SAIT’s new Strategic Plan ‘puts the student in the middle’

Dr. David Ross, president of SAIT, in his office in Calgary on Thursday, March 6, 2014.  (Photo by Mikaela MacKenzie/SAIT Polytechnic)

Dr. David Ross, president of SAIT, in his office in Calgary on Thursday, March 6, 2014. (Photo by Mikaela MacKenzie/SAIT Polytechnic)

On Oct. 14, SAIT President Dr. David Ross and team rolled out SAIT’s 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, a 20-page document detailing the institution’s goals for the next five years.

Titled “Think Big. Think Applied Education.,” the plan, which was developed based on feedback from over 1,000 people and took over a year to create, is separated into five main priorities: sustainable growth, student success, employee success, applied education innovation, and partnerships.

The Weal sat down with Ross following the plan’s introduction to find out more about what the tangible results of the plan might look like.

In addressing the priority of sustainable growth, the strategic plan states that SAIT will “lay the groundwork for renovations to existing facilities,” as well as the expansion of residence and services on campus.

According to Ross, buildings such as John Ware, the Campus Centre, and Senator Burns are all up for renovation.

“We want to be responsible to make sure everybody has similar opportunities and similar facilities,” said Ross, stating the importance of taking existing facilities and making sure they are as up-to-date as SAIT’s newer buildings.

“SAIT is definitely lacking upgrades to many facilities, so as someone who uses the campus centre facilities a lot, it’s frustrating to hear about expansion or growth of other buildings,” said Aaron Bergen, second-year administrative information management student.

“They want to expand and grow, but they haven’t maintained what they have already so it’s good to hear that they are upgrading old buildings.”

The plan also emphasizes the importance of increasing opportunities for students to study and train abroad.

“Right now about 170 students a year are going off shore for study abroad opportunities – we want to get that up to 300 over the next five years. We’re going to challenge the various deans of different areas to come up with ideas.”

As for SAIT’s population of international students, Ross said that the goal is to double the number, from five per cent to 10 per cent.

In comparison to other post secondary institutions in Canada, which are in the 30 per cent range, SAIT’s current population of international students is “very very small,” according to Ross.

The plan’s priority of student success makes mention of increasing opportunities for students from underrepresented groups (such as the aboriginal community), introducing new programs, and making advanced education completion (such as degree programs) more available to SAIT students.

“We’re working on more with bands on reservations, and we’re also trying to find more ways to get women into our programs,” said Ross, who added that while the population of most Canadian post secondaries is 60 to 70 per cent women, SAIT’s population is exactly the opposite.

“That’s part of the tradition of the programs we offer, but having said that, it’s not an excuse.”

When asked if the industry experience of most SAIT instructors presented an issue of instructors being “re-recruited” to industry and subsequently leaving their positions as educators, Ross said that while it did present a challenge, the core of the faculty “tends to make their careers at SAIT.”

“They’re very loyal to their students – they get enjoyment from being in the classroom and seeing students be successful. Some do come and go but not as many as you might think.

“There’s two pieces to it. One is industry experience and bringing that knowledge to the classroom, but the other one is equal: we need to support our faculty to make sure they have the skills and the tools to be successful instructors,” said Ross.

The fourth priority of the plan, applied education innovation, emphasizes growing SAIT’s applied research areas and investing in new education initiatives.

Among those goals is advancing green technology and waste reduction strategies.

When asked if SAIT’s current programs would be modified to reflect the ‘green’ movement, Ross said that more advancing green technology on campus would be related to greenhouse technology.

“Core to the Alberta success is the oil and energy industry, so we don’t step away from that, and we’re responsible to that. We’ve become a Canadian leader in residential greenhouse technology,” said Ross, explaining the reason behind SAIT’s plan to construct a “living lab” at SAIT’s main campus on 16 Ave., near 14 St.

“We feel that we have an opportunity to set a standard on waste reduction.

“We want to take a leadership role in terms of how we do as an organization. This town is small, but there’s a lot of garbage and a lot of waste,” said Ross, emphasizing the institution’s responsibility in constructing buildings that are LEED-certified.

Among the goals listed under the priority of partnerships, is the creation of an Innovation Fund that will “support on-campus collaborative solutions.”

“This is a seeding opportunity – we are giving people the chance to do things they previously may not have had the resource to be able to try while studying or working,” said Ross.

“It isn’t limited to [partnership with other companies], we’re going to be purposefully not restrictive.

“We want people to go out there and define to us what a collaboration is.”

In summarizing the plan, Ross said that the main focus is all about providing more opportunities for students to be successful.

“All of these priorities we just talked about, all put the student in the middle. However you frame it, it’s more opportunities for students. That’s our task and our core mandate and I think the plan addresses it.”

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