When Chancellor-elect Jon Cornish was elected to the Student Senate at his alma mater, the University of Kansas (KU), he ran on a platform of achieving three goals. He wanted to bring open Wi-Fi to students on campus, secure senatorial representation for his residential building (because it was the only tower that didn’t), and he wanted to build a crosswalk.
“It was such a small thing, building the crosswalk, but there was a three-lane road next to our housing complex, and you supposedly couldn’t put a crosswalk there,” says Cornish, who recently began his tenure at the 15th Chancellor University of Calgary. “But we got capital and built an island for people to cross the road.”
A fearless problem solver, Cornish is someone who looks at a barrier and says, “Yes, I can do something about it.” He sees a solid foundation and building blocks where most people see a wall.
The Senate seat and crosswalk may seem like small issues compared to the issues he tackles today, but they were sparks at the start of a glittering career that would see Cornish continually championing underprivileged communities. represented and empower others to embark on paths they were unable to travel before.
Wins and losses both provide knowledge
As he joins UCalgary in his senior volunteer role, Cornish brings with him his experience as a Canadian Football Hall of Fame player with the Calgary Stampeders, as a founder and president of the Calgary Black Chambers, as an investment advisor at RBC Dominion Securities, a chartered firm holding the Financial Analyst Charter, as an active community volunteer, and as an advocate for the BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ communities.
Although his accomplishments are many, he derives his knowledge and experience from his losses, as well as his victories.
After the Stampeders were kicked out of the CFL playoffs in the 2013 Western Finals, in a game they were favorites to win – within a year Cornish also won the coveted Lou Marsh Trophy – he had to figure out how to come back from that loss.
“We had a great team that thought we were going to win, but losing is part of the deal,” Cornish said.
I realized it wasn’t just about looking my best. It was about how well I could motivate and uplift those around me to succeed.
The Stampeders came back to win the Gray Cup in 2014. Reflecting on his nine years of experience in professional football, Cornish says it was through sports that he learned to quickly weigh the solutions – and that he there is no challenge that cannot be overcome.
“If you distill football, you’re trying to get a ball going around obstacles, and my job was to solve the defense problem, sometimes in seconds,” says Cornish, adding that to be successful in the sport you know who you’re up against and what your goals are.
“I’ve never seen a problem that I couldn’t solve,” he says. “I could be tackled, but there’s always a path you can take in time, which sometimes involves going back.”
Sports lessons apply in the community
Cornish has applied the same philosophy and attitude to its many activities. While volunteering at Alberta Children’s Hospital, playing video games with patients, he quickly saw how he could help even more people by raising funds.
When he and his wife, Kiran Seetal, learned about the wage disparity among black members of the Calgary business community, how child poverty was three times higher for black children in the community, and how 50% of black students don’t were not. n feeling they had the financial means to complete their university studies, they founded the Calgary Black Chambers.
The organization has now raised over $70,000 for scholarships, mentored nearly 300 children in the Calgary Catholic School District, and recently recognized 10 outstanding Calgarians through the Calgary Black Achievement Awards.
Cornish has long been a champion of LGBTQ2S+ communities, volunteering with the You Can Play project, which promotes safe team sports for all. It’s a job he started while raising the voice of equality in the Stampeders locker room.
“I saw the antagonism directed at people who are just trying to love who they love, and I saw an opportunity to create a safe space where everyone felt comfortable being who they were. says Cornish.
Removing barriers is a priority
He plans to bring the same energy and passion for breaking down barriers for the LGBTQ2S+ and BIPOC communities to his role as Chancellor, not in order to cross off a list, but because that’s what he wants. always does and it is at the heart of all his work.
“If I left college and it wasn’t really an anti-racism organization, I would be disappointed,” Cornish says. “A lot of work is being done on campus in this space, and if I can find ways to support these groups, we can work together to make our community a better place for everyone.”
Promoting UCalgary’s Top 5 Research School status, building mutually beneficial community partnerships, ensuring world-class programs operate in world-class facilities, and prioritizing student mental health are initiatives. Cornish says he also hopes to help advance in his role as an ambassador for the university’s reputation and priorities.
He plans to approach this role as he has approached many of his roles in the past: with a strong desire to learn, listen and help, inspired in part by one of his mentors.
Inspired by mentor
“I had a strong relationship with KU’s chancellor, the late Robert Hemenway, and he showed me what good can be done by integrating a university into the city, province and country in which it is located. lies,” says Cornish. “I want to spend time understanding the institution, helping students in any way I can, and being accessible to them the same way it was to me.”
Cornish officially began his four-year term on July 1, succeeding Chancellor Emeritus Deborah Yedlin, and he will be officially installed as Chancellor at the convocation ceremony at 9 a.m. on November 10.