bulletin board with a dancer in the middle

Pivots and Pirouettes

Lisa Cania, vice president for Community and Employee Relations, makes one final pivot to retirement after 34 years of service to St. Lawrence

Mark Mende

In 1999, Lisa Cania hired me as the first “Web Guy” to join St. Lawrence University, where she was serving as associate vice president for University Relations. A number of things have stuck with me over the years, but oddly enough, the one I often find myself lingering on is a picture she had on her office bulletin board.

The image is a black and white cutout of a young dancer leaping through the air, gesturing forward with an expression of excitement and energy. Aside from the resemblance to Lisa, and her childhood dance experiences, I think what strikes me is how I have witnessed Lisa handle every new challenge with that same positive attitude, excitement, and forward momentum.

I remember my job interview in December 1998, especially walking into her office where the rest of the Communications staff had assembled for the inquisition. I remember feeling instantly at home and at ease. The environment was informal, and everyone clearly was comfortable.

At the same time, the questions and discussions were substantive and tough. I knew right away I wanted to work with this team.

For the next 10 years, I was lucky enough to have Lisa as a professional role model: accessible, supportive, tough when needed, and confident in her staff’s abilities. I have tried to apply those same traits supervising my own team.

Lisa began her career at St. Lawrence as director of University Communications in 1987, and over the course of her 34-year service, has likely impacted, in some direct or indirect way, nearly every St. Lawrence student, graduate, faculty, and staff member.

Like the dancer on her bulletin board, Lisa has had to be agile.

The University has looked to her leadership in a variety of critical roles. She has served as interim director of Alumni Relations, was on a three-person team that led the admissions efforts at St. Lawrence during a senior leadership transition; and has coordinated Commencement for the last 30+ years, receiving the Jack Taylor Award for Exemplary Professional Service to the University in 2000. For 20 years of her tenure, she was also the primary connection between the members of the Alumni Executive Council and the institution, a role from which she developed lasting friendships with many alumni.

In 2009, when President William L. Fox ’75 arrived at Romoda Drive, he asked Lisa to pivot once again and become vice president for Community and Employee Relations. In this final position, she has overseen Human Resources and outreach to the local community, taken on the role of Title IX coordinator, and served as secretary for the University Board of Trustees.

That’s an impressive list of accomplishments and job titles, and, although we have not worked together directly as much in her currently role, when we did collaborate on projects, it was always easy to slide back into the old, comfortable banter, while often doing very detailed and important work. I have been fortunate enough to see firsthand why Lisa has been so successful and, more importantly, respected and loved by many Laurentians.

The dancer leaping forward on the bulletin board is still there, but in July, Lisa and the dancer will be exiting Vilas Hall stage left when she retires. The campus will miss her nurturing way of handling both the celebrations and the sorrows, navigating difficult situations in her Title IX role and forging successful professional lives and lifelong Laurentian ties to the University. Her infinite institutional memory will also be sorely missed.

As for me, I have been fortunate to have had her as a boss, colleague, mentor, and, most importantly, a friend, forever grateful for the energy and forward momentum that Lisa has shared with us all.