Timmins, ON – The Board of Governors of Northern College is pleased to announce it has chosen a new leader for the organization.
Dr. Audrey J. Penner has been named the College’s newest President and CEO after an outside search firm, the Phelps Group, conducted and successfully completed a national search to fill the key leadership role. The College’s eighth President, Dr. Penner succeeds Dr. Fred Gibbons after his retirement announcement earlier this year with two highly impactful terms at the helm.
“We were impressed with the calibre of candidates for this search, and knew that we needed to continue to have strong leadership like Dr. Fred Gibbons has afforded us,” stated George Pirie, Chair of the Northern College Board, of the selection. “We are very pleased to have found an excellent incumbent, Dr. Penner, to lead the organization going forward. The process of recruitment went smoothly despite the global pandemic, and just like what we saw on the completion of the academic year online, the transition to digital interviews and candidate selection proceeded more efficiently than originally expected,” Pirie continued.
Gibbons extended the original June retirement date at the request of the Board to ensure a seamless transition for the successor during the Covid-19 outbreak. Working closely with President Gibbons as part of his senior management team, Dr. Penner helped guide the organization in her role as Vice-President, Academic and Student Success for the past six years.
“I am only too pleased to see that the Board has appointed Dr. Penner for this position,” stated Dr. Gibbons of his successor. “This will assure a smooth transition building upon work we have undertaken together over the past six years since Audrey joined us,” he added. “I am confident she will take the organization to new and exciting places with her strategic vision and the innovative approach she brings to the role.”
As a Vice-President at Northern since August 2014, Penner has led the Academic Division in a number of successful projects. She created an applied research department, integrating the concepts of innovation and entrepreneurship with applied research that will see the College launching an Impressive Innovation Hub dedicated to supporting local industry needs in the near future. She implemented an advanced digital strategy for educational technology which had Northern College better prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic than many other organizations. During her time as VPA, Dr. Penner also established a solid international enrollment base, with an increase from fewer then 50 students in 2017 to just over 600 students two years later. That growth has assisted in providing organizational sustainability in the face of a declining local population demographically, as well as strengthened the labour force of communities in Northeastern Ontario where the College has a significant presence.
“We are a proud college situated in the most beautiful region of Ontario,” stated Penner of the appointment. “We will be taking that pride while acknowledging the beauty, and applying it to a new strategic plan and preparing for Industry 4.0. I look forward to the opportunity to meet with Indigenous leaders and other individuals and communities in my first days on the job,” added Penner, “and together, we will continue to grow our region. I intend to build upon the successes Dr. Gibbons has established as we strengthen post secondary programming, empower learners and stimulate economic development in the communities we serve. We provide exceptional talent to the workforce, and post-Covid, this will be needed more than ever,” she added.
Prior to coming to Northern, Penner was at Holland College in Prince Edward Island, where she established a dedicated education technology department and a college technology access centre – one of the first in Canada, while generating more than $10M in grant revenue for various research and programming projects.
Access to education while overcoming barriers to learning is especially important to Penner, who worked full-time earlier in her career while putting herself through school. “Knowing the value of education improving one’s quality of life is a lived experience for me,” states Penner. “Having been a single mother of four children, I am acutely aware of the various challenges associated with access to affordable and quality post-secondary education. That being the case, my role is to inspire students, faculty and staff through innovation and empowerment as Northern’s President,” she said.
Committed to lifelong learning, Penner began her career as a dental hygienist, obtaining a Baccalaureate in Sciences from the University of Waterloo, and continuing on with a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Prince Edward Island. She obtained a Doctorate in Higher Education Administration from the University of Calgary, completing a post-doctoral internship in advanced analytics with Human Resources and Skilled Development Canada (HRSDC).
Glenn MacDougall, the College’s current Director of Technology and Learning Innovation will assume the role of Vice-President, Academic, in the Acting capacity until the role is filled permanently in the future.
Dr. Penner’s first day in the job will be Tuesday, August 4, 2020, in order to adequately prepare for September’s start to the academic year. Dr. Fred Gibbons will be assuming an advisory role to President Penner until August 31st at which time he will pursue his retirement plans.
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