Being a global leader in applied education
SAIT President and CEO Dr. David Ross knows the institution is already a leader in hands-on learning — but he wants to take that to the next level with SAIT's 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, aptly titled Think Big. Think Applied Education.
The plan unveils a new vision — to be a global leader in applied education.
And to reach that vision, the plan includes five priorities: sustainable growth, student success, employee success, applied education innovation and partnerships. These themes were identified with input from more than 1,000 members of the SAIT community, including students, employees, alumni and industry partners.
Ross offers his thoughts on the new plan, the development process and what's coming next for SAIT.
This plan was developed with input from all of SAIT's stakeholders. Why was this collaborative approach important to you?
As a public institution, we're responsible to a lot of folks. It was critical we heard the voices of all the people who have a stake in our success — whether it's our generous donors, our alumni who are now leaders in their fields or the government that has public policy it wants to see move forward.
I also believe the more voices we have adding ideas, the stronger the plan. When people feel part of it, I think they enjoy it more, and, as an institution, we go forward in a much stronger way.
Was there any particular message that stood out to you in all the feedback you received during these consultations?
There were literally hundreds of pages of impressive ideas. There are a lot of very talented people attached to this organization and that certainly came out loud and clear.
It wasn't so much a single idea but the focus of the ideas-the cornerstone of this institution is based on the success of our students. As president, you get great comfort in knowing you are absolutely aligned with the people you spend your days with. Everything we do is with the student in mind. When we're all on the same page, it puts us in a very strong position.
How does this plan evolve SAIT's current focus on applied education?
Our last 10-year plan was focused on moving SAIT from a regional provider into a nationally recognized institution. I think we've come a long way and SAIT's been very much on a national stage.
Strategic plans are meant to challenge an institution to take on opportunities that will force it to do better. There is an opportunity for SAIT, given the assets and talent we have, to truly become a global leader in applied education.
How will this plan impact SAIT students?
At the absolute core of this plan, it's about providing more seats and more opportunities for students. It's very clear that the programs we offer lead to fulfilling careers. More students want to participate in our programs. This plan is meant to offer those increased opportunities.
In addition to that, an early initiative of the plan is a renewed focus on campus life. It's about leveraging our out-of-classroom environment to help people feel more connected to the organization. There's a direct correlation between engagement and success. We now have a committee with a cross-section of students and employees sitting at the table to look at this issue. I've charged them to come back to me with their report.
Many of our alumni say what they enjoyed most about their SAIT education was smaller class sizes. As we grow, will that change?
A key part of applied education is the relationship between faculty and students. You don't see any 400-person lecture theatres at SAIT; we haven't been built to deliver that kind of education. It's not who we are.
Speaking as a former faculty member who has taught in large lecture theatres, it is very hard to engage with students in that environment. Our faculty members are very much engaged. We don't want to lose that advantage.
Given that 90 per cent of our student body comes from Alberta, why is the global focus so important for SAIT?
Today's leading post-secondary institutions are networked globally — to attract talent, partnerships and ideas. The resources provided by SAIT's international activities allow us to offer more seats to both local and international students.
Alberta is expected to grow from four million to five million people in a short amount of time. In order for us to continue to grow our economy and maintain the lifestyle we have, we need to have the talent. Part of our international education strategy is for us to attract the right people who can fully participate in the economic opportunities Alberta provides.
I also believe it's the responsibility of post-secondary education to provide students with opportunities to broaden their context. We want to make sure more SAIT students than ever before have the opportunity to become global citizens. A person who comes back from those types of experiences is a changed individual and they look at things beyond the scope of opportunity that exists here. We don't live in an isolated world anymore and we need folks to understand how to be fully successful in that broader world.
What will the biggest impact be for our industry partners?
We talk about student success as the core of our organization — but the success of our industry partners is also a good measure. When our graduates go into these organizations and immediately add value, that tells us we're providing what industry needs from a talent perspective. Believe me; we hear back from industry on whether or not our students arrive ready to do the job.
That link with industry is a huge advantage. We want to continue to build on that.
When you imagine SAIT in 2021, what are some of the differences you see resulting from this strategic plan?
We'll be serving more students than we've ever served before. That increased size means we'll have even more talented people on campus as well as more strategic partnerships, including other post-secondary institutions, locally and beyond.
Historically, the flow of students has been from SAIT to somewhere else. That tide has changed — one of our largest growing groups of students is those have completed or partially completed university and are now coming here to gain the skills they need to participate in the workforce. I think that's going to continue to grow.
What excites you most about moving forward with this plan?
What excited me when I first came to SAIT, and still does, is there aren't many institutions in the position we're in. SAIT has been afforded the opportunity — given where it's located and the investments made in it — to take on a leadership role. It also has a culture where leadership is a very positive thing.
I believe this plan continues to accelerate that leadership opportunity. You just don't get those chances many times in your career. It's an exciting, positive, constructive place to be and that makes me want to come to work every day.
Oct. 20, 2014