By Andrew Safer

Les O’Reilly, Executive Director of OceansAdvance, was one of three individuals to receive the Association of Canadian Community Colleges’ (ACCC) Distinguished Service Award at their national conference in Edmonton in early June. Prior to OceansAdvance, O’Reilly served as Executive Director of the Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland.


Current Marine Institute Executive Director Glenn Blackwood, who nominated O’Reilly for the award, said, “Les spent a career that spans five decades in the education sector, both K through 12 and post-secondary. He did an excellent job at the Marine Institute where he worked for 22 years, 13 of which he was Executive Director, and he did an incredible amount of work on the national level while he was on the board of the ACCC. He was a mentor to me. I’m honored to have nominated him, and extremely pleased he received this lifetime achievement award.”


O’Reilly brought the Marine Institute into the ACCC in the 1980s, served on the executive of its board of directors for seven years, and served as the Association’s first chair east of Montreal.

“The ACCC, operating for CIDA, provided the Marine Institute with an avenue to become involved in international projects,” he said. “The outcome was that the Marine Institute’s international outreach for Canada was very successful in areas pertaining to marine, fisheries, and oceans.”


One of O’Reilly’s activities as an ACCC board member was to lead a delegation of 25 Canadian college representatives on an initiative into India to facilitate new programming in Indian post-secondary colleges and institutions based on the Canadian college system.  


“The Future is Now”

At the “Big Sky Thinking” conference, the three award recipients—Patricia Lang, President of Confederation College in Thunder Bay; Paul Byrne, President and CEO of Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton; and Les O’Reilly—presented keynote addresses on “The Future is Now”.


In his remarks, O’Reilly reflected on the responsibility that colleges have to serve their communities and zeroed in on the future role of R&D in the college system. Seated in his OceansAdvance office the following week, he pointed out the tremendous growth in R&D over the last 10 years, with private sector R&D investment exploding from $4 million in 2005 to $45 million in 2010.  He added that the number of partnerships with companies has grown from 500 in 2005 to over 3,800 today. Much of this growth he attributes to increased commitment to colleges from both the provincial governments and the federal government granting councils.


“The colleges have stepped up,” he observed, in terms of both building resources and maturing their ability to respond to economic development issues in their communities. “There’s been a major sea change. The colleges are becoming a major pillar of support.”


At the same time, the public’s expectations of the college system are increasing along with overall levels of training and education. “Graduates from programs understand the role of post-secondary,” he explained. Among the key challenges that colleges face is the public’s expectation that they will be aligned with industry, government, program agencies, and other colleges and universities. “Colleges need to be creative in initiating bridging relationships,” he said. “They need to be open to looking at new ways to leverage, build collaboration, and look for new intersects.” Another challenge is that they need to step up their responsiveness and accountability, and create sufficient performance measures that give confidence to governments and funders. “Measuring outcomes is really significant to the public,” he added. “They need to bring their accountability to new heights.”


Addressing the theme, “The Future is Now”, O’Reilly said that technology has shortened people’s time frames such that time changes very quickly today. “Until a few years ago, we always thought we had time. But today the cycle is—bang! The present is really the future, meaning that colleges must truly adapt. That’s challenging them to be open to big picture thinking, and to exploring and thinking in new ways.”