Red Deer College president Joel Ward is retiring.
Ward, 67, announced at a news conference on Thursday afternoon that he would step down after a decade at the helm of the college, which he led through a period of unparalleled growth, capped off by gaining university status.
The crowning moment of his Red Deer College career comes as no surprise.
“When the premier was here and made the announcement, and the balloons and the standing ovation she received as a government I think that was the absolute highlight of my career,” said Ward. “To see a community come together and celebrate an accomplishment that took 30 years, I will look back at that as the most fun.
“I have so many great memories of this place, the people that I’ve met, the people that I’ve worked with, I’ll look back fondly for many years in my retirement on the impact this place has had on me.”
Red Deer College is ready for the leap to a university, he said.
“We structured this institution for success as a university.”
Ward oversaw the college at a time when its footprint grew considerably. Most recently, the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre has opened and an Alternative Energy Lab and new student residence are coming next. The college, which has 7,500 full- and part-time credit students saw enrolment jump another four per cent this year and seven new programs were added to the roughly 100 already offered.
Ward’s work is not done in Red Deer. He plans to stay on during this academic year to help with the transition to a new president. A search is already underway for his replacement, who will be in place before the 2019-20 academic year.
The lobbying work is also not finished.
“What’s really important to me and I want to work with the city is having the city designate us as a university district,” he said. “What that means is we have more control over our growth on our 300 acres of land.”
Ward also wants to see through the creation of the transition plan to a university and to ensure Red Deer College has a new name, sooner rather than later.
In his speech announcing his retirement, Ward said “the time has come for a changing of the guard. New and different leadership is required to ensure that RDC becomes the university of which we can all be proud.”
Ward plans to retire to Victoria, B.C., where he will continue to pitch the merits of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
With his retirement he caps a 27-year career in post-secondary education, which began in Oakville, Ont. at Sheridan College, where he was associate dean of the school of business. He later moved to Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, Man. where he was vice-president academic before becoming president for three years before landing at Red Deer College in 2009.
Morris Flewwelling, chair of the college board of governors, praised Ward for his leadership and dedication to the college throughout his tenure.
“From the beginning of his time here, Joel has had an unwavering future-focused vision,” said Flewwelling. “He always saw the possibilities and recognized the needs of our learners and the communities of Central Alberta.
“He’s passionate about the role our institution plays in our community.”
Flewwelling outlined what the college is looking for in its next president.
“We need somebody who can start a university — light that fire,” he said, adding the plan to move forward is already in place.
“We don’t need somebody with vision. We’ve already got a vision. The vision is a university.
“What we need is somebody who can put the pieces together and make the thing fly.”
Executive search firm Leaders International has already been hired to head hunt Ward’s replacement.