Two of Manitoba’s seven public postsecondary institutions are now headed by aboriginal women.
I’m not suggesting anyone set out consciously to do that, but it has to be a good thing.
Stephanie Forsyth is the incoming president at Red River College, officially starting her job in September. Denise Henning is president of the University College of the North.
Forsyth is coming from Northwest Community College in the northern interior of B.C., where she’s been president for 10 years. During that decade, Northwest has tripled its enrolment and its aboriginal student population is closing in on half.
The campus in Terrace, B.C., has bilingual signage, totem poles — check the website — teepees and a longhouse. Forsyth says aboriginal people have a different world view than does the Canadian mainstream, and Northwest CC respects and incorporates that.
Forsyth comes here knowing all about the postsecondary participation rates among aboriginal people, the shortage of skilled workers, and aboriginal students annually becoming an ever-greater proportion of the student population.
RRC already has a national and international reputation for its encouragement of First Nations education, said Forsyth.
She’s got quite the tough act to follow. Jeff Zabudsky, who left in the winter to take over Sheridan College in the Toronto area, did some significant things while he was here and had ambitious plans for even greater expansion.
The Union Bank Tower renovation and construction project is well underway, featuring student residences and a culinary arts school and restaurant. Skilled trades are running at capacity, the Notre Dame campus saw major improvements in heavy equipment, transportation and automotive programs. Red River took over the old Massey Building within a stone’s throw of the Princess campus and Union Bank Tower, it has a campus in Steinbach now.
Zabudsky was also talking a third campus in the southeast, oodles of sophisticated new classrooms for the trades, and RRC getting its mitts on the Public Safety Building to launch an allied health sciences program near to the Health Sciences Centre and U of M’s medical school.
But Zabudsky didn’t just limit himself to physical growth.
During his time as president, Zabudsky worked tirelessly to convince students, parents and high school guidance counsellors that a college education should have the same respect as a university education. He developed an alumni network and plastered billboards around the city touting Red River grads who’d parlayed their community college education into successful careers. RRC now can grant degrees, it conducts applied research and receives research grants, it recruits international students.
Quite the challenge ahead for Forsyth.
When I met Henning in The Pas a few weeks ago, she told me afterward that she’d expected a tougher interview. I told her it was our first interview, a get-acquainted talk, and that she should ask her buddies, UM prez David Barnard and UW prez Lloyd Axworthy, what the 18th or 24th interviews would be like.
We’ll see how Forsyth handles her challenges ahead — the track record looks pretty good.
For those keeping score at home, Brandon University has its first woman president, Deborah Poff, Raymonde Gagne is president of College universitaire de Saint-Boniface --- so women are in the majority as postsecondary presidents here -- and Assiniboine Community College should be getting near the end of its presidential search.