Northern College Announces Retirement of President Dr. Audrey J. Penner

September 7, 2023

TIMMINS, ON:  After a successful tenure as President of Northern College, Dr. Audrey J. Penner has announced her retirement.

Hired during the Covid pandemic, Dr. Penner has been leading the institution since August 2020, and will be concluding her presidency effective December 31, 2023, to spend more time with her family.

As a senior executive at Northern since August 2014, Penner has nearly a decade of service with the organization, and over three decades in the post-secondary sector. Dr. Audrey J. Penner became the College’s eighth President, succeeding Dr. Fred Gibbons after his retirement announcement in 2020.

During her time at the College, Dr. Penner established a solid international enrolment base, with an increase from fewer than 50 students in 2017 to over 1,200 in 2023. That growth has assisted in providing organizational sustainability in the face of a declining local population demographically, as well as strengthened the labour force of communities in Northeastern Ontario. During Dr. Penner’s tenure, the College grew its sources of revenue by 75%, increased its footprint across the region by 37%, expanded its new programs and degree offerings by 50%, and cultivated an 82% increase in capital and fixed assets.

Dr. Penner served on local, regional, provincial and national committees, guiding the growth of both the post-secondary and economic development sectors. She sits on the boards of the Ontario College Application Service, Science North, Contact North, and the East End Family Health Team, as well as chairs the Timmins Economic Development Corporation. She led a number of successful projects, including the institution of the new Strategic Plan for the organization, the establishment of an EDI Taskforce, the development of an ‘ideal college’ framework for inclusion at Northern, and the oversight of the College’s Campus Master plan, while launching a Northern College downtown location in Timmins, positioning the institution for future growth in the region. On a provincial level, she led the quality assurance initiative for the International Student Experience, chairing the committee and offering Northern College as part of the pilot program.

Dr. Penner was familiar with applied research when she joined Northern College and during her time with the College, integrated the concepts of innovation and entrepreneurship with applied research that saw the College launch an impressive Innovation Hub dedicated to supporting local industry needs. The applied research department generated over half a million dollars in revenue in the past fiscal year, growing as an integral part of business solutions for the region. She implemented an advanced digital strategy for educational technology which had Northern College better prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic than many other organizations. She has been an advocate for College applied degrees and sees them as critical to the future of postsecondary education in Northern Ontario.

Prior to coming to Northern, Penner was at Holland College in Prince Edward Island overseeing various research and programming projects. Committed to lifelong learning, Penner began her career as a dental hygienist (University of Manitoba), obtaining a Baccalaureate in Sciences from the University of Waterloo, and continuing on with a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Prince Edward Island. She obtained a Doctorate in Higher Education Administration from the University of Calgary, completing a post-doctoral internship in advanced analytics with Human Resources and Skilled Development Canada (HRSDC).

Access to education while overcoming barriers to learning has been especially important to Penner, who worked full-time earlier in her career while putting herself through school. “Knowing the value of education in improving one’s quality of life is a lived experience for me,” states Penner. “Going back to school as a single mother of four children, I am acutely aware of the various challenges associated with access to affordable and quality post-secondary education. That being the case, my role has been to inspire students, faculty and staff through innovation and empowerment as Northern’s President,” she said.

“On behalf of the Board of Governors and the entire Northern College community, I offer our sincere congratulations and heartfelt thanks to Dr. Penner,” said Jeff Molyneaux, Chair of the Northern College Board of Governors, of President Penner’s intention to retire. “We are grateful for the valued leadership of Dr. Penner and are sorry to see her go. We respect her family commitments and wish her all the very best in her decision to be closer to them. Audrey has grown the College and our region during her time with us, despite having begun her presidency during the global pandemic – which is no easy feat for any leader. We are thankful for that.”

“Northern is a formidable college situated in the most beautiful region of Ontario,” stated Penner of her time as President. “I will miss it so very much. It is the people here who have made it so special for me, and this has been my home, so it was not an easy decision for me to make.”

“It has been an honour to relocate to Northeastern Ontario to serve Northern. My life will be forever changed for the better for having done so. I am grateful to everyone who helped us grow the College during my time here. It has been an honour to strengthen post-secondary programming for the past three decades of my life, including my time at Northern. To witness first-hand the empowerment of learners, and see the difference education can make in their lives, has been tremendous. I look forward to seeing how Northern will continue to stimulate economic development in the communities we serve, which is what I sought to do, and cheer you on from afar. We provide exceptional talent to the workforce, and post-Covid, this is needed more than ever,” she added.

The Presidential Search Committee will be comprised of members of the Board of Governors, who will be guided by input from staff, students, faculty, and community members. The Board will work with Dr. Penner on succession planning to continue the College’s growth and success.

Future updates on the recruitment process for the Presidential search will be announced as the process continues to move forward.

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