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Wednesday, 21 May 2014 15:13

New college president/CEO for Medicine Hat

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Dr. Denise Henning is ready for challenges at Medicine Hat College, but is definitely pleased with what she has seen so far. Dr. Denise Henning is ready for challenges at Medicine Hat College, but is definitely pleased with what she has seen so far. Photo by Ryan Dahlman

Dr. Denise Henning’s first official day on the job was like most people’s: boxes in her new office, wearing a name tag and just getting used to a new community and workplace.

The again, it’s not every day someone becomes the new president and CEO of a respected organization such as the Medicine Hat College.
According to the College’s website (2012-13 stats) there are 2,422 full-time students at its main campus in Medicine Hat. There are 340 faculty members and more than 200 staff members and it has a budget of more than $50 million.
While seemingly a daunting task, the down-to-earth, married grandmother of 12, couldn’t be more ready or prepared. She arrived in Medicine Hat April 28, found a new residence in the city and has been a frequent visitor of the college ever since. Her first official day was May 15.
“Today (May 15), I don’t get nervous. The excitement of coming here is enough,” explains Henning with a smile.
She has been holding on-going meetings with outgoing interim president Bob McCullough as well as administration to get up to speed prior to her official arrival.
Being unsure of how handle the situation is definitely not a problem. She has a lot of experience and a vast set of take-notice credentials.
Prior to arriving in Medicine Hat, Henning was president and CEO with the Northwest Community College in northern B.C. which served 34 communities and had nine campuses including Prince Rupert, Smithers,  Terrace and Kitimat. Much like Medicine Hat, it had a solid trade school and university-credit programs as well as culinary, artistic, and mining programs.
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.
Henning 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-U.S.A.
Henning is well aware of the current status of the college, its programs and has been talking with McCullough whom she has known for a long time, as well as talking with other people within the tight-knit group of post-secondary administrators about what to expect in Medicine Hat. She’s comfortable in having a solid base from which to build, but now the hard work begins.
“Research into the college is a big part of the process — some of tangible, some of it is intangible,” explains Henning. “To have an opportunity to talk to different people and get a pulse of what are the things that the president of Medicine Hat College should be looking for was great. I’m so grateful to have that chance.”
The Medicine Hat College’s reputation is that of being “very stable.”
Henning is a firm believer in progress and to “not be stagnant.” She says it’s critical for the college to be a leader in the latest strategies and trends.
“We have to create a generation of learning and make sure it’s on going and active,” explains Henning. “I like to call it ‘future proofing.’ We have to make sure of the technology, be a leader in advancement and educating our students and be a leader in the community. We want to be vibrant and be a good community partner.”
Being a leader involves following industry trends and advances including use of 3-D imaging, the nursing program and the trades programs. One niché Henning was excited about was the conservatory which she said was “chalk full of opportunities” on which to build.
Post-secondary education is a cyclical phenomenon. Henning says currently learning has to be directed not only to the students right out of high school, but some attention must be paid to those in the mid-life cycle who want to make career changes.
“My hope is through strategic planning that we are able to help people make solid, sound decisions on program for the communities we serve.”
While wanting to ensure the college keeps up with trends and wanting to best serve the community, Henning believes college officials need to ensure changes are made where necessary with internal protocol or how services are delivered. Guaranteed, she says the college will change with a new board of directors and new administration.
“The worst thing, the Kryptonite for any college is complacency,” adds Henning. “We have to be able to do what the public expects us to do and that’s get people ready and teach them those skills they need and build career readiness. We can’t ask students to be able to be prepared or innovators if we’re not ourselves.
“Being the new president and the voice and face of the organization, there will be changes, but that doesn’t mean you completely scrap the old. (That’s counterproductive). How does it blend with the new ideas? ... You have to be thoughtful of what you’re doing, and it’s important to be developing the relationships with everybody here and asking a lot of good questions.”
Henning prides herself as being a communicator. With her last job in B.C. she ensured she travelled to all 37 communities the college served to ensure there was constant communication. Internally, she wants to ensure that not only she is concise and consistent with her expectations of her staff, but also the staff’s expectations of what they need from her.
In the meantime, she will be diligent in trying to get a stronger pulse on the college, but already she feels comfortable and pleased to be in southeast Alberta.
“People have just been so helpful, welcoming and just wonderful. It couldn’t be any better.”

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor