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Innovation at Algoma: 3 Qs with Celia Ross

In September, the 10K crew went on location to the 2017 Ontario Universities’ Fair, to interview a dozen higher ed leaders about trends in innovation.

Celia Ross began teaching French Literature at Algoma in 1982, became Dean in 1997, and served as President from 1998 until 2010 – 12 busy years in which Algoma gained its independence from Laurentian University, and signed the Covenant with Shingwauk Education Trust. When her successor resigned in 2016, the board of governors appointed Celia Acting President until a search could be completed.  (Asima Vezina, formerly the board chair, was appointed President in October 2017). In this special bonus episode, Ken asks Celia to answer 3 key questions about higher ed innovation.

Innovations at Algoma?

Algoma University is particularly noteworthy for its partnerships with First Nations peoples. The University is in a former Indian Residential School building, but is working to change the paradigm of education from colonial to a “two-way dialogue.” As a small university, Algoma demonstrates the continuing value of small undergraduate seminars from first year onward – although now it utilizes videoconferencing and other technologies to create small groups across a wide geography. Algoma’s Institute for Community-Based Research gives students research and volunteer experience, and even leads to paid internships. Again, the philosophy is one of collaboration, in which the communities grow their own solutions.

The Decade Ahead?

In a world of rapidly advancing automation and globalization, Celia predicts that university students will be increasingly international, and seek ever-narrower specializations. At the same time, with coming labour market disruptions, Celia anticipates that students will turn to their educations to bring meaning to their lives, resulting in a renaissance of interest in Philosophy, Religious Studies, the Humanities and Fine Arts. She also sees exciting developments in First Nations education coming thanks to Ontario’s funding of the Aboriginal Institutes Consortium.  Universities will need to ensure that a diverse range of students feels comfortable on our campuses, and that all our students come to understand other cultures and histories. We need to be forerunners in the fight against ignorance and racism. Over the next decade, universities will increasingly partner with colleges, industry and other communities: “the days of the ivory tower are gone.”

Culture of Innovation?

Celia observes that it can be challenging to nurture a culture of innovation on campus. We need to value the innovators on campus, no matter how difficult or demanding they may seem. Leaders need to make time to discuss the big ideas, either in a strategic plan consultation process or during an off-site strategic retreat. Especially for isolated institutions, it is very important to bring in external speakers to spark new ideas. Our students are being encouraged to think innovatively, and you can see them becoming the leaders of tomorrow.


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