Image of various students traversing a Seneca common space

Cover story

Seneca Polytechnic:
A new name; a bold future

What’s in a name? Plenty, it seems

By Laurie Stephens

February 14, 2024

Earlier this year, Seneca launched a new strategic plan that boldly charts the school’s course over the next few years. The plan, called The Next, is an ambitious blueprint that reinforces Seneca’s commitment to its Au Large vision of an equitable, sustainable and more virtual institution.

But the proverbial jewel in the crown of The Next – and central to its focus – is Seneca’s decision to rebrand itself as Seneca Polytechnic. Over the last several months, the institution has been presenting its new name to domestic and international audiences who have a stake in the school’s future.

To be clear, Seneca has been operating as a polytechnic for many years. A co-founder of Polytechnics Canada more than 20 years ago, the institution is committed to offering students an experience unique to polytechnics: the invaluable combination of theoretical knowledge and practical, professional skills with exposure to their career before they graduate.

Simply, it’s the best of college and university combined.

With its broad offerings – from degrees to graduate certificates to diplomas – Seneca Polytechnic is also committed to life-long learning. Practically speaking, no pun intended, it is a place where a student can get experiential learning at all points of their life, whether as a first-time student or returning to upgrade their skills or launch a new career.

Seneca Polytechnic’s community is large and diverse. It includes students, employees, employers, alumni, donors and more. All have a stake in the success of an institution that is taking bold steps to differentiate itself in a competitive postsecondary landscape to prepare students for the workplaces of today and tomorrow. Seneca is explicitly declaring that it is committed to offering students an experience unique to polytechnics – the invaluable combination of academic rigour and practical, professional skills with exposure to their career before they graduate.

So, what does the name Seneca Polytechnic mean to these different members of the Seneca community? What impact does it have?

We put these questions to those who are part of Seneca Polytechnic’s journey into the future.

Shivani Naidoo, Manager, Student Recruitment, 15-year employee and Seneca graduate

Every morning, Shivani Naidoo fastens on her Seneca Polytechnic name tag and heads off to work to lead a student recruitment team. But sometimes, she doesn’t even make it to the office before she is caught up in a conversation about the school and its offerings.

“I’m out there pumping gas, and lo and behold, someone comes up to me and says, “Hey, I heard about this ECE program at Seneca for my daughter”. And of course, I open up my trunk and pull out some resources and help them. We’re literally recruiting everywhere, and people really recognize Seneca as a place for great higher education.”

Ms. Naidoo’s work has been made that much easier by the addition of ‘polytechnic’ to Seneca’s name.

Prospective students – whether they be Grade 12 graduates, mature students returning to upgrade their skills, or newcomers to Canada seeking credentials – are aware of the polytechnic designation, she says. And the school’s recruiters can clearly define what a polytechnic education is and how it will help each and every student achieve their goals in a unique learning experience.

“Seneca Polytechnic means that our students are going to have a rigorous academic career, develop practical skills, and be able to engage in the workforce before they graduate”

“Seneca Polytechnic means that our students are going to have a rigorous academic career, develop practical skills, and be able to engage in the workforce before they graduate,” she says. “Those are the three pillars of a polytechnic and that’s at the forefront of what we promote and what we do.

“One of the things that I always like to say when I chat with prospective students is that Seneca Polytechnic is the best of a university and a college education. And what could be better? You don’t have to choose! You’re getting both experiences, and it’s that blend that really sets us apart.”

Sonia Hoxha, student, Building Systems Engineering Technician program, graduating in April 2024

When Sonia Hoxha heard that Seneca had declared itself a polytechnic, the news came as a pleasant surprise.

A Seneca student since 2018, Ms. Hoxha is a living embodiment of a polytechnic education. She already has a diploma in civil engineering technology and intends to graduate, employment-ready, in April 2024 with another credential from the building systems engineering technician program.

While she always considered Seneca to be a polytechnic given its commitment to experiential learning, she fully expected the school to call itself a college forever. Now, with the addition of ‘polytechnic’ to Seneca’s name, she believes her diplomas will be worth more when she enters the job market. She says the change also helps overcome some of the lingering and unfair bias against college education.

“Seneca Polytechnic really emphasises that value and experience that it’s already been delivering for decades now,” she says. “So, what now it means, to me, is that it adds value to whatever I have.

“Whenever I present to employers, I’m going to have the Seneca Polytechnic name, which stresses the fact that we do hands-on work. We exit the school career-ready and job market-ready, so that helps a lot. That’s why, honestly, the ‘polytechnic’ term works because it feels more hands-on.”

As a veteran Seneca student, she often conducts tours of the institution’s industry standard labs for prospective students and industry representatives.

“All the guests to our program are always surprised to see what technology we work with. And whenever I tell them that our students usually don’t need that much training after graduation to actually get on track with what the industry’s requiring, they’re really pleasantly surprised,” she says.

“Seneca does adapt really quickly to what the industry’s looking for. And, they don’t see that happen much in other places.”

Dario Guescini, Dean of Seneca Works, new employee

Hired just this past August into a newly created role of Dean of Seneca Works, Dario Guescini says there is no doubt that Seneca’s decision to brand itself as a polytechnic sets it apart from the competition when vying for students and industry partnerships.

“I do believe that it’s a competitive advantage, not only to attract students, but also to position Seneca as the differentiator for the industry, for employers,” he says. “Because when one sees that word ‘polytechnic,’ we associate that word with hands-on learning, and industry-connected, strategic applied education.”

Mr. Guescini notes that the polytechnic system was built to support the local economy, meet the needs of employers, and respond to a changing work environment.

His portfolio is all about connecting students with industry and connecting industry with education. A key enabler of this connection is applied research collaborations where industry and/or community partners can access Seneca’s highly qualified students and personnel, research infrastructure, specialized applied research centres and funding opportunities.

“Our obligation is to meet the future of work with the future of education,” he says. “We need to make sure that we are meeting the demands of industry and we are aligning our education for that to happen. It’s a big commitment, so I’m super excited to be part of the journey ahead at Seneca.”

He notes that a polytechnic’s competitive advantage is its ability to adapt quickly to a rapidly changing environment. And this culture of flexibility and innovation was already hard-wired into Seneca before it decided to position itself differently.

“By us now making that shift in branding, I think that Seneca is actually ‘walking the talk’. We are committing to address the needs of the industry by making this change – not only in the name but also by ensuring we continue to provide industry partners with what they need.”

Winston Stewart, Vice-Chair on the Seneca Board of Governors, alumnus (Law Enforcement, 1992)

Three decades ago, Winston Stewart graduated from Seneca with a diploma in law enforcement. These days, he sits on the institution’s Board of Governors, helping to chart the strategic direction of a school he believes is among the best in Canada.

While a lot has changed at Seneca over the years, Mr. Stewart believes that Seneca’s most recent decision to add polytechnic to its name was something that made sense and probably should have happened a long time ago.

He says Seneca’s Board of Governors – comprised of members of the community and internal representatives – is completely supportive of the change.

“It’s not just a school saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to call ourselves a polytechnic just to put the name there,’” he says. “I believe everybody felt that it’s a designation that we should have based on what we’re doing, based on what we’re about, based on the vision, based on the reputation of this organization.

“We are one of the best educational institutions in Canada and I think this designation represents what Seneca is about. So, everyone basically is in agreement that yes, this is a designation that we should have because again, it really sets Seneca apart.”

Wearing his alumni hat, Mr. Stewart notes that Seneca has progressed significantly since he attended the institution more than 30 years ago. Not only have its academic offerings expanded and evolved, so too have the school’s facilities and campuses.

That’s one reason he’s encouraged his own children to consider Seneca Polytechnic for postsecondary education.

“I’m telling them, ‘Hey, this is a place you might want to look at when you’re considering whether you’re looking at universities or colleges or polytechnics, because Seneca is something.’ So, I feel great that they are looking at Seneca, and that they’re going to see a lot of possibilities.”

Michelle Gottheil, Director of Regional Business Development – Americas, Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa
 
Nick Huang, Director of Regional Business Development – East Asia and Southeast Asia
 
Prashant Srivastava, Director of Regional Business Development – South Asia, Middle East and North Africa

Seneca has long been involved in forging partnerships with international postsecondary institutions and recruiting students from around the globe. Seneca’s decision to rebrand itself as a polytechnic has had a significant impact on the work of employees who are engaging with other institutions and prospective students overseas.

Michelle Gottheil, as Director of Regional Business Development for a vast geographic area – the Americas, Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa – says that each market is slightly different, and she has found that some institutions and students are not yet familiar with Seneca’s name change.

“My team and I have to really leverage Seneca’s messaging that we already publish in our website just so that we’re consistent. We are focusing on why we are changing our name and sharing with them why it was done so that they understand.”

That being said, communicating the name change has been a relatively easy job in postsecondary markets that have historically associated polytechnics with higher education and with quality, she says. She believes the name ‘polytechnic’ will help Seneca as it continues the pursuit of student diversity and aims to elevate conversion rates from applicants to registered students.

Nick Huang, Director of Regional Business Development and Student Recruitment in East and Southeast Asia, says the name change has created all kinds of new partnership opportunities in China.

He notes that the Chinese government recently asked 460 universities to become polytechnics and to pursue applied education as a means to combat high levels of unemployment amongst university graduates. When two large polytechnic universities in Shanghai heard about Seneca’s new name, they reached out to Mr. Huang immediately, seeking a chance to speak to him about a relationship, polytechnic to polytechnic.

“It is helping us in positioning Seneca differently, that we are different from colleges”

“They were very excited about having relationships with polytechnic institutions in Canada, so this is quite significant, he says. “In other areas, like in Korea and in Vietnam, polytechnic means higher than college, it’s a next level.

“This is why I’m very excited about this change. So, it seems like we will have a much better future in this area.”

Prashant Srivastava, Director of Regional Business Development for South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, says the addition of ‘polytechnic’ to Seneca’s name helps to separate the institution from a Canadian college system that is not necessarily highly regarded in his region of responsibility.

“It is helping us in positioning Seneca differently, that we are different from colleges. We are providing the best of college and university education.”

Postsecondary rankings are important to international students, he says, and since colleges aren’t ranked in Canada, Seneca does not have an opportunity to use that as a recruitment tool. However, positioning Seneca Polytechnic as a leader in polytechnic education is a differentiator, “We are the largest polytechnic in Canada,” says Mr. Srivastava, “which will help to elevate Seneca compared to our peers in the international market.”

Dean Hughes, Executive Director, Advancement & Alumni

As Seneca’s Executive Director of Advancement & Alumni, Dean Hughes believes the polytechnic designation lends itself to a much more meaningful long-term relationship with alumni and donors, in more ways than one.

At many postsecondary institutions, alumni relations is typically about a student graduating and then returning for reunions, he says. What Seneca Polytechnic is hoping for is an ongoing relationship with alumni who may have graduated with one credential, been in the workforce for a while, and then decide to return to upgrade their education and skills.

“I think the thing that most excites me about the polytechnic designation is the potential for a really meaningful life-long relationship with alumni where we are more than an institution, we’re a partner, and they see us as something that’s useful throughout their life,” he says.

On the fundraising side, the Seneca Polytechnic name represents a vision for the future of Seneca, and that’s precisely what donors want to see because they want to know that their support is going to make a difference, he says.

Financial aid is important, but so too are other supports for students that are funded by donations, such as world-class learning spaces, classrooms and laboratories. “We know that when students complete a Seneca education, it changes their lives,” he says. “To be able to sell the vision of what the polytechnic wants to be and what the polytechnic wants to do for students, that’s a gift for a fundraiser.”

And how do donors feel about the polytechnic designation?

“They’re inspired by an organization that thinks that way, they also trust an organization that thinks that way,” he says. “They know their funds are safe, and that what they planned to do with their donation, the change they plan to bring, that will be carried through. They trust us to deliver on what they gave to us; they trust us to deliver on impact.”

Victoria Baker, Manager of Academic Pathways

Victoria Baker likes to use the term “transformative education” when describing the Seneca learning experience. That’s why the adoption of ‘polytechnic’ as part of its name makes a lot of sense to her.

“Flexible, life-long learning, industry focused. Coupling theoretical with applied, hands-on learning. These are all the foundations of polytechnic education, and it’s what Seneca has been doing for many years,” says Ms. Baker. “It does have the feel of taking Seneca to the next level.”

The impact of the polytechnic designation on her work at Seneca may well be transformative as well.

As Manager of Academic Pathways, Ms. Baker’s work involves building partnerships between Seneca, colleges and universities so that students can get recognition for the work that they’ve completed in those institutions. She does the same internally: when a student completes a Seneca diploma and then wishes to pursue a Seneca degree afterwards, there is a clear path forward to do so.

She says Seneca has done an excellent job working with partner institutions to remove barriers so that students can continue their education and obtain the skills necessary to meet industry needs.

“Industry is continuously changing, so upskilling and obtaining further credentials are becoming a reality for many individuals within their careers,” she says. “From my perspective, Seneca – due to our high-quality education – is in a position of meeting the demands of not only students but of industry.”

Ms. Baker also believes the polytechnic designation will spur innovative new collaborations in applied research and curriculum delivery with partner institutions who are well aware of the name change.

“I will say that I’ve been working on some agreements, and when I received the draft agreement back from the partner, it already had the polytechnic name included. So, partners are very aware of it and they’re excited for us, because they know that the quality is there already.”

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