Communication and collaboration comprise key components in the career path of Royal Roads University’s new president.
Dr. Philip Steenkamp, who was appointed to the positions of president and vice-chancellor at RRU on June 18, 2018, commenced a five-year term on Jan. 1, with an extensive background in the public service and the post-secondary sector. His resume includes serving as vice-president at the University of British Columbia and at Simon Fraser University, as well as extensive experience in senior leadership positions with governments in B.C. and Ontario, where his roles included aboriginal affairs, tourism, culture and the arts, economic and skills development, and advanced education.
“You don’t get anything done in government if you don’t collaborate,” Steenkamp noted during an interview with the News Gazette. “Government departments aren’t silos. The only way to get things done is to reach out to different departments and agencies. More importantly, is reaching outside of government to the community and stakeholders to understand their issues and views to get a sense of what their needs are,” Steenkamp said.
“One key priority is to think about how to respond to the needs of families on the West Shore. There’s a lot of pride in Royal Roads, but there’s also a sense that we’re behind a wall. We want to be known as an institution that comes out beyond the castle and into the community.”
High school graduation rates on the West Shore have increased during the past few years, which Steenkamp was quick to credit to the efforts of the Sooke School District. Post-secondary rates are still lower than the provincial average, he noted, something he attributes to the lack of access to post-secondary education in an area experiencing rapid population growth. That’s exacerbated by the transportation issues students face getting to and from existing institutions in the region, he added.
“Discussions have begun to address that. I’d like to focus on whether there is an opportunity for a new campus elsewhere on the West Shore. We would like Royal Roads to be part of that and would like to work with UVic and Camosun on that. We all offer different things, and together we could really respond to the needs of families on the West Shore. Eliminating the commute would be welcomed by students.”
It would also spare the expense of accommodations for those who prefer to live at home with their families. “What that takes is a matter of discussion and negotiation, but it’s a top priority for me.”
RRU chancellor Kathleen Birney said in a statement that she is looking forward to working with Steenkamp. “I am delighted to welcome Dr. Steenkamp, who brings to Royal Roads such deep experience in education and across sectors. His depth of understanding of the post-secondary landscape is second to none, and his track record as a galvanizing leader is inspiring,” Birney said.
Another central focus for Steenkamp at RRU is to foster an appreciation for the diverse historical background of Royal Roads. “I have a deep appreciation of the Indigenous history of the site, and I’m deeply committed to working with the Indigenous community as we plot the future of this university.”
The site’s history as the Dunsmuir’s property and as a military college is important as well to Steenkamp, who holds a PhD and master’s degree in history from Queen’s University, in addition to a bachelor of arts from the University of Natal, Durban.
That love of history is reflected in his request to have the original commandant’s desk from the days when Royal Roads was a military college moved onto his office in the Dunsmuir castle.