Cameron Norman (U'96)

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Cameron Norman (U'96)

Cameron Norman (U’96) can trace the roots of his success as a professor and entrepreneur back to a chance meeting with the late Dr. Paul Antrobus, a Luther Psychology professor, at his high school graduation. After this introduction, Cameron knew he had to take a class from Paul at university, and this decision would inevitably shape the course of his future. “I thought I would do business [at university],” Cameron says, “but within a couple of classes [with Paul] I knew I found my calling.” After switching his major to Psychology, he completed a Bachelor of Arts with Honours at Luther College in 1996, followed by a Master’s in Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University, and finally a Ph.D. in Public Health Sciences at the University of Toronto (UofT), where he was hired as a professor.

Teaching was important to Cameron; he saw it as an avenue through which he could give back to society. But in addition to his duties as a professor (teaching, research, and service), he also began taking on contract work, doing community-based research for non-profits, health care, and social groups, mainly within the health and human services fields, to help them be more efficient. He eventually left teaching to focus on consulting, which included completing post-doctoral research in Systems Thinking and Knowledge Translation as well as a Master of Design (MDes) degree in Strategic Foresight and Innovation from OCAD University.

Much of Cameron’s consulting work utilizes psychology and complex systems. Complex systems is a branch of science that looks at what occurs when diverse entities interact, the greater system that those interactions produce, and how that greater system interacts with its particular environment. “There is a reason that we cannot just come up with a recipe on how to train people in the workplace…You can’t take the same things from one environment, drop them into another, and expect them to provide the same results. Context comes into play.”

With increasingly diverse societies and an ever-changing world, organizations are finding that key elements of the work they do, such as programming or training (and/or its delivery), are not as successful as they once were. Through CENSE Research + Design, a social innovation design consultancy based in Toronto, of which Cameron is the Principal, Cameron is able to help organizations design or redesign their programs by analyzing why something may not be working and what shifts to the services delivered may be needed to ensure its relevance. He combines this information with his knowledge of complex systems and background in design to help his clients (re)construct their services/programming and then deliver it effectively.

“[At CENSE], I’m essentially a social innovation consultant. I’m often working with organizations who know they want to do something different, but aren’t sure what they need to do to get there. I do research and consultation with different groups within the health and human services sector that enables me to create something new. It’s a unique way to make a contribution to society.”

In addition to his work through CENSE, Cameron has also returned to teaching. He is an adjunct Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the UofT, where he is also the President of its Public Health Alumni Association and part of the Thought-Leader Program with the Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement.

Moving forward, Cameron hopes to continue to encourage people to think about systems. “We are in an age where everything is getting interconnected, but we can’t just think about our own world. We have to bring systems and design together.”

In 2014, Cameron, who remains an active member of the Association for Psychological Science and the Canadian Psychological Association, was the recipient of the Canadian Community Psychology Award for “outstanding contributions to Canadian community psychology.” “Having the ability to wake up every day and be excited about what I do is incredible. Awards and recognitions – it is nice to get those things, but to watch people connect and then work together to create something successful and to watch them get excited about those successes – that’s the true motivator.” Cameron also enjoys the challenge and creative opportunities that his career presents: “It allows me to take what I’ve learned and constantly apply it. I get to use all of the education that I’ve had. I get a chance to be creative and create a job instead of follow a job. I like the entrepreneurial approach and the opportunity to do something that I’ve never done.”

Remembering Luther

Much of Cameron’s success can be attributed to his innate understanding of complex systems and – following from that -- his ability to bring seemingly unrelated tools together to assist him in creating something innovative that fulfills a societal need. It is apparent that in addition to being “a highlight of my life, not just my education,” Cameron regards the liberal arts degree that he obtained from Luther as having provided him a great advantage. “It’s almost impossible to not see how it’s relevant. You understand how everything matters and is interconnected. The world is all about English, Psychology, Anthropology. My education at Luther gave me the greatest appreciation of that and best embodied what I would expect a liberal arts education to provide: competency in your area, but also an ability to understand how your degree plays out in the world.”

The “very committed, very competent faculty” at Luther obviously plays a pivotal role in providing Luther students like Cameron with the skills and resources required to complete a liberal arts degree. Paul Antrobus, who “knew so much about so much,” and fellow Luther Psychology professor, Mary Hampton, both left long-lasting impressions on Cameron: “The experience that I had at Luther was incredibly life changing and I would say that is true for many of my collogues in psychology. For me, that had a lot to do with Paul and Mary. They helped foster my interest in how groups work and demonstrated that you could take psychology and really make a difference in the way the world works – in all aspects.”

Beyond preparing him for the world in an academic sense, Cameron recalls the sense of community Luther works to create for its students. Being a smaller college allows for a “level of intimacy [which allows] you get to know people and build relationships, not just with your subject matter, but also a community. [It is] not by luck but by design [that Luther] keeps classrooms small and provides places to gather, like the cafeteria.” All of these are thoughtfully considered design choices that “create space for students and community.”

As Cameron speaks so highly of his time at Luther, it is not surprising that he objects to the request to highlight just one memory of his days at Luther. “I sampled virtually the entire university experience. I [lived] off campus. I lived on campus in residence. I was involved in student clubs there as well and worked at the library. We started a peer support centre and a Psychology Students’ Association (which is now on the main campus) – bringing together students who were also passionate about Psychology. It was the first of its kind in Saskatchewan. It was incredible because we felt we needed this at the university and needed the support of the president – then Richard Hordern – and senior administration. [It was] incredible that there was that much trust in us to do that.” 

When looking back on his experience at Luther, Cameron can’t help but think that it shaped who he is and pointed him in the direction that his life took. Despite many degrees, certificates and roles, his initial experiences at Luther provided the platform for his work today. “Luther offered me a jumping-off point into the world that I am grateful for every day.  When I was at Luther I knew it was special, but it’s only having spent most of my adult life as a student and a professor that I’ve come to truly realize how special my education there was. As corny as it might sound, I try my best to recreate that kind of Luther space with every educational interaction I have.”