Algonquin president Cheryl Jensen chats with staff at her annual holiday coffee and cookies event on Dec. 21, 2017. She reflected on the year in an interview with the Algonquin Times. (Rebecca Atkinson photo)

As 2017 draws to a close, Algonquin College staff and students had the opportunity to chat over coffee and cookies with president Cheryl Jensen in the lobby of A-building on Dec. 21. The Times caught up with Jensen prior to the event, to look back on the past calendar year and ahead to 2018.

Looking back on this past year celebrating the 50th anniversary of the college, what was your proudest moment as president?

My proudest moment was when we revealed our coat of arms at our convocation in the spring. To me, that was a real defining moment in Algonquin’s history; talking about really recognizing and celebrating our past, but with the values embedded right in the coat of arms.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced?

It would be no secret that the work stoppage was a big hurdle and a challenge for everyone. It marks our 50th which is a year of what the colleges are all about and moving forward with a new collective agreement and a different way of working together.

You’ve kept your promise that no student will lose their academic year due to the strike. But what challenges do we still face ahead, even though the strike is over?

I worry about my students. I worry about the stress that the strike has caused them. No student signed up for the work stoppage and, of course, mental health issues are key to any post-secondary institution. So making sure that our students are supported and that we acknowledge the issues that they’re facing and give them every support we can to make sure that their hopes and dreams are realized through their programs.

What are your thoughts on the arbitration award?

The arbitration award is a new collective agreement. I always say that we all sign a collective agreement – that’s why it’s called that. And we’ll make sure that it works for us here at Algonquin.

You’ve been taking a little tour of the various Algonquin College campuses recently and meeting students. What have you been hearing from them?

The students that I saw, some of them are stressed because they have exams and it’s a busy week. But they’re happy with being back in school and praising the faculty for everything that the faculty have done for them.

This year has been quite the tumultuous year, both in the world and for the college in general. Are you glad it’s over?

I would never say that I’m glad a year is over. I’m always one to look at celebrating the good things of the year and learning from any challenges that we’ve had during the year. That’s life and that’s our human experience together as we move through our lives and our careers. I think we handled our challenges as best we could.

What do you look forward to most in the next year?

So May 3 is the big opening of our new centre, which has been labelled the Dare District. I’m really looking forward to celebrating that space. Space matters and, for me, the space is really going to be a spot where people can gather and acknowledge our past and our history, think about truth and reconciliation and also dare ourselves to dream bigger in terms of what we can do together.

Dare District. That’s the official name?

Yes it is.

What do you make of the year that has passed? There’s been a lot in the news about President Trump. What are your thoughts on all that?

I think it’s been a time of political unrest. Not in Canada, but across the world… We always have to make sure that we are learning internationally. Our international recruitment and enrolment is growing faster than we expected. I think our international students enrich our culture and our lives here at Algonquin and we can learn from them what the challenges in the world mean to them and their own countries, and how we, as Canadians, can help.

Anything you want to say, in the Christmas spirit, to the students?

I value every one of our students and I’m so glad our students are here at Algonquin. And I thank them for their patience and for their understanding this year. I wish everyone a good week off next week. A happy holiday and a very happy, healthy new year.

(This interview has been condensed)