Whether it's a polar plunge in Antarctica or filling in for the president of a university, Tammy Eger likes a challenge.
Currently the vice-president for research at Laurentian University, Eger assumed the challenging job as interim university president and vice-chancellor for two months in 2022 following the departure of Dr. Robert Haché.
During difficult financial times and a public relation crisis, she has managed to instill confidence in Laurentian to attract public and private sources of funding for important research projects.
"There were certainly times in the past two years when it felt like too much, but I continued to do my best to show up for myself and others and advocate for Laurentian.
"When I reflect on the challenges of being vice-president research — and interim president in November and December 2022 — I stayed because I believed it was important to show up for others, to show up for faculty, staff, students, the research community and the Sudbury community," she said.
Eger, who grew up in Kenora, studied sciences and kinesiology at Queen’s. In her third year, she became interested in ergonomics and workplace health and safety, and went on to complete her master's degree. Later she completed her PhD while teaching full-time at Laurentian.
After Queen's, she found a job with an occupational health clinic in Sudbury. Like so many newcomers, she planned to get some experience, "stay a year," and then move on. That was more than 20 years ago. She found opportunities and challenges in northeastern Ontario's resource-based industries.
"I really didn't have any experience with the mining industry prior to that. From there, I began an ergonomist with the Mines and Aggregates Safety and Health Association, now a part of Workplace Safety North."
She was approached by the university to establish a course in ergonomics and eventually became a full-time professor in the School of Human Kinetics.
"We (Laurentian) started to develop a master's program in kinesiology and eventually a PhD program," said Eger. "Now you can do an undergraduate degree in human kinetics, your master's and your PhD all at Laurentian. It is a great talent pool for industry and community partners."
Graduates are in demand and often are offered jobs while out on co-op placement, she said proudly.
Eger was co-founder of the Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health (CROSH) at the university with the support of industry and government. During her time as director and chair, she is credited with raising more than $4 million for research.
Funding was used to purchase and equip a mobile research lab, the first in Canada, which can conduct research and workplace safety education in rural and remote communities.
"It goes out to workplaces to deliver research to community partners, and it goes to schools to get high school students thinking about the importance of asking questions about health and safety when they are on co-ops and summer jobs," said Eger.
Funding was also used to build a workplace simulator laboratory located in the Cliff Fielding Research Innovation and Engineering building. The lab simulates conditions of an underground mine to test health and safety solutions.
Established in 2008, "CROSH continues to be a leader in health and safety research, particularly for mining, forestry, pulp and paper...the resource-based sector. It understands the needs for solutions that work for northern workplaces," she said.
An advocate for more diversity in sciences, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM), Eger chaired the Women and Girls in Science Symposium at Laurentian in February 2019.
Later that year she was accepted into a leadership program for women in STEMM fields. One of four Canadians in a group of 100, she spent three weeks in Antarctica with Homeward Bound Projects learning about climate change and polar science.
"It was an incredible experience," she said. "We had women from 30 different countries … brilliant women. We visited science research stations, and different areas of interest. One of the outcomes was how these women can play a role collectively to influence decision-making regarding sustainable practices."
A moment to remember: "A polar plunge in Antarctica waters with icebergs in the forward view and penguins popping up a head from the water in curiosity. The penguins are everywhere and they are not afraid of humans. They are curious about you."
When Eger returned home to Sudbury, she was offered the position of interim vice-president of research at Laurentian. Inspired by her recent leadership experience and the women she met, Eger said yes to the challenge and was eventually offered the job permanently.
She is confident in the university's future
"Laurentian has a very bright future ahead, but it also needs people to 'show up' for it. If folks have not been on the campus for a few years, I encourage them to re-engage.
"Accompany a family member or friend on a campus tour, attend a lecture series, go for a walk on one of the many trails on campus, sign up for a class or micro-credential, start an undergraduate or master’s degree, volunteer to mentor a newcomer arriving in Canada and attending Laurentian, or re-engage with the alumni association."
"Sudbury has been my home for over 20 years and I could not imagine Sudbury without Laurentian."
Tammy Eger on success
"I believe success is about first showing up for yourself. You need to know who you are, what is important to you, and what your values are, and you need to show up for others. When I have had success in my life, it is because I stayed true to my values and showed up for myself and others – working towards a shared purpose with values at the core."
Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. Success is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.