This week, as students at Red River College settled into their first week of classes, staff and faculty gathered to pay tribute to David Rew (shown above, at right), who capped off an already impressive 36-year career by serving as the College’s interim president and CEO for the last 12 months. As Rew prepares for his retirement, we thought it only fitting to sit down for a follow-up Q&A session — much as we did when he took over the role one year ago.
At this time last year, you’d just taken over as Interim President — at what can only be described as a low point in the College’s history. The province had launched an audit of our operations, our former president had departed somewhat suddenly, and employee morale was suffering. What did you consider to be your top priority?
Our Executive had identified about 10 priorities, all of which were really important at the time. One of the top ones was internal communications … how we communicated with staff in a variety of ways. Probably the most important piece in all of that was to make sure that staff were informed of events that had occurred before anyone else, so they weren’t going home and watching the news or reading the newspaper and getting their news there.
And how do you think you did?
We made a lot of progress on that one. I think the most telling example was when the provincial review came out. We had an arrangement with the [Minister of Education’s] office where we could tell our staff about the release of the review first, which the province agreed to. So our staff were made aware of that before anyone else. A lot of people commented on that, as they did the Town Hall sessions — the “On the Road with Rew” tours — those also worked really well.
With respect to the last 12 months, what would you say you’re the most proud of?
I’m very proud of the Executive team and how they came together as a group. They’re an incredibly courageous lot, taking on their roles and really going for it — and working to turn the College around.
Using campground terms, do you feel like you’re leaving the College in a better state than when you arrived in the president’s office 12 months ago?
We’re in a much better place than we were a year ago — much better. That’s very much the work of the Executive team. They really worked hard in a variety of ways to help us heal and help us renew.
The job is not done. There is still progress to be made. But I think we’re much more confident in ourselves, and much more proud of the organization again. Moving into a new school year is also an opportunity for a fresh start. The beginning of last year was pretty rocky for all of us — now, we’re not only moving into a new academic year, but we also have a new president, which is very much a part of the healing process. A new president and a new year — we can move forward from that.
Even while the the provincial review was underway — and we were dealing with the fallout related to your predecessor’s departure — there was a surprising lack of impact on day-to-day operations, namely the business of educating our students. To what do you attribute the College’s ability to continue functioning effectively, even under so much scrutiny and stress?
That’s very much to the credit of the whole College community, regardless of whether it’s our instructors in the classroom, or our staff in various departments. We all knew we had a job to do, and the College had to continue to do what the College does, which is educate and support our students. That’s what we did, and we did it as we always do — exceptionally well.
Looking back over the last 36 years, what would you say are the highlights of your career?
Well, there are a lot. The Colleague implementation [from 2005-2008] is one, because it was such a unique experience. Primarily because of the leadership team — that really demonstrated to me what a high performing team looked like. It was a remarkable experience and that influenced a lot of what I’ve done since.
Being made a VP [of Student Services and Planning, in 2007] was a surprise; it wasn’t something I expected. But I was also becoming VP of quite a unique portfolio. I took that over, and — not just me, but the rest of us involved — looked at the grouping that was there; at that time it was Student Services, Research and Planning and what was then the School of Learning Innovation (now Teaching Excellence, Innovation and Research), and saying how does this all relate? But it dawned on us how important it was when we started working on the Student Success agenda, and seeing how those pieces and parts related. Obviously Student Services was the student focus, TEIR or Learning Innovation supported faculty, and Research and Planning pulled the data together… and guided us through a lot of the planning exercises. It became a really important group, from that aspect a very exciting group … a really interesting and important portfolio.
And how can I forget this past year? It’s been extraordinary, the way everyone has worked together to get us back to a healthier state.
You’re with us until Sept. 27. Any plans after that?
My wife and I are going to take a road trip down the Pacific Coast. We’re going to a wedding outside Minneapolis in the first week of October, then we’ll go west to Portland, then south as far as Big Sur and Carmel, maybe beyond.
And if the timing is right, we might go to Austin, Texas for something that I’m now somewhat known for — the U.S. Grand Prix.
What are you going to miss the most about Red River College?
Without a doubt, the people. It’s an extraordinary group of people that I’ve worked with — at various stages of my career.
Any advice for Paul Vogt, who took over as RRC’s president and CEO last month?
I certainly wish Paul every success as he takes on this role. He’s coming into a great college with a great history. I think my overall advice to him is to keep in mind that the most important thing for all of us to remember is we’re here to serve our students. That covers a lot of territory, but that really is why we’re here. I’m sure he’s more than conscious of that, but it’s something we should always keep front of mind.
You’ve spoken a lot about the executive and the staff at RRC. What about the students? Do you see any commonalities or unifying traits shared by our graduates?
Students, like the rest of us, come with their own characteristics, hopes and aspirations. If there is anything that’s common about our graduates, it’s their success. Our graduates are incredibly successful. We love to quote that number, that 96% of our graduates are employed within six months. That’s extraordinary, and that speaks to our staff who teach them, and to our staff who support them — but it’s also very much a credit to the students and their commitment to their careers. They do incredibly well.
In keeping with their commitment to student success at RRC, a $750 bursary for full-time students in financial need has been created by family, friends and colleagues of David and Joan Rew. If you would like to contribute to the David and Joan Rew Bursary Fund, you can do so online, by calling 204.631.3324, or by mailing your donation to Elena Grinshteyn, Development Officer, Student Awards and Special Initiatives, C306-2055 Notre Dame Ave., Winnipeg, Man., R3H 0J9. Please indicate the name of the fund with your donation.