Inspired by the interviews in the Paris Review and Bomb magazine, “The Questions” in Sports Illustrated, and the regular interviews on the blogs of Tom Peters and Guy Kawasaki, Comment has asked a diverse group of mentors for their stories.
Comment: How would you explain what you do to an interested nine-year-old child?
Janet Epp Buckingham: I am a professor at a Christian university called Trinity Western University. I run a special program in Ottawa. About 20 university students come to Ottawa for a visiting semester (September through December or January through April) and live and take courses in a mansion. Part of the program is an internship—students work part-time in a political office, with a business or at a newspaper. They take courses in Canadian history, ethics and a Christian worldview (that is, a Christian way of looking at the world).
Comment: What first drew you to this work?
JEB: I had been working in Christian advocacy with the Ottawa office of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and increasingly found myself mentoring young people, both those who were still students and those starting their careers. I felt a calling to work more intentionally in mentoring the next generation of Christian leaders. I began teaching courses at the Laurentian Leadership Centre of Trinity Western University shortly after it opened in 2002, and was impressed with the students and the program. It is a great way to make a positive contribution to the future.
Comment: As a novice, what were your most valuable learning experiences?
JEB: I have watched several other advocates go before me into academic life—Brian Stiller, Paul Marshall and John Hiemstra. Each influenced how I “did” advocacy, such as always affirming the positive and looking for ways to make incremental change for the better. My husband also has been a university professor, so I’ve learned from his experiences. To be the best teacher and mentor, you must become involved and engaged with students’ lives, and it is so rewarding—there are students with whom you will always stay in touch. It is rewarding to see students move on to successful careers that honour God.
Comment: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
JEB: Much of the best advice I have received has been small sayings from my parents and my in-laws. My father was a list maker, and he would never worry about a task until it was at the top of the list. This may seem minor, but when you always have more to do than you can actually manage, it is easy to become overwhelmed. He also impressed on me the importance of “moving the file along”; many of the things I do require many small steps, and if I don’t keep taking those steps, the project can suddenly become a major headache.
My father-in-law, a prairie farmer, had endless practical wisdom; my favourite was “do your best and leave the rest.” Having perfectionist tendencies, I continually remind myself of this one.
Comment: From what sources do you draw inspiration for your work?
JEB: I have long been drawn to the Old Testament figures of Daniel and Nehemiah. Both were strong leaders in pagan societies, but were well respected by the kings they served. Both faced considerable opposition with great wisdom and brought honour to God’s name.
Two modern leaders that I admire greatly are Nelson Mandela and Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu. While these men are not without faults, they are reconcilers in a fragmented society. They have acted with grace and wisdom in the harshest of circumstances, showing their great strength of character.
Comment: What rituals and habits structure your workday?
JEB: Two of the most important rituals of my daily life are breakfast and dinner with my family. While many families no longer eat together, for us, it is a daily highlight, as we connect with one another and have the opportunity to pray together.
I spend my work days in the most beautiful office anyone could imagine. It is in the historic Booth mansion in downtown Ottawa and has a marble fireplace, leaded glass bookcases and fine woodwork. My door is always open to students. I also have an email addiction, so it can be challenging to get to my academic writing without succumbing to the interruptions that email brings. I have a mid-week oasis in a Wednesday lunchtime Bible study with a friend who works at the Bible Society.
Comment: What are your favorite tools?
JEB: I love technology! I am an information junkie—I’ve already confessed to an email addiction. I subscribe to e-newsletters, so I have a constant flow of information related to my projects. I find email and Facebook to be great connectors in maintaining a broad network of colleagues and friends.
I just love the Internet—there is so much information. If you want to know about anything, it is there at your fingertips. I love the way that websites and emails connect us around the world. I can connect with colleagues in Sri Lanka, England or Africa in minutes, or at least hours (depending on the time change). It is truly amazing.
Comment: Tell us about a project that delighted you.
JEB: This is a challenge, because there are many. I have a real passion to see Christian advocates having a positive impact on society and on public policy. I recently spoke at an initiative by the Manning Centre for Christian advocates called the Wilberforce Weekend. The advocates received practical training in how to run a successful campaign for change.
I am currently working with the Christian Labour Association Canada to do something similar with student activists—a conference which is focused on human dignity, but moves to the next phase to help students understand what they can do to promote human dignity at many levels.
Comment: How do you plan your work?
JEB: My work varies, depending on the academic calendar, and I tend to follow a pattern throughout the semester. But I am a maker of lists, like my dad, and I have weekly and daily lists of things that need to get done.
I am also an idea person, and I like to be working towards new things. I have a separate place where I keep track of ideas, people with whom I want to connect and ideas for papers I want to write.
Comment: How does your work connect to other aspects of your life?
JEB: I throw myself wholeheartedly into whatever I do. It becomes a part of who I am. My family discusses social and political issues around the breakfast and dinner table, and comes to events at the Laurentian Leadership Centre. I invite my students to my home as well. Though I am a professor, I continue to be an advocate, provide advice and speak publicly on a variety of issues. It seems to be one big, interconnected network of living and working. And it is sometimes hard to tell where one leaves off and another starts—except when I am doing the ironing!