting at a table with his hands folded and placed on the table while talking to someone who's out of frame

If you could offer your student self one piece of advice, what would it be? 

I would let my younger version know that it’s all going to be alright. 

As a student, I would get super anxious and I’d have these painful nights losing sleep over what wasn’t working out. When you're younger, you can be so stuck in that moment that it's hard to see how much resilience you’ve had to show to get to where you are. 

Now I see that I learned so much and got so much strength from the people around me growing up, and that I was instinctively, if unconsciously, using this strength as a student. 

If I had a chance to talk to my younger self, that's what I'd say: “you have enough to do what you need to do. You'll make mistakes and you'll have chances to learn from them. Just keep learning, and keep growing.”

Switching gears to your time at UBC, what have been the highlights of your first term so far, and what are you most proud of?

I began my first term by listening to students. We did 13 listening sessions with more than 400 students in my first year and a half, and a number of themes emerged.

Navigating healthcare was at the top of the list of students’ priorities, and it became a big focus for my first term. We were able to hire an Associate VP, Student Health and Wellbeing, and Noorjean Hassam has been in that role for almost three years now. A big part of her work has been to develop an integrated approach to student health and wellbeing at UBC. In 2025 we’ll be adding a location in the new Gateway Health Building, and we have been able to secure funding to fill many important gaps in our current health and wellbeing supports for students, namely hiring more counsellors, physicians, and nurses. 

As you head into your second term, what are you most looking forward to?

Listening to students has been the cornerstone of my work, and I plan to continue this in my second term, whether that’s through listening sessions, meetings with students, or through casual conversations with students on campus.

Another top priority that has emerged is career development. So in this next term, my focus is on getting us to a place where students are choosing UBC for the education, experience, and the career development opportunities. Tony Botelho is our new Managing Director of the UBC Career Centre, which helps  students to prepare for the complex and rapidly changing world of work. Tony and his team are already doing great work, like hosting our recent Lululemon Career Day. We’re focusing on continuing to enhance and build on this for students.

My second area of focus, and a top priority, is accessibility. This includes physical accessibility, mental health and wellbeing care, and enhanced support services for students with disabilities. Since we’ve moved from the pre-pandemic work world into this new hybrid work world, my big question is, “how do we remove barriers, and build upon innovation and our own learning so that all students have access to all aspects of university life?” 

What are some of the challenges that you see students dealing with right now? What’s top of mind for them?

I think top of mind for students are issues of affordability in so many areas: housing, dining, transportation, childcare, textbooks, and other costs of living. If you move off campus, suddenly you're in one of the most expensive housing markets in Canada. 

So an area of concern of mine is how we continue to support students. Tuition is needed to run the university, but I think there are some opportunities to be more supportive and comprehensive around student financial aid, and around how we think about the distribution of aid.

It’s a big job, but what I enjoy most about UBC is that I don't have to do all the work alone, because I’m a part of a great team. I offer the vision, I make a commitment to funding it, and we have incredibly talented staff who figure it out.