Eighteen months ago, Red Deer College was formally re-designated Red Deer Polytechnic. Central Alberta’s largest post-secondary institution embarked on a journey to fundamentally shift its purpose and elevate its economic and social impact to benefit the province. Our new designation brought with it a new name, a new brand and even a new logo for our athletic teams. However, the evolution to becoming a polytechnic was not merely a marketing exercise or a cosmetic upgrade.
As we close out 2022, I am reflecting on two key questions that are often top of mind for those with whom I have spoken: what does it mean to be a polytechnic and why does it matter? In my view these questions are key to our identity and the answers below will guide our accomplishments in the years to come.
What does it mean to be a polytechnic?
As described within Alberta’s Post-secondary Learning Act, a polytechnic is focused on the economic and social interests of the province. It operates a “bigger game” than a community college (whose focus is its region) and offers industry-relevant programming and enhanced applied research opportunities. It is fundamentally applied, externally-focused, and responsive to the needs of employers and industry. Its learners benefit, because of this close connection to industry and because polytechnics generally lead in providing the innovative learning environments that reflect where industry is going. These environments (or what I call innovation ecosystems) are where companies find solutions to challenges in their businesses (including through training and applied research). They are dynamic and interwoven with technology and know-how from multiple sectors and disciplines. Essentially, polytechnics offer the education model of the future – a future where students are not just taught or shown the latest technologies and innovations, but rather one where they are active participants in creating them.
Why Does it Matter?
RDP’s re-designation as a polytechnic lets us expand our reach beyond Red Deer and central Alberta to become a provincially-focused, nationally-relevant and globally-engaged institute. Our polytechnic mandate gives our institution (including our students) both the tools and the confidence to start tackling the massive and complex economic and societal issues facing our province and our nation. These issues include energy security, food security, and climate security, to name a few. As a unique comprehensive polytechnic, which includes programming in areas such as health, liberal and creative arts, we are also well-suited to tackle social issues, such as healthcare security, affordability, underemployment of marginalized groups, access to supports for vulnerable youth, and more. Red Deer and central Alberta are positioned as economic and social engines for our province and country. With its enhanced mandate, RDP is well-positioned to support their education, training, and applied research needs.
When Red Deer Polytechnic was re-designated, it was also provided with the license and expectation to deliver more credentials. During the past year, we added 17 new programs, including five degrees! With the help of the Government of Alberta, we have also added 700 more seats for students in healthcare, technology, business, arts and creative arts.
With more than 80 programs in degrees, diplomas, certificates and apprenticeship training, and a growing selection of micro-credentials, RDP can now provide more diverse programming to skill and reskill our workforce and keep our young people in the region. We are also positioned to draw more learners from outside of the region. This academic year, we attracted more than 500 international learners. As a polytechnic, RDP will become a destination institution for leaners from across Canada and around the world and will contribute more to the region’s labour market.
We will also be a destination for companies and organizations that are seeking to innovate and engage with the next generation of talent. This past year, our Centre for Innovation in Manufacturing-Technology Access Centre (CIM-TAC) supported more than 60 companies, completing more than 80 applied research projects. We now have our sights set on a $16 million expansion that will significantly grow our capacity to support more companies. This investment will also enhance our capacity to engage more of our students and other learners (including in the K-12 system), in developing the solutions and practices needed to enhance our region’s industrial competitiveness.
This is one innovation ecosystem. More are coming.
Last June on RDP’s main campus, ground was broken on the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre’s (CACAC) new Centre of Excellence. This project is another example of an innovation ecosystem emerging at RDP that includes the collective expertise not only of our institution and the CACAC, but many other organizations and social agencies. We are working hard to integrate our academic programming and establish an applied research focus that produces the kind of social value that is equivalent to the economic value of our CIM-TAC.
This month, Red Deer Polytechnic launched its “Polytechnic Means More” campaign. Building on a history of strong, relevant programming, as a polytechnic, we will provide more for our learners, our industry, our community, and our province.
In the months ahead I will share more about the initiatives underway at RDP as we continue to fully embrace our new identity as a polytechnic. In the meantime, you can read about Red Deer Polytechnic’s impact at rdpolytech.ca/about.
On behalf of everyone at Red Deer Polytechnic, I wish you a safe and enjoyable holiday season.
Stuart Cullum is the President of Red Deer Polytechnic.