By Ross Muir
A restructured management organization, a revamped distance education program, enhanced community partnerships and plans to offer ongoing training to northwestern Ontario's emergency services personnel are just four of the new educational initiatives at Confederation College this fall.
Fifteen months ago the college hired Patricia Lang as its new president. Since then, the new chief executive officer and board have created three new vice-presidential positions, replacing Confederation's former system of deans. Gail Higginson was lured away from Georgian College in Barrie, following a 26-year stint there, to become Confederation's vice-president, academic and student services.
She is joined by Ian McCormack, vice-president, community development and innovation, and Reg Jones, vice-president, administration and human resources. Rounding out the new senior management team is Brenda Small, the dean of Negahneewin College of Indigenous Studies, a college within the Confederation College system.
"This is a major restructuring," says Higginson. "It's a new organizational model of value-based leadership that will work collectively with the staff and students."
The primary goal of this new leadership model is to deliver "excellent customer service" to the college's nearly 15,000 students, including a growing number of indigenous students and the employers who will hire Confederation's graduates, as well as the seven communities in which the college has campuses.
Besides Thunder Bay, Confederation College has educational facilities in Dryden, Fort Frances, Geraldton, Kenora, Marathon and Sioux Lookout.
"Our catchment area is the size of France," Higginson notes.
This goal will be met, it is hoped, by "focusing more closely on student success and on the teaching and learning process," Higginson explains.
In an attempt to make this transition as "seamless" as possible for the student body, she notes that "the students are full participants in the process and the decision-making."
To accomplish this, members of the student union sit on the transition team and students are also part of focus groups that have been set up.
If all goes well, this transition team will have a report ready for the college president by Christmas, so new jobs and roles can begin to be put in place over the coming winter.
"We want our new organization to focus on their (the students') goals so they achieve them in the most successful way," Higginson says. "We want them to be connected, supported and understand where any help they may need comes from."
Enrolment at Confederation is up 1.5 per cent this year over the 2000 school year.
"We have a fairly significant jump in our distance education students," Higginson points out.
Currently, Confederation primarily offers distance education courses through video and audio conferencing and through text-based learning. "We're moving to revamp our infrastructure so we can offer more interactive and computer-based courses over the next five to 10 years. We have a rich history as a leader in distance education, and we want to regain our prominence in this area," she adds.
Community partnerships have always been important to Confederation College. Its new $15-million Alliance of Excellence fundraising initiative to develop a new aviation centre at the Thunder Bay airport and enhance the college's forestry program has already received $4 million from the province's SuperBuild program, and the Thunder Bay city council has just unanimously approved a $100,000 contribution to the alliance.
Finally, Confederation College is developing a concept of working with northwestern Ontario's emergency services - police, fire, ambulance and natural resources personnel - to provide them not only with basic training in the areas of justice and health, but also with ongoing professional development.
"There has never been a more exciting or challenging time" to be in the business of applied education, Higginson maintains, noting the ever-increasing need for lifelong learning as more and more people find themselves involved in multiple careers during the course of their working lives.