Less than a week from retirement, Red Deer College president Ron Woodward took some time to reflect on his 11 years at the helm Monday.
“I didn’t come with any grandiose plan and I didn’t come with an agenda,” said Woodward in a speech at a Rotary Club of Red Deer luncheon.
“I came simply to provide leadership.”
When Woodward arrived in 1998, the college’s top job had been held by five different people in five years. It was clear the institution needed some caring and stable leadership.
The newly appointed president immediately went to the community to get their read on the college and its role.
“First of all, I found the college was quite badly disconnected from the community,”
Facilities were inadequate, enrolment numbers flat and few new programs had been developed. The staff were top notch but the continual leadership changes left them cloistered in their departments and hiding under the desks to avoid detection, he quipped.
Despite its problems, the college was energized by the enthusiasm of its students.
While more naturally leaning to shyness than showmanship, Woodward realized he needed to put himself front and centre if he was to pursue his stated goal of creating the best college in the country.
Over the next decade, $250 million was pumped into the institution and more than 300,000 square feet of learning spaces built or renovated.
Student enrolment has doubled to about 6,500 credit students and nearly 18,000 more are in credit-free or continuing education courses.
Woodward hinted that enrolment numbers this fall will prove even more impressive, but would say no more.
The expansion of college programs means more students than ever before are starting and completing their studies at the college. Previously, students often took the first year or two of a program in Red Deer and finished the degree in Edmonton or Calgary.
“That’s actually been a major shift over the past decade,” he said.
The college’s expansion over the last few years has been one of the most visible signs of its change in status and the construction of the Library Information Commons proved a turning point.
“It was the point at which the community stepped up and took ownership of the college through the fundraising campaign,” he said of the $6 million fundraising effort launched in 2000. In all, the community has donated $30 million to help college expansion.
He also paid tribute to the college staff and the student body.
“Our students are the proof, in my mind, that we have the best college in Canada.”
Woodward finished his speech, which drew a standing ovation, by saying he planned to stay in Red Deer and would remain involved with the college.