|Incoming Lethbridge College president, Paula Burns speaks with a reporter during an interview Friday afternoon. Herald photo by Ian Martens|
Only five days into her new job as president of Lethbridge College, Paula Burns has already met administrators and managers at the college, the presidents of other Alberta post-secondary institutions and tuned into a video conference with new Enterprise and Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk.
Lukaszuk took advantage of the meeting of Alberta post-secondary leaders in Calgary to introduce himself and broadly talk about his agenda going forward.
"His message really was that post-secondary education is part of the solution," Burns said. "He really looks forward to working with us, collaborating with us."
Previous media reports indicated Lukaszuk wants the province's colleges and universities to focus on research that brings an economic return, with the potential for government to determine priorities. Some in the post-secondary community worried that institutional independence would be compromised and basic research, which often takes considerable time before any commercialization is possible, could take a backseat to short-term economic gain.
Burns, however, sees it differently.
"It obviously supports the Premier's agenda and for a place like Lethbridge College - that's been involved in applied research, our programming is very industry-based, we have advisory committees for all of our program areas - it's really a huge opportunity," she said.
University of Lethbridge president Mike Mahon, who was also at the video conference, said universities have long considered how they contribute to the economy while they meet the needs of learners. One possibility for more industry collaboration could present itself with the U of L's new science building where labs could be used for exploratory research with external groups.
"We certainly are doing much of what he talked about yesterday so it didn't come as a big shock," Mahon said. "He also talked about the importance of us looking at how we can collaborate both internally across institutions as well as outside the sector with industry and the K-to-12 sector."
Both Burns and Mahon said no budget details were shared but Lukaszuk has said previously everything is on the table.
In the meantime Burns, who took over as president on Monday, has been busy familiarizing herself with the college and Lethbridge.
"The first couple of days were very full days here meeting with lots of people," she said. "It's been great, the right pace and amount of information and getting to know people."
She plans to build on the strengths of the college and identify niche markets that could be served. The college already has programs, such as environmental sciences and the wind turbine technician program, that contribute to economic diversification. Burns said she'll also continue to develop applied research and innovation at the college.
"I'm very happy to be here. I think it's an exciting time to be in post-secondary in the province and an exciting time in the province in general," she said. "(I'm) really looking forward to take leadership role at Lethbridge College and just moving us forward, being an integral part of the community and the region and continuing to contribute to the economic growth in this area."
Burns said she's a collaborative leader who likes to bring out the strengths of the team and find opportunities for people to do their best.