Dear Centennial Colleagues,
It is my distinct honour to announce Centennial College’s next President and CEO, a dynamic educator and leader who is also a colleague and a familiar face at the College. Dr. Craig Stephenson, Vice President, Student and Community Engagement, has been selected to serve as Centennial’s seventh President since our inception in 1966. Craig will commence in his new role on August 26.
Our rigorous selection process was led by the Board of Governors’ Presidential Search Committee, supported by Phelpsgroup Executive Search. This process included a series of campus and community-wide consultations that resulted in a comprehensive Job Opportunity Brief for the role of Centennial’s new CEO. It attracted an exceptional slate of candidates from across Canada. The selection committee found the candidate who not only reflected Centennial’s future vision, but who also has the capabilities to implement that vision.
With his deep roots in the formation of our new Book of Commitments, Craig demonstrated keen insight on how a more agile Centennial will transform student and employee lives. Internally, his leadership will advance the cross-disciplinary communication that is a hallmark of the Centennial brand and will focus minds and hearts on sustaining success, ensuring the College remains robust and receptive to new opportunities. Externally, he will reach out to government, business and community stakeholders to forge more innovative partnerships and alliances.
The College’s ability to transform lives and communities resonates readily with Craig’s own childhood roots and post-secondary experiences. He overcame great odds that reflect many of the experiences of our students today. Staring adversity down, three life lessons shaped the leadership of our new President and CEO. The first was the need to provide student support to build confidence – even at times when little may seem to be at hand.
Born into a working-class family living in a rural district in northern England, Craig was the first in his family to go to post-secondary school. It was not an easy journey. Advised to “aim low” due to England’s classism, he was dissuaded from applying to the country’s best universities despite having exceptional grades. Craig went on to earn a first-class honours degree in history at Warwick University in Coventry, having worked hard to overcome a strong sense of not belonging.
Following this, a second life lesson emerged: the importance of exploration as a means to develop a worldview. Having studied and worked in England, South Carolina and California – and on an ocean-going ship touring the world – Craig has always been an education pioneer. A former international student himself and later, an International House Associate Dean, a senior member of the Semester at Sea student life team and architect of an international student services operation, Craig has become well versed and passionate about global citizenship and internationalization.
A third life lesson surfaced as Craig took his education to the next level. The mantra aim high to achieve your potential while supporting others emerged as he completed his doctorate and taught social history at the University of Warwick, while serving as a Resident Coordinator overseeing the well-being of first-year students. All of these lessons shaped his views of how the power of local action contributes to global citizenry. From shaping new programs and pedagogy, to growing our research capacity and developing faculty, Craig has already shared with us his unwavering commitment to hear your views on how to creatively bring our Book of Commitments to life.
Originally hired as Centennial’s Dean of Students in 2008, he immediately initiated discussions, planning, retention analysis and action setting to conceive our leading-edge developmental advising model. This momentum yielded a fresh approach to academic advising and simultaneously launched a powerful career services model. Of vital importance to our students, he led mental health initiatives and became an exemplar of “silver service” quality, innovation, design and evaluation.
Those who have worked alongside Craig know his leadership style is inclusive, principled and connected. He prefers to walk the talk and deliver what was agreed to. He’s a fan of the “pop-in” – to quote Jerry Seinfeld – dropping in to see people face-to-face when able. Through his long and varied involvement in the post-secondary sector, Craig is keen to never let a day pass by without finding a way to enhance the student experience, while considering the impact of his decisions on employees, institutional resources and stakeholders.
As an accomplished advocate and champion for Centennial students, his contributions signal our next stages of growth and development. From pro-active student services to radical re-imagination of academic advising, Craig demonstrates the power of service leadership. Decision-making will be grounded in evidence, producing the result we all aspire towards: graduating healthy students who are exceptionally employable.
Craig is an avid cyclist, residing in Whitchurch-Stouffville with his partner Parna and their 7-year old son, Oakley. As he takes the leadership mantle, he will be training as hard as he would for any long-distance cycling event – in this case, to understand the cadences of Centennial as he focuses on Scarborough and the communities that the College’s five campuses, learning sites and international partnerships serve.
My sincere thanks to the Presidential Search Committee, Phelpsgroup Executive Search and to you, the broader Centennial community, for your support during this process. As Craig transitions from steward of student life to guardian of Centennial life, I know you will join me in wishing him all of the best as he leads Centennial to new heights.