June 18th, 2019

Looking to the future

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on June 13, 2019.

June is the time for graduation, for reflection and for looking toward the future; the start of a new chapter.

Medicine Hat College’s commencement will be held on Friday, though the mood of Tuesday’s ceremony to install and formally welcome new president Kevin Shufflebotham ran strong with similar themes.

Facing and shaping the future, honouring the past, building community are oft-repeated phrases at events like these, but they seem to have new life in Shufflebotham’s address.

Residents of Medicine Hat and southeast Alberta should not only hope for such success, but work to be part of it.

Shufflebotham says he’s eager to engage with residents and stakeholders about what they see as the role of the college in the area.

Collectively, he said, the community can better prepare students, and help lift the region to meet the challenges of the future.

For too long it’s been a pastime to meditate on the challenges of the present, the glories of the past.

It’s time to start talking about what’s possible, and not just likely or the easy for the institution and the region.

Shaking up expectations and pushing people to expand their vision is never easy, but Shufflebotham seems to have an easy touch and way.

Indeed, there are large portions of the local population that wouldn’t be more pleased if Alberta returned to a place where a high school dropout could earn six figures on a drilling rig before they were 20.

You can’t ignore the fact the general population likely wants the institution to provide local career training, plain and simple, but that’s no longer so plain or so simple in the rapidly evolving economy of today.

Shufflebotham is correct to say the institution will have to adjust to succeed. We all will.

A survey of speakers’ comments at the ceremony seems to back this up.

Student leaders said flat out the province is in transition, while local dignitaries talked about changing to shape of the community. For some time business groups have broadcast their growing recognition that the college is an economic driver.

Some steps in that direction have been taken already.

A multi-partner project to build a micro-grid will help students study renewable energy production while companies test products in partnership with the city utility.

Last year MHC offered night classes last year to introduce the public to renewable energy, cannabis and cryptocurrency.

Next fall the institution will unveil its new strategic plan.

Over the past two decades, major initiatives have focused on expanding foreign student enrolment under longtime but since dismissed president Ralph Weeks.

More recently, president Denise Henning certainly had a focus on fostering community and business partnerships with some results.

It also produced the still-unexplained major proposal to build something called a “Generations Centre” at the facility.

Similarly left to the collective imagination are the reasons behind her departure last spring.

Colleges also find themselves in a jam, often to reverse direction when provincial governments examine funding and mandates typically hitting brakes or making hard turns.

Five years ago the province announced the “One Campus” model as a way to cut down on duplication. That saves money, but discouraging local program development while increasing transfer and joint program offerings.

That didn’t stop Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge from developing an agricultural program that’s gaining prominence, despite the fact Olds College does the same and is better known.

Mind you, that organization had the foresight to have launched a $100-million fundraising campaign years ago.

So what advice would a graduation speaker have for us in a commencement address.

Probably that the opportunity is there, but Medicine Hat needs to find its niche, go out and get it.

(Collin Gallant is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)

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