Meet Ron McKerlie; Mohawk College's new president

Ron McKerlie opens up after being named Mohawk College's new president on Wednesday, talking about the hotly debated blended learning approach and colleges' biggest challenge - finding the necessary funding.

Newly appointed president talks about school's funding and hotly debated challenges

Mohawk College President Ron McKerlie (Mohawk College)

Mohawk College on Wednesday named Ron McKerlie as the school’s new president. 

McKerlie, 55, currently Ontario deputy minister of open government, starts at Mohawk Aug. 5.

The announcement came six-months after the departure of previous President Rob MacIsaac.

McKerlie has 35 years experience in the public and private sector. Before working for the province, McKerlie spent time as senior vice president of eBusiness at Bank of Montreal and vice president of eBusiness at Rogers.

McKerlie will relocate from Mississauga to Burlington for his new post, along with his wife of 33 years. His two sons, in their mid- to late-twenties, are both married.

Ron Mckerlie: On blended learning, funding and more:

CBC Hamilton interviewed McKerlie Wednesday, and asked  about the hotly debated blended learning approach and colleges' biggest challenge - finding the necessary funding. 

CBC News: What is the biggest challenge facing Mohawk College?

Ron McKerlie: I think the biggest challenge facing all colleges, not just Mohawk, is funding. The biggest two sources of funding are tuition and grants that come from the provincial government. One is being restricted and the other, we are asked to modify increases to tuition rates for good reason.

If your two major sources of funding are being curtailed, then it’s a challenge to continue to grow an organization when needs are there.

Fennell Campus renewal – Five years and $80 million in

CBC News: You will be securing funding for the largest renewal project in Mohawk’s history?

RM: It is a big project in terms of the engineering technology building, which is next on the list, and absolutely it will be a sizeable fundraising requirement.

CBC News: Your predecessor, Rob MacIsaac, was known for his fundraising initiatives. Do you have a philosophy or game plan there?

RM: It starts with building relationships and having a clear vision for what it is you’re trying to do and what you need the money for. The best way to fundraise that I know of is that you connect the people who share the vision with the opportunity and so part of my job as I come in is to develop those relationships – understand what the priorities are of the college in terms of the capital requirements and then connect the opportunities with the need.

My experience has been that technology changes everything.- Mohawk College's newly-appointed President Ron McKerlie

CBC News: What kind of identity does Mohawk have that sets it apart?

RM: Mohawk’s success and strength has really been programming in areas like health and technology and business. There are great partnerships already in place like working with McMaster University, the hospitals like St. Joe’s and Hamilton Health Sciences and also industrial partners.

Mohawk prepares students for local needs as well as for future opportunities, so what you’re really trying to do is get students who can not only take the near-term jobs where the openings are available in Hamilton but to give them a breadth of opportunities for the future. 

CBC News: What is your position on blended learning and the debate surrounding it?

My experience has been that technology changes everything. I’ve grown up introducing technology into organizations from Bank of Montreal to Rogers to the government.  And people’s learning changes over time as well; the way we assimilate information, the way we answer questions. Blended learning and using online resources is a natural evolution of learning. You have to do it well and it may not be for everybody, but it’s part of the way learning is evolving for all of us.

I think the only reason there is a debate is because Mohawk is on the leading edge of this, well ahead of some of its peers and that’s why there’s a discussion.

The challenge always with being innovators is you have the learning curve that you have to go up that is steep and you have people that you have to work with who will question change. I don’t think in three years there will be any debate about whether blended learning is a good thing or a bad thing.

CBC News: What do you want to say directly to the students?

RM: Don’t be shy. I know you won’t be but once I’m on campus in August I would love the opportunity to connect with as many of you as possible. I will make sure there are opportunities to do so and I will try to spend as much time as I can being visible and available. 

CBC News: You have worked in eBusiness in the private sector and government positions in the public sector. What is it about your personal qualities and professional background that makes you a good fit for this job?

RM: I understand complexity having worked in government and how to manage well in complex environments. I understand government processes and how things get done and how decisions are made. I think that is beneficial for colleges. I have a lot of connections in private industry, which are key partners for colleges.