She spent a lot of time at her grandparents’ dairy farm on Fairfield Island in Chilliwack growing up, and always had horses.
Hayes graduated from Office Careers (now Applied Business Technology) in 1982 and worked several jobs at Fraser Valley College (as it was known then) before landing her dream job.
When she saw the UFV Agriculture departmental assistant posting back in 1987, she knew she’d found the perfect fit. And once she found it, she stayed. For 34 years.
“When the job came up I knew it was perfect for me. It combined working in the office with my background in agriculture and love of rural life. Horses were and are my favourite animal but I’ve always loved everything about being on the farm.”
Over the decades Hayes was the point person for the agriculture students, helping them to solve countless problems. Many had moved far from home to take the program, and looked to her for support.
“I enjoyed seeing the new group of students come in each year, and helping them, especially those who were new to farming. The students are why I’ve stuck around so long.”
It’s this dedication to the students and the agricultural community that has earned Hayes the 2021 Staff Excellence Award.
Dr. Renee Prasad, an associate professor of agriculture, says Hayes always prioritizes students, from first contact with the program to graduation.
“The student engagement is always unique to each student. For some, she advises them to take a smaller load as they are clearly overwhelmed. She has walked some over to counselling services. She has encouraged students to talk to their instructor about problems, acting as a sounding board to help them feel more confident. Students over the years have indicated that Shelley is an integral part of their transformative UFV journey.”
Colleague Brent Bailey, the agriculture program technician, also supported her nomination.
“Not only does Shelley care deeply about our students and their success at UFV, she cares deeply about our program, and all that it entails. Her caring and compassion extends to our four-legged companions in the program. She has no qualms about donning rubber boots and coveralls and stepping right in to help with livestock care, including feeding, birthing, cleaning and shovelling!”
Every year Hayes staffs the UFV booth at the Pacific Agriculture Show in February and catches up with alumni and employers. Since the agriculture program depends on practicum hosts for much of the hands-on part of the program, and on local employers once the students graduate, her connections with the agriculture community were very valuable.
Student Terisha Mitchell, who is graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Integrated Studies but who also took the Agriculture diploma program, says Hayes helped her find full-time employment in the agriculture field.
“It was clear from day one that Shelley was interested in my success. She is one of the first people that gets a call when agriculture employers are looking for a competent student to hire, and that is exactly how I went from being employed at Pizza Hut to my current position as a field crop entomology technician with Agriculture Canada. Shelley went above and beyond the requirements of her job, as she does every day, and blessed me with an opportunity that changed my life forever.”
Hayes was the constant steady presence through several reconfigurations of the agriculture program and department.
“Time has flown by,” she says. “I am now seeing the children of former students coming in to the same program their parents took.”
She likes being involved with a practical, hands-on program, so the last year was tough, on her and the students. Most classroom learning moved to an online model due to the pandemic.
It reminded her of 2012 to 2014, when the program moved across town to the new Chilliwack campus but did not yet have its new barn and greenhouses. Students had to complete the practical part of their courses at host farms, which was logistically challenging.
Now all the kindness and compassion she has shown to students, faculty, alumni, employers, and the animals in the barn has come back to her in the form of the Staff Excellence Award.
“I am very honoured to be chosen for this award, especially as it means that the people who nominated me think highly of me,” she says. “If you like what you do, it shows. Your enthusiasm spills over to other people. I’ve enjoyed being here and helping so many students get through the program.”
Shelley is retiring this spring, and will be spending more time with her family, including her four grandchildren, and her horses on her acreage in East Chilliwack.