In both his early career and its latest evolution, Derek Kochenash learned a lot about climbing ladders.
A Red Seal-endorsed Sheet Metal Worker, Kochenash has spent the last decade rising through the ranks at Red River College.
A 2001 Apprenticeship grad, he began working at the College in 2006 as a Related Math and Sciences instructor, and in 2010 became academic coordinator of the Related Math and Sciences Department.
Two years later, Kochenash was named Chair of the Electrical, Math and Sciences Department, and in 2017 took on the role of acting Dean of the School of Transportation, Aviation and Manufacturing.
Now, Kochenash is Dean of the School of Skilled Trades and Technologies, the newly amalgamated entity comprised of the School of Engineering and Construction Technology and the aforementioned School of Transportation, Aviation and Manufacturing.
“I never did have this as a goal. Each time that I’ve taken on new roles and moved up into larger responsibility positions, I’ve never ever predicted the future throughout the process,” says Kochenash, who also holds a M.Ed. from the University of Manitoba
“I’m very humbled and excited about the opportunity to be the Dean of this school, considering I started my career as a sheet metal worker and took my training here at RRC.”
“I’ve always taken on leadership roles. I love working with people to solve problems. I love trying to resolve conflicts. I’m passionate about that kind of work and that’s what drives me to take on these roles. Many people think I’m crazy, my wife included. ‘Why do you like that?’ I don’t know, but I do.”
Kochenash is a natural leader, a trait he also exemplifies on the ice.
From 1992 to 1996, he played hockey with the St. Vital Victorias of the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League. A crafty centreman, in the 1995-96 season he led the league in scoring, and was named most valuable player and a first-team all-star. The 65 assists he racked up during that campaign remain a Victorias team record.
“I served as the Victorias alternate captain and a captain for the same reasons — I enjoyed being the one to have that kind of role, trying to be the middle person, all the things that come with leadership and responsibility,” he says. “Not only in my professional career, but also in my athletic career, I always did have that type of drive.”
Kochenash has also served in various coaching roles with the Victorias, as well as with the Winnipeg East Stars, his daughter’s hockey team.
Off the ice, Kochenash’s impact can be seen at RRC’s newly opened Skilled Trades and Technology Centre (STTC), the new 104,000-square foot Notre Dame Campus facility that welcomed its first students in August.
Kochenash says his “full-circle” relationship with the College allowed him to bring a unique point of view to the design of the building.
“As part of an incredible RRC team, I was able to bring deep insight to the architectural team to influence things like classroom sizes,” he says.
“For example, with the first plans, we actually scaled out the classrooms, because we wanted to get a real physical sense of the space. We found a room that was identical to the space in the plans and then tried to envision how that space would work. I was able to come back to the team and say, ‘Look, we need these rooms to be 10 per cent bigger than this. We need to be able to physically get to each one of the students because most students don’t like asking for help.’”
Other facets of the STTC that Kochenash had a hand include its bigger-than-usual lockers, with enough room for work boots and tools, and its multitude of breakout spaces.
He says he’s excited to see how students interact with the state-of-the-art space.
“First and foremost, it’s always about our students and our apprentices. That’s what really drives me,” Kochenash says. “I come from a long line. My father and my uncles were tradespeople, and [with me] being a tradesperson, to be able to give back to the current and future students is what drives a lot of what I do.”
Profile by Jared Story (Creative Communications, 2005)