Home » People of SFU: Meet Annette Santos

People of SFU: Meet Annette Santos

Annette Santos
Annette Santos, Director, Student Engagement and Retention; Strategic Lead, Career & Volunteer Services and Work-integrated Learning (photo credit: Gwynne Roseborough)

Annette Santos and her teams work across the university and with the external community to support the educational journeys of students inside and outside of the classroom. As an SFU alumnus (BA ’01), long-time staff member and current EMBA student, Annette is driven by a generous, collaborative spirit and a commitment to create meaningful connections within the SFU community.

Informed in part by her own experience as a first-generation student, she believes SFU plays a vital role serving the Lower Mainland and contributing to positive change for a better world.  

Learn more about what why Annette loves being a part of the SFU community and who inspires her as a leader.

What do you enjoy most about being a part of the SFU community?

It is a real honour to work with people not only in my unit but across the university who are so committed and passionate about supporting students. We look at our students as partners—they are the only reason we are here. Our goal is to ensure they make the most of their time at SFU, and to help them feel that they matter and are a part of something. The only way we can do that is by listening and trying to meet them where they are, partnering with them on what that experience is.

In addition to being a dedicated staff member, you are also an SFU alumnus and a current graduate student. Through your work, you see how students benefit from the involvement and investment of our donor and alumni community. Can you share your thoughts on why it is important for people to give back to the university?

Many students experience financial or identity barriers to education; they struggle in many different ways. We need to be looking at how students can be holistically successful and focus on removing those barriers and enhancing the support students need—scholarships and bursaries, mental health support, initiatives that support identity-based groups, creating opportunities to help students build connection and a sense of belonging so they feel less isolated. Once our students graduate from SFU, they’ve had an experience that they will take with them and will go on to influence what happens in the world whether it’s their family, a business or community. By giving back through time, finances, and caring, people can enrich not only the SFU community but our impact on other communities.

Who would you say inspires you the most, and why?

Terry Fox, his determination, everything that he did and that his family continues to do has really influenced me personally. I think having him as an alumnus has also influenced our institution’s identity and given us this additional layer of care that informs how we work differently.

I am also continually humbled by the unsung heroes of Student Services and Student Affairs, by their commitment and care for students in crisis, families and communities, and everything that quietly gets done and goes unseen. We enter into a partnership with students when we bring them here—they are part of the SFU community and we believe they are going to be successful. It’s up to us to be the organization that they need us to be.

What is the most important lesson you have learned that informs your leadership approach?

Collaboration is always the way. There is that saying that often gets misquoted—"if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” My ideas and my thoughts will always be richer by broadening the scope of who I work with, being open to the views and needs of others, and building together. I have been at SFU almost 26 years and in my experience, there has never been something made better by someone doing it on their own.

Can you tell us more about how you and your colleagues are supporting the success of SFU students and helping to transform their experience?

We strive to support students in the journey throughout their degree. One of the most important things we can do is to help students feel they are not alone, that they matter and are among others who they can be safe with while navigating the unknown. Creating more opportunities for experiential learning, we aim to not only contribute to skill development and career prospects but also space for learning reflection and how students’ education integrates with their career and life goals. Students are here not only to enrich their intellect and challenge themselves—they ultimately want to get a job! We’re helping students to be competitive for the real world and working closely with employers to ensure they are creating safe, supportive and enriching learning environments for our future alumni.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

There is such a community of collaboration across this institution and I’m proud to have a hand in building it. This collaboration has resulted in programs like Back on Track, which has contributed to thousands upon thousands of students in academic difficulty completing their degrees or the HIVE program, which helps new students make a smooth transition at SFU. These aren’t achievements I “own.” I can only own the fact that I championed the collaboration of them, and that the results show they have made a meaningful difference.

This story is part of our summer 2024 edition of Engage, our magazine celebrating the impact of SFU’s donor community.
To read more stories, please visit the Engage landing page.