Focus on “Small Victories”

Article by 25366 Mike Shewfelt

This past Wednesday, at the Kingston Branch monthly luncheon, RMCC Principal 14458 Dr. Harry Kowal, RMCC ’84, took the time to give the branch members a feel for the ins and outs of strategic renewal. Dr. Kowal’s presentation covered his vision for the road ahead and served to dispel some of the rumours surrounding his appointment as College Principal.

Dr. Kowal retired from the Air Force in 2013 after 33 years of service. He retired as a Brigadier General serving as Director General Military Careers. His last command position was as the Commanding Officer of the Aerospace Engineering and Test Establishment (AETE) in CFB Cold Lake, Alberta.

His entertaining presentation to the assembled ex-Cadets began with stories from his time as CO of the AETE, and the many “characters out there” under his command. “I was the first engineering officer to command a flying establishment,” he explained. “We had 2 CF-18s, 2 helicopters, 5 Tutor aircraft, and a complement of test pilots who were all on top of their game and most comfortable at the edge of the performance envelope. One aspect of our job was to explore and solve potential problems with the aircraft by testing the aircraft in the proposed conditions and configurations and then seeing what resulted, albeit in a safe manner.”

As Dr. Kowal sees it, the road ahead for the College rests on four priorities.

  • Priority #1 is that all parts of the College continue to work together. “I know there has been great debate over the years,” he said, “as to whether we are a military training installation or a university. The truth is we are both and we have great people working in all facets of the College trying to do their utmost to ensure our graduates are postured for success. The fact that we can find the balance at RMC between academics, military training, sports and language training speaks volumes to why we are truly a university with a difference. ”
  • Priority #2 is to re-energize the morale and esprit-de-corps of the academic faculty. This is the biggest challenge that Dr. Kowal currently faces. “I see open, transparent communications and decision-making as they key to this,” Dr. Kowal explained. “I know this won’t happen overnight, but we are all committed to finding a way to restore the esprit de corps as we move forward. I feel that managing realistic expectations is key and I honestly believe if I continue to be open and honest with communications, it will go a long way in helping establish an atmosphere of collegiality that will help tackle the most complex of issues.”
  • Priority #3 is to ensure the continuing prestige of the College, and that it continues to be able to do the job of producing Canada’s future leaders. “There are many factors at play here, including investing in our people so that they are the best professors and technical staff possible to teach and mentor our students, bringing a focus to our Quality program and transforming the Library for the benefit of the entire College, bringing into focus all the research work at the College for a detailed oversight over the work, the researchers and the funding. It also means providing scrutiny and accountability with our budgets and marketing outside the College the great work that it done at RMC.”
  • Priority #4 is to ensure internal and external representation continues, through communication with the faculty association and external agencies. “I take advantage of all the academic meetings, including Faculty Board, Faculty Council, Senate, and the Board of Governors as excellent opportunities for communication. I am an integral part of the College Executive as are the Deans and I have great communications with the Faculty Association. In terms of external engagements, I am an Executive Head of the Council of Ontario Universities and member of the L’Association des universités de la francophonie canadienne as well as a member of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. In Kingston, I am already connected with Daniel Woolf, the Principal of Queens, and Glenn Vollebregt, the President of St. Lawrence College and I am actively involved with eth Town-Gown committee. And there is always a lot going on at RMC and in Kingston. From conferences and lectures to international engagements and exchange programs. We have had numerous visitors to the College, from Columbia, Denmark, Germany, China, France and most recent Mexico. The Cmdt and I even visited China in the fall for an exchange of information with their Military Colleges.”

Dr. Kowal also sees a number of ways to highlight the accomplishments of the College and its people, such as international exchanges and sporting events. He wants those to continue.

Key to Dr. Kowal’s presentation was the revelation that, in June and July of this year, the Academic Wing will sit down to do strategic planning. “We’re going to look at our vision of who we are and what we do,” he said. “We’re going to squeeze every bit of capacity from every dollar possible over the next 5-10 years.”

Dr. Kowal recognized that this is a time of great change and great turmoil for the College. “This is still a great time for the College,” he insisted. “We don’t just roll over in the face of adversity. We find the small victories. For example, the College’s research funds have been reduced substantially over the years and we recently lost funds to support faculty during sabbaticals. I am pleased that we were able to restore some funding to sabbatical travel. We are also working through external relationships such as the Assistant Deputy Minister (Science and Technology) and Defence Research Development Canada to determine our best our research capabilities can support the Science and Technology Strategic Plan. Furthermore, we are focusing our efforts through the Canadian Defence Academy Research Program (CDARP) to optimize the use of what research funding we do have. My approach is to look for the positive, to focus on what we can still accomplish and perhaps, with small victories will come larger victories and over time this will enable moral and esprit de corps to be lifted.”

Dr. Kowal also took the opportunity to dispel several of the rumors surrounding his appointment as College Principal. “There has been a great deal of speculation that I was brought in by the government to implement the strategic renewal process. That is simply not true,” he said. “I made my decision to apply only in May last year, when I came to Kingston to present my God-daughter with her commission on Grad Parade. I was a serving 1-star at the time and I had no plans to get out of the military. My wife, Cheryl, was looking on line for the dress for one of the receptions and came across the job posting; it was Cheryl who brought it to my attention.” When Dr. Kowal explored the job further and realized he had all the skill-sets RMC was looking for, he worked through the selection process along with the rest of the applicants and now considers himself very privilege to been selected as Principal.

The assembled members of the Kingston Branch of the RMC Club took a great deal away from the entertaining and informative presentation, as was evidenced by the questions they put to Dr. Kowal after it was over. Two cadets from the Wing were invited guests: OCdt (IV) Carter Powis, Deputy Cadet Wing Commander, and OCdt (III) Boris Trudel, Deputy Cadet Wing Training Officer, were guests of the Kingston Branch for lunch. Of note, OCdt Powis is the third generation of his family to attend RMC. His father is 3672 CCM Powis Class of ’56, and his grandfather was 1456 A Powis who entered RMC in 1918.