Unleashing Potential

Last week was a really busy one for me.  First and foremost, Sheridan launched 1,990 new graduates into the world as part of our Fall Convocation.  It was, as always, my privilege to shake each hand, thank them for choosing Sheridan, impart best wishes as they embark on the next phase of their journey, and ask our newest alumni to please stay in touch.   Then, after our ceremonies ended, I had the opportunity to participate in graduation at York University on Friday morning; my niece Emma was crossing the stage and I wanted to celebrate her success.  Later that night, Ken and I hosted a party to celebrate her recent engagement.  Finally, on Saturday, I attended Homecoming at one of my alma maters – Western University — and spent the evening with former and current varsity athletes (it’s been a stunning 30 years since I earned my Bronze W!).  

Without question, the week was exhausting!  It was also, however, exhilarating and inspiring to spend so much time surrounded by … potential.  With the benefit of some reflection, I realized I’d had the unique opportunity to spend five intense days (and some very late nights!) surrounded by diverse groups of learners and leaders who are preparing to launch themselves – personally and professionally — at a time of unprecedented change and complexity.  Driving home from London on Sunday, I couldn’t help but think about how their lived experiences serve to authenticate Sheridan’s bold new Strategic Plan and, quite simply, the criticality of our updated mission, vision, first principles, areas of impact, and enablers.   Three big, weighty themes about the world we’re navigating came up repeatedly:  the new economy, earning power and affordability; climate change; and, equity and inclusivity.   

During our Strategic Planning process last year, many people in our community shared research that’s emerging regarding the new economy and the future of work. Almost daily, I continue to hear from someone – a student, parent, faculty member, guidance counsellor, employer, or community leader – about how the unprecedented and relentless pace of social and economic change is impacting them personally.  It’s prolific and can be overwhelming. Some speak about disruption, technology, innovation, and the imperative to continually refresh and learn.  Others focus on a perceived lack of connectedness and/or mounting instances of negative mental health. 

Almost everybody agrees that the future of work is uncertain, that it will require people to adapt, pivot, re-gear, and be intrapreneurial: self-motivated, proactive and action-oriented.  Over and over again, researchers from around the globe have forecasted that flourishing in this new world will demand emotional acumen and competencies like agility, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. 

Layered on top of this is the unfathomable reality of Climate Change, a theme in almost all my conversations with young people over recent months.  A failure to act decisively, proactively, and aggressively on this crisis will – certainly – lead to unimaginable economic and social consequences for people, communities, and the planet.  Fundamentally, this provides a compelling case for being proactive, bold, and taking self-responsibility for effectively driving change. It also creates an imperative for anchor institutions in the community – like Sheridan – to contribute our time, energy, thought leadership and resources towards solutions.  

Finally, the imperative to live a commitment to equity came up repeatedly.   Simply: racism, intolerance, gender inequity and barriers to access are unacceptable.  A significant number of the people I spoke with last week were passionate about the importance of cultivating a culture of inclusion.   Perhaps more importantly, they readily acknowledged privilege and their personal accountability for redistributing power.  It’s incumbent on organizations and society as a whole to do more to ensure that people’s interactions with us reflect our values and ideals.

Individually and collectively, these three issues are driving significant disruption and rapid social, economic and political change.  Quite reasonably, this is generating anxiety.  

Sheridan’s antidote is our new Strategic Plan:  Galvanizing Education for a Complex World.  Having done our research — including the curation of 3000 voices — we envision a future where Sheridan is the epicenter for ground-breaking, standard-setting higher education that unleashes everyone’s full potential and empowers people to flourish in – and shape – an ever-changing world. 

To deliver on that commitment, we will cultivate resourceful, highly skilled, and creative people and communities through cross-pollinated, active learning and the relentless incubation of new ideas.

Fundamentally, our new Plan does three things:  it responds to the what the next decade may hold by fostering the capacity to thrive on change and re-gear to seize emerging opportunities;  it retains the best of Sheridan’s enviable roots like hands-on learning, small class sizes, tight connections with industry, applied research, creative activities and our trailblazing ethos;  and, it fundamentally re-imagines how our learning community must evolve to meet the needs of a changing world.  This last piece will include advocating for the ability to offer our own applied master’s degrees and affording unfettered access to graduate studies.  We’ll also co-design new options for work-learn connections that fuse the worlds of work and study. 

In responding to a formidable yet amorphous threat, I think it’s personally and professionally helpful to codify a plan of action that is cogent and compelling.  To that point, here’s what you can rely on.  Sheridan will – going forward to 2024 – play a significant role in meeting the biggest challenges of our time by doing three specific things:

  • Fostering individual transformation.
  • Creating value for industry and society.
  • Incubating the future of higher education. 

I believe that the Strategic Plan we co-created can and will make a difference – to people, families, communities, and the planet.    It was shaped by all of us, and belongs to all of us.  To realize its impact, I need you to champion it by leveraging your reputation to amplify ours.  Please:  share this link widely and with pride across your network.