Red Deer College went to B.C. for the new face of their athletics department.
The college announced on Monday that Diane St-Denis has been hired as its new athletic director to replace Keith Hansen, who stepped down after a long, successful run.
St-Denis has spent the last several years as the executive director for the Canada West Universities Athletic Association and has also filled a number of roles with Simon Fraser University, including nine as their associate director of recreation and athletics.
For St-Denis, it’s all about getting back to basics.
“There’s just something about working with young people and helping them develop as students, as athletes and as citizens that has spoken to me a lot,” she said. “I was missing the day-to-day contact with the actual student athletes. The opportunity for me to get back to the institutional level and help grow a program is something I just had to go for.”
In replacing Hansen, she has her work cut out for her. Hansen oversaw the ascension of the athletics program to new heights in his seven years at the post, including earning five national titles.
But Linda Moore Martin, dean of the School of Health Services, is confident St-Denis is up to the task as the first full-time athletic director in the program’s history.
“Keith had some very big shoes to fill himself and he’s left some pretty for her to fill; I think she brings her own shoes to the table and will set her own direction,” said Martin. “She’ll build on what Keith has built and will grow that further.”
St-Denis has a bachelor and master’s degree in physical education from the University of Ottawa and has extensive experience with the Western Canada Summer Games, the Commonwealth Games, the National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport and even served a stint with the Vancouver Olympic Committee in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
“What stood out for me was her energy, her passion, not only for sport but for athletes and coaches and her solid reputation for mentoring both student athletes and coaches,” said Martin.
Though Martin says that experience is helpful in knowing the college will be playing a key role in hosting the 2019 Canada Winter Games, it was not the top priority for what they were looking for.
However, one of the big offshoots of those games will be the construction of a brand new health and wellness centre for the college to be the new home of the athletic department. St-Denis will play a large role in that.
“We have a great opportunity in 2019 with that new facility coming on board, we can become the centre for recreation and athletics and high performance athletics for Central Alberta,” said St-Denis. “I want to make sure the community and the college are all together and embracing a strategic direction.”
St-Denis is not taking over a struggling program, in fact there are no major fires for her to put out when she arrives on July 13 — the college filled its only vacant coaching position when it hired Kelly Coulter to take over the Queens hockey team on June 11.
But that does not mean she is going to sit back and rest on that knowledge.
“To be good in sports, to be at the top all of the time, we need to adapt,” she said. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to come in and start changing staff or anything like that because from what I’ve heard and seen … I think we have some very qualified staff. It’s just a matter of me being able to articulate what’s going to be our strategic vision once I’ve done an intake with everybody and ensuring everyone can embrace their role. It will make us stronger.”
One interesting element that has followed her in her career is the movement of athletic programs to different conferences and statuses. She a part of SFU when that institution made the jump to the NAIA, an American post-secondary athletic association, one level below the NCAA. Then as executive director of CanadaWest, she oversaw a large expansion period that saw several Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference and Pacific Western Athletic Association schools make the jump to the Canadian Interuniversity conference.
However, St-Denis adds that until RDC becomes a university, it cannot move up into CanadaWest and that it would be an institution decision to make that move.
“I’ve shared with the hiring committee some of the thoughts I have, but for me in the next 60-90 days I’m planning on having some dialogue with the RDC community, with the community at large and with the alumni,” she said. “I’m really trying to gain a better understanding of where we want to go and what’s the best place for RDC. Just because a few institutions have made the move to one conference doesn’t mean it’s going to be the best fit for us.”