College’s New Board Chair Sees Small School Having Big Impact

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Olds College is becoming a more vital and integrated part of central Alberta’s rural community, and new board chair Barry Mehr wants to keep the college moving in that direction.

Mehr said it will be a big job to fill the shoes of outgoing chair Bill Quinney, but he brings with him three years of board experience; an enthusiasm for agriculture, rural development and education; and plenty of leadership experience.

Mehr, appointed Nov. 8, is president of Mehr Holdings Ltd., a senior fellow with the Global Initiative on Food Systems Leadership based at the University of Minnesota, and a former deputy minister with Alberta Agriculture.

“It is definitely a career highlight,” said Mehr. “I’ve been darn lucky and had some of the neatest jobs that you can think of. I’ve got my health, and my head works as well as it ever did. The main thing to me is that you must continually contribute if you’re able to.”

The college strives to support rural priorities in a wide variety of ways, he said.

“Our vision statement is that Olds College be the premier Canadian integrated learning and applied research community specializing in agriculture, horticulture, land and environmental management,” he said. “Those are everybody’s marching orders in this place.”

The vision is about more than simply growing the college, he said. At its heart, it’s about sustaining the rural quality of life.

A key priority in achieving that is convincing small-town kids to stick to their rural roots rather than moving to urban centres. Mehr said the college recognizes that if it can persuade rural kids to pursue post-secondary in a rural setting, they’ll be more likely to retain rural pride and rural priorities. But that requires the college to provide a highly competitive educational experience, he said.

To that end, Mehr said that the challenges for college president Dr. Tom Thompson and the administrative team, with support and monitoring from the board of governors, will be to provide enhanced educational and development opportunities.

“Those who preceded us over what will be the last 100 years have built an iconic post-secondary institution,” said Mehr. “It is the responsibility of all at the college to take this wonderful legacy to its next plateau of development. If you think this is a tall order for a small school, you’d be right.”

Rural sustainability

The college’s vision of rural sustainability extends beyond its full-time students and into the broader community. Already, on-campus facilities – including a state-of-the-art community health and wellness complex; an integrated, newly opened high school; a brand-new theatre facility; and the multimillion-dollar Bell Canada e-learning centre – are well-used hubs of the larger rural area. The ability to access off-campus satellite facilities, such as the 15 community engagement and distance learning sites in surrounding Albertan towns, extend Olds College’s direct reach to a far wider rural audience.

Mehr said he sees community- oriented facilities, partnerships and continuing education opportunities growing over the coming years.

“We’ll work with those who want to try to move the rural agenda forward in a way that supports the college’s vision and goals,” he said.

Success will be measured in the college’s increasing ability to best support and uphold the rural way of life, he said.

“I don’t want something that has my name stamped on it. I want to leave saying we’ve taken a high-performing organization to the next level. If that happens, I’ll be happy when my term is completed to step aside.”

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Thosewhopreceded usoverwhatwillbe thelast100yearshave builtaniconicpostsecondary institution. Itistheresponsibilityof allatthecollegetotake thiswonderfullegacy toitsnextplateauof development.”

Barry Mehr Olds College board chair

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