Robert Gillett

Retirement hasn’t kept former Algonquin president Robert Gillett from visiting his old haunt.

Gillett still comes to Algonquin every day to go to the gym.

Gillett, who retired in 2012 after 16 years, loves coming to the campus.

“You couldn’t ask for a better place,” he said.

Gillett was recently given the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities for his contributions to post-secondary education. Among those contributions was the expansion of the college’s infrastructure, and the development of digital technologies, the latter of which he is most proud of.

Algonquin has the foremost reputation in the province for being a digital college through the technology it has access to, as well as its insistence in pushing for more digital engagement and connectivity.

“The college is well-positioned to go forward in the world, and to become a leader in Ontario, Canada, and the world,” Gillett said in an interview with the Times. “We are very well connected here compared to many other institutions.”

Gillett also believes that Algonquin still has a long way to go, particularly with regard to mental health services. Gillett, who serves on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Mental Health Research at the Royal Ottawa, believes very passionately in addressing students’ mental health.

“There isn’t enough external help yet, so we have to do some inside,” he said. “We can’t have students succeeding without addressing that problem.”

Looking back on the challenges of his tenure, he’s happy with what was accomplished.

“When I came into the college, I certainly didn’t know it was $20 million in debt,” he said. “We had to make some very difficult decisions.”

Those decisions included laying off staff members and consolidating resources.

“That was probably the most difficult time,” he said, “but I have to say everybody pulled together, got through it, and came ahead.

“Every challenge we set we surpassed. There was always a daily reward. There was never a day I didn’t want to come to work.”

One of his favourite parts of his tenure was seeing the students’ growth.

“I love how students can change over the course of a few years,” he said. “Some came in and were problematic at the beginning, and then became the biggest champions for the college.”

Cheryl Jensen, Algonquin’s current president, sees Gillett’s accomplishments as admirable.

“Students wouldn’t have named the Student Commons after Bob if there wasn’t a great respect for what he’s done for students here at Algonquin,” she said. “It’s icons like Bob who are seen as the real founders of the colleges.”

Gillett takes his recognition in stride.

“It’s Algonquin’s award as much as it’s mine,” he said. “I just happened to be the one that gets recognized, but it’s the people here. They are truly phenomenal.”