Reviews and audits may make incite some nervousness around campus, but not for Linda Saari.
For NC’s manager of Educational Pathways, Development and Quality it’s all about continuous improvement.
“It’s a chance to reflect and celebrate and make sure that we’re getting better, rather than worrying about passing or failing which isn’t really the objective,” she says. “Every program has been through a program review so obviously, they’re good. We just want to make them better.”
Quality assurance is a major part of Saari’s job and is something that touches everyone at NC, since every program at the college undergoes a thorough analysis and review. The college not only conducts an average of 10 program reviews – which are validated by external assessors – and a self-study every six years, but it participates in the
Program Quality Assurance Process Audit (PQAPA). Through PQAPA, college practices are reviewed against a provincial standard for quality assurance processes every five years. PQAPA was established in 2007 and March 2012 will march NC’s second-ever PQAPA audit.
The audit is a comprehensive process. Saari works with a committee comprised of representatives from across the college to examine everything – from practices in the Registrar’s office to delivering methodologies in academic and facilities such as wireless in IT.
“We look at everything because all of it creates quality programs,” she says.
There have been many changes at NC since its first audit, including the introduction of whole new level of chairs and e-learning certification for faculty. Saari believes that changes aren’t a result of the audit, however.
“I think the audit just captures them,” she says.
Saari applauds the culture of continuous improvement at NC.
“We’re always looking to make ourselves better and the audit gives us a chance to capture that on paper,” she says. “It’s always great to celebrate improvement, otherwise we would just keep getting better and we wouldn’t even know it.”
Saari notes that there has been increasing amount of focus on quality in recent years. When she became NC’s manager of Educational Pathways, Development and Quality seven years ago, the position was a novel one in the college system. Now, quality assurance positions are common at colleges and she expects the trend to continue in the future.
While quality assurance is the biggest part of Saari’s job, she is also responsible for Educational Pathways and program development. Her work in Educational Pathways involves what she calls “pathways out” such as articulations, degree completion, and working with university partners. It also involves “pathways in” which helps increase awareness about college for high school students, and provides dual-credit opportunities for about 300 students a year at the District School Board of Niagara and Niagara Catholic.
In addition, Saari is responsible for new program development, working with the college’s deans and chairs to shepherd the process.
For Saari, who places great importance on excellence and accountability, her job is rewarding because quality assurance focuses on both.
“It’s also a way to recognize and celebrate the things that are constantly happening that we often take for granted, until you stop and reflect back on how much change there’s really been,” she says.
In each task she does, Saari says that what’s good for the students remains the focus.
“That’s the reason why we’re here, so I think in most of the pieces of the work I do, that’s the ultimate goal,” she says. “That’s what is going to help our community.”
Saari has spent almost 30 years working at NC. She began as a part-time Psychology and Human Relations professor and moved into roles as development officer for Continuing Education, training consultant, and manager Contract Training, before taking on her current position.
While each position she has held has added to her skill set, there has also been a common thread to them all – facilitating.
“I like to facilitate, to coordinate things, and help people move towards their goals,” she says.
For Saari, continuous improvement isn’t just part of her job, it’s a theme that has echoed through her own career.
“Some people really like to be in one job for 30 years, but that wouldn’t have kept me,” she says. “What has kept me here is having the opportunity to develop as a person and as a professional. That is really encouraging for a faculty member and is what I enjoy most about NC.”