By Amy Robertson
lenn Runnalls, Briercrest College and Seminary’s VP of Student Development, is taking a sabbatical from his position on the President’s Cabinet to pursue a PhD in education at the University of Regina.
Runnalls, who has served Briercrest College and Seminary for 25 years, will specialize in educational psychology with a special focus on identity formation in adolescents.
“It has been for years my intention to improve my education further, in keeping with our overall mandate at Briercrest to have more PhDs present,” he said.
Unfortunately, something always put his plans on hold. But this spring, when it became apparent that it was time for a change at the cabinet level, Runnalls decided to take the opportunity to step down.
“We were together as a cabinet for five years,” he said. “You need some turnover—you need some change at that kind of executive level.”
“I needed a sabbatical, and it came together.”
Runnalls is excited at the prospect of his studies at the U of R.
“I’m loving the idea of being able to think in general about why education, and where it’s going, and what it’s doing,” he said.
He hopes that his doctoral work will help him make a positive contribution to education in Saskatchewan.
“At Briercrest, we believe higher education makes a difference,” he said.
“I know that as I’ve watched over the last 25 years—I’ve watched a number of my friends go off and pursue further degrees. I’ve seen the difference it makes in their contribution in general—so doing a PhD well, doing the right PhD, makes a difference in a person’s contribution in higher education.”
Runnalls has a keen interest in how education shapes young people. “School is where kids spend more time than anywhere except their beds,” he said. “There’s no other single place where they spend so much time. And there is no other group of people who are intentionally trying to shape students as much as educators are. So school ends up contributing a lot to the development of identity—both incidentally and intentionally.
“Compulsory public education is this huge social experiment ... To think about the ways in which education in the 19th and 20th century has kind of taken over from the family, from the church, from the workplace. Up until the development of compulsory public education, there was no other single force that shaped identity as much as education does now.”
Runnalls plans to return Briercrest after a year-long sabbatical and teach part-time as he continues his doctoral work. He considers himself a multi-disciplinary individual and hopes to work in a few different areas, but will specialize in identity formation in adolescents.
Eventually, he also hopes to do some off-site consulting and shape academic policy.
Runnalls has already contributed significantly to policy development through his volunteer work with various foster family associations and as a board member for Joe’s Place, a youth drop-in centre in Moose Jaw.
He chose the U of R in part because of its proximity—he didn’t want to uproot his family from Caronport, where his wife, Kathy, is a residence director at the college, and they are heavily involved in a community church.
Runnalls also believes it’s a good educational move, saying he appreciates the U of R’s Faculty of Education’s approach to education. He expects that a number of professors there will be “really helpful” for his research.
For him, it’s also important for Briercrest to have more involvement with a provincial university like the U of R, given that Briercrest wants to play a more prominent role in Saskatchewan’s educational landscape.
“That can’t help but make a difference,” he said.