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'I always loved education,' says retiring Sault College VP Colin Kirkwood

Sault College’s vice president of operations has seen the school change and student body diversify over the last 20 years
20200715-Sault College Ron Common and Colin Kirkwood-DT
Colin Kirkwood, Sault College vice president of operations, pictured at right in this 2020 file photo with retiring Sault College President Ron Common, is retiring from his own role at the college effective June 30, 2023. Darren Taylor/SooToday

Colin Kirkwood, Sault College vice president of operations, will be retiring effective June 30.

His decision to retire is all about family, Kirkwood told SooToday in a phone interview on Monday.

“I stay connected with some of my friends from university and many of them had retired in the last year or so and, much like me, they have children who have grown up to be young adults who are living in various other places and I just saw that they were getting the flexibility to spend more time with their family and kids,” Kirkwood said.

“I have two children and they’re living away from home so I thought this will give me more flexibility to visit them, much like my friends who stay connected with their families.”

Raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Kirkwood attended William Merrifield Public School and Korah Collegiate & Vocational School.

“I’m very grateful to all the teachers I had. I had such a great experience at both elementary and secondary school. It really prepared me well to take the next step to university,” Kirkwood reflected.

He said he remains appreciative to the Sault's Hollingsworth family for the opportunity to work at Soo Mill and also to Algoma Steel for summer jobs while he was in high school and university.

After graduating from the mechanical engineering program at the University of Western Ontario, Kirkwood worked in various locations across the province for Ontario Hydro.

He owned and operated his own engineering company before returning home to become Sault College’s dean of engineering technology in 2003.

“I always loved education. I’m an academic so when the opportunity came up to work at Sault College as the dean for the engineering programs, it was a really great opportunity for me because I loved engineering but I also loved school and academics,” Kirkwood said.

He later became the college’s academic vice president in 2016, then vice president of operations in 2022.

“The most rewarding part of being in education is seeing the students grow and learn and develop into individuals who can advance themselves. By far that’s the most gratifying part, to see the students succeed and learn, be enthusiastic and meet other people,” he said.

“I cannot think of a better industry to work in than education.”

Over the last two decades, large parts of Sault College’s interior and exterior have seen major renovations and additions, taking the school away from a dated 1960s institutional look to a modernized learning centre.

The composition of its student body has also changed, the college welcoming a large number of international students from 53 countries, many of them from Brazil, India, Nigeria and the Philippines. 

“It’s been a really important transition for the college,” Kirkwood said.

“Back in 2016 we only had about 25 students from other countries and now we’re getting close to a thousand so it’s been a really interesting transition for the college, and because we have such a significant international student population it’s been a transition for the community as well, which we’re all cognizant of.”

Making international students feel at home, Kirkwood said, is work that all college staff have taken seriously and embraced.

“It has brought the world to our doorstep but it’s also brought our college to the doorstep of the world,” he said.

The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its lockdowns and pivoting to remote learning for Sault College students and remote work for its staff and faculty, was a challenge.

However, Kirkwood said “everybody adapted well to that situation.”

“It was really all hands on deck. Everybody pitched in. Everybody was on the same page and pulling in the same direction. It was difficult but we all got through it together.”

Apart from spending more time with his wife and family, Kirkwood, an avid bicyclist, said he plans to still enjoy bicycling and take up gardening in retirement.

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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