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Optimism for future abounds as Red Deer College begins unusual school year

Monday, September 21, 2020

Dr. Peter Nunoda

As Red Deer College enters its 57th academic year, I sincerely welcome all new and returning students who have made the important decision to join us. I am grateful that they chose RDC and am confident that we can play an important role in helping them achieve their personal and academic goals. I appreciate the contributions from our surrounding community members who support RDC’s students in a variety of ways.

When RDC first opened its doors to students in 1964, I imagine there was a lot of excitement as central Alberta learners could earn a post-secondary education close to home. Since then, there have been a tremendous amount of changes on our campuses, including the increased number of facilities, growing student population with enhanced opportunities, and a diverse breadth of more than 100 programs. Despite the developments and changes over the years, that excitement and commitment to teaching and learning, and our students, remain at the heart of what we do at RDC.

Without question, we are currently navigating through unprecedented times. COVID-19 has brought some unique challenges, but we have evaluated and adapted our operations, including our program and service delivery. During the past year as RDC President, I have seen the spirit and dedication from our faculty, staff and employees, and the flexibility and persistence from our students. Collectively, we will work our way through this period of uncertainty.

In May, we made the decision to deliver the majority of our fall courses and programs online, greatly reducing the number of people on our campuses and keeping health and safety as a priority. This decision also allowed our instructors and students time to properly plan. To supplement our primary online delivery, a limited number of shops and labs are offered on campus for Fall Term, where it was deemed essential to support student learning. Alberta Health Services protocols will be followed, and face coverings will be required for public spaces as well as classrooms, labs and other areas where physical distancing is not possible.

New Student Orientation took place virtually on September 2 and it was a wonderful way for new RDC learners to gather information about the campus and services. This also presented the first of what will be many opportunities during the coming months where students will connect virtually with one another, as well as with their instructors, to engage with one another and to advance their knowledge.

September 3 didn’t look like the typical first day of credit classes at the College. There weren’t thousands of energetic post-secondary students roaming the RDC hallways and grounds as they usually would for in-person learning, but there has been plenty of excitement behind the scenes from our instructors. They have been diligently planning and preparing high-quality lessons specifically designed for the online format.

With the uncertain COVID-19 pandemic, there is a decline in overall student enrolment this year, something most post-secondary institutions are experiencing. In 2020/2021, we anticipate there will be about 6,200 full and part-time students enrolled at RDC. The largest decline in Fall 2020 registrations is from first-year credit students. Among that group, enrolment has declined by 13 per cent compared to last fall.

But there are several positive areas of RDC programming to highlight. Many of the College’s health sciences programs remain highly sought after. Several other programs have experienced increased enrolment for Fall 2020 compared to last year. As examples, the Legal Assistant Diploma enrolment is expected to increase by about 8 per cent. RDC’s Early Learning and Child Care Certificate and Diploma enrolment is up approximately 21 per cent. The College’s Justice Studies Diploma enrolment has also grown approximately 18 per cent. During the next few years, we anticipate further growth in a range of programs.

Nobody knows what the next few months may bring, but at RDC we know we’ll continue to provide valuable learning opportunities for our students. We encourage anyone considering taking that first step into post-secondary studies to connect with us and explore opportunities to begin classes this Winter.

As we begin this new school year, we do so because of the dedication of our faculty and staff who support our students every day. We’ve recently welcomed new instructors and staff to our College community. This includes Kylie Thomas, who recently began her duties as Vice President Academic and Research. She will be instrumental in leading the College’s academic programming this year and into the future.

Ms. Thomas, who is a David Thompson High School graduate, joins Red Deer College after serving as the Associate Vice-President, Students and Registrar, at Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) in BC. She values working closely with a variety of stakeholders as she strives to consider many perspectives within administrative structures and processes.

Her experience and expertise will be a driving force in assisting RDC’s evolution during the next few years as the College continues our journey to become Red Deer University. I am thrilled to have Ms. Thomas join us and lead RDC’s diverse academic programming in an environment focused on our learners’ successes.  

We are all committed to helping RDC students succeed now and over the coming years. As we work our way through these unparalleled times, I am optimistic about the future of Red Deer University and believe we will come out stronger as a post-secondary community.

This column was first published in Red Deer Advocate on September 12, 2020.

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