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Wednesday, 15 January 2014 15:51

Medicine Hat College’s new president one of academic vision and passion

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One noticeable quality one garners from talking with the Medicine Hat College’s new president Dr. Denise Henning: she is a firm believer in the Medicine Hat College’s vision “to lead in learning excellence.”

She is absolutely thrilled to have the chance to work in southern Alberta and is pleased to be coming to Medicine Hat and southeast Alberta.
“We’re very excited about the opportunity,” explains Henning about coming to Medicine Hat. “They’ve done some phenomenal things there.”
She is impressed with the business and academic partnerships the college has made with the community and region. She truly believes it has a healthy future and wants to contribute building from its already strong foundation.
According to the Medicine Hat College’s website (2011-12 stats) there are 2,500 full-time students at its main campus in Medicine Hat including 117 attending at its Brooks campus. There are 340 faculty members and more than 200 staff members.
The College was without a president since June 13, 2013 when it was announced longtime previous president Dr. Ralph Weeks no longer held the top title.
Henning’s experience and affinity to having worked with post-secondary institutions in smaller centres which have a regional focus is undeniable.
Judging from her comments, she is not one to sit in her office.
Henning is leaving her post as CEO and president of Northwest Community College which she has held for just over two years. Northwest, in northern B.C., serves 34 communities including in its main centres of Terrace and Prince Rupert.
She remembers when she started there how much travelling she did.
“There were nine campuses, four are ports and all are their own niché,” explains the engaging and affable Henning, a firm believer in partnerships. “We travelled to 34 communities in about nine weekends, met with everybody and asked ‘what are your needs?’ Everyone is different ... The Creator gave me one hand to receive and one hand to give. We all benefit. That is the way I operate.”
Besides her president and CEO position with the Northwest Community College, she was also at the Northern Manitoba Mining Academy as the investment facilitator; the president and vice-chancellor of the University College of the North (The Pas Manitoba); executive director of International Student Success and Head of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Regina; as well as vice-president of academics at First Nations University which is based at the University of Regina. She received her PhD from New Mexico State after also being a co-ordinator for American Indian Studies in the department of anthropology and sociology. She was also a co-chair of the Rural and Remote College Alliance Canada-USA.
Don Bruce, chair of the board of governors, says they are pleased with the results of the presidential search. There were a number of qualified and intriguing candidates. It wasn’t an easy decision for the board.
“One thing we noticed right away was the passion and energy and obviously her experience,” explains Bruce from his office in Brooks. “She’s definitely an experienced leader in the post-secondary field and brings strong leadership in and has done a lot of work with external communications.
“We’re truly excited with Dr. Henning coming here and excited for this corner of the province to have her experience and knowledge.”
Bruce feels Henning’s ability to connect with different groups and her multi-campus experience will bode well with the Medicine Hat College which has a campus in Brooks and has a regional approach to partnership-building. Bruce was also happy with The Geldart Group, an executive search firm which was hired last August to help facilitate the presidential search process. There were 12 consultations along the way with the stakeholder groups who met to discuss the experience and qualities needed for the next president. He says the criteria included strong leadership and communication skills, strategic experience and someone who has a doctor of philosophy. From there, the board of governors met with the applicants and decided on the new president.
The feeling was mutual. Henning says colleagues and friends in Alberta told her the Medicine Hat College would be a great move.
“From a lot of those who know me well — from a physical, spiritual and educational standpoint — the college and the region fits with who I am,” explains Henning who is originally from Oklahoma. “I don’t want to ever try and be something I’m not.”
Henning and her husband have six children and 12 grandchildren and they look forward to having them in the community. She is excited, for example, to have family take part in the college’s conservatory programs. She loved what she had heard about the family-orientated focus of the college and the region.

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor