Job title: Associate Dean, School of Manufacturing and Automation, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology
Why he’s a 2016 Top 40:
As associate dean at SAIT, Szautner created a program to engage with student populations in a face-to-face setting, and has developed summer camp programs for grade-schoolers championing the trades.
Fifteen years ago, Jim Szautner was half-frozen in the dirt beneath a propane truck in Whitecourt, Alta. He was working 14-hour days as a mechanic in -32C weather, but he already knew he was destined for other things.
Today, Szautner is the associate dean of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s (SAIT) School of Manufacturing and Automation. “It’s not the typical story of how someone becomes an associate dean,” Szautner says. “It’s kind of that transition from a blue-collar job to a white-collar environment.”
Szautner began his career in 1997 as an apprentice and later journeyman truck and transport technician, but he realized his true calling in education when he took on an instructor’s post at the company he was working for at the time. He juggled class schedules with working full-time to achieve his certificate in adult and continuing education in 2009. That same year, he joined SAIT as an academic chair before taking the reins as associate dean in 2014.
At SAIT, he launched his “Coffee With Jim” initiative in 2015. Setting up in a different faculty each month, he invites students for a cup of coffee and the chance to discuss what led them to SAIT and to chat organically about whatever comes up. He estimates he’s met with approximately 350 students to date.
Despite raising three children at home and leading the school’s academic chairs at work, Szautner hasn’t stopped pushing. In addition to obtaining his master’s degree in education, he developed summer camps for SAIT’s School of Transportation, which engages young people aged nine to 17.
Since the summer camps began in 2012, the school has seen close to 800 youth attend. With activities ranging from building go-carts to changing tires, the camps, Szautner says, are a way to show kids what they’re capable of doing with their hands. By championing the program, he hopes to inspire a passion for the trades in a new generation.
“It’s important for me to give back to a trade that has given me a lot of the opportunity that I had along the way,” Szautner says. “That’s what gets me up in the morning, knowing that every minute of work that I put in here is helping someone else in the trades realize their dreams and succeed.” – Jennifer Friesen