Retirees of MacEwan University
This is the story of how the Retirees of MacEwan University (ROMU) originated and evolved over the past five years.
Like many organizations, MacEwan University (formerly Grant MacEwan Community College and Grant MacEwan College) had no program or strategies for individuals to continue their relationship with the institution and one another once they retired. Occasionally, a retiree would come on campus to visit with former colleagues – the sense of loss of community and connection was evident.
The initial genesis of creating a retiree group for the institution was proposed in 2005. At that time, the idea was to find opportunities to bring retirees together for social interaction and to foster an ongoing relationship with the institution. The proposal was discussed on several occasions in subsequent years with various department leaders. Unfortunately, at the time, there was no appetite to move forward with the idea and it was tabled.
Like many good ideas, it took time but the planets and stars finally aligned. In November 2014, several retired individuals contacted the Board of Governors’ Office to indicate they would like the institution to establish a retiree group. Coincidentally, a question was raised at the December 2014 meeting of the President’s Group, a cross section of leaders in the institution, regarding the retention of email accounts for retiring faculty, particularly those with research portfolios. As a result of this inquiry, an institutional task team was established to develop a retiree engagement strategy. The team identified various elements of a potential strategy including definition of retiree (individuals who officially retired from the University, including faculty, staff, out-of-scope and administration), transitioning to retirement, services (e.g. library privileges, retention of email address upon retirement), events and activities for retirees, database management, the retirement offboarding process through Human Resources, a web portal, communication, department affiliation, etc. Very shortly thereafter, a group of retirees calling themselves the Retired Staff Seed Group, discussed similar topics as well as goals (short and long term) and expectations for creating a retiree association.
From January to mid-May 2015, the University Task Team, as well as the Retired Staff Seed Group, worked concurrently to set out the elements of a retiree engagement strategy. Organizational support for the group was provided by the Board Office and meetings were held with President’s Group, Information and Technology Services (ITS), Human Resources, the Library as well as the MacEwan Staff Association and the MacEwan Faculty Association. A Retiree Library Card was created to be used in the Library as well as a piece of university identification. In addition, efforts were made to create a list of retirees and reach out to invite them to join the group. As a result, the retiree engagement strategy and a name for the group (Retirees of MacEwan University – ROMU) were presented to, and approved by, the Board of Governors on May 28, 2015 (Board Motion 06-05-28-2014/15).
In June 2015, a focus group was coordinated to gather ideas from retirees regarding the new association. Four themes were identified: communication, connection, benefits, and organizational needs. The Board Office assisted the group in developing a membership interest form, letters of invitation and welcome, a logo/badge, and a brochure. By September 2015, 64 membership applications had been received with 49 from Edmonton and the surrounding area, two from elsewhere in Alberta, ten in British Columbia, and one each in Mexico, Ecuador and the United Kingdom.
The first social gathering was held on September 9, 2015 as part of the University’s Campus Block Party. And as they say, things took off from there. The first significant social event was held in November 2015 and included a reception and musical theatre production (Nice Work If You Can Get It), put on by the University’s Theatre Arts, Theatre Production and Music programs. An annual reception and musical theatre production have been held each year since: November 2016 – The Drowsy Chaperone; November 2017 – Sister Act; and December 2018 – 9 to 5. In January 2016, the first issue of the ROMU Newsletter was published; now, ROMU publishes a newsletter twice a year, in Spring and Fall.
On February 1, 2016, after months of development, the retiree portal was officially launched and information was sent to all retirees with instructions on how to access the portal. The portal serves as an electronic “home” for ROMU and includes user accounts for retirees – including email addresses, a Google Drive, access to PeopleSoft, links to the library and technical support as well as links to external resources of interest to retirees. Human Resources provides information about ROMU to retiring individuals when they meet to prepare their retirement documentation. A Facebook page and Twitter account were set aside for future use by ROMU.
The first Coffee Social was held on February 3, 2016, and the group acknowledged its seventieth member. Since then, ROMU organizes coffee socials in the Winter and Fall with attendance increasing at each one as the group’s membership increases. At its Fall 2016 social, ROMU celebrated the milestone of its hundredth member. By January 2018, 140 retirees had joined ROMU. The first Travel Information Event was held on June 1, 2016, with a retiree presenting on the topic of East Africa; the second one held in 2018 was on the topic of Vietnam. In May 2018, ROMU hosted a special event for retirees as well as university colleagues featuring a presentation by Dr. Max Foran on the Honourable Dr. J. W. Grant MacEwan. Dr. Foran is Dr. MacEwan’s son-in-law.
Members have been keen to provide input to the Leadership Group on program planning and activities; response rates to two surveys (December 2015 and April 2017) were very high with members also indicating they are extremely satisfied with the work being done and the range of activities and services offered. In terms of benefits for ROMU members, the university has included ROMU members in its service and product agreement with Microsoft allowing them free access to the Office suite of products as well as Sophos anti-virus software. In November 2016, the university’s Sport & Wellness Department offered to provide retirees with the staff rate.
Role descriptions were developed to bring structure to positions on the Leadership Group: facilitator (chair), co-facilitator (co-chair), recording secretary, treasurer, membership coordinator, events committee chair, care convenor, newsletter editor and committee, portal information manager and archivist. In March 2018, the university shifted administrative responsibility for ROMU from the President’s Office to Alumni and Development. The structure of an Ambassador Program was developed and subsequently, adopted at the November 2018 meeting. The program is designed to support a smooth transition from employee to retiree and facilitate the use of ROMU resources by drawing on member experiences to provide collegial support, information and encouragement to newly retired members. It complements the Care Convenor role, which serves as a conduit for expressing congratulatory, get well, condolence and sympathy messages on behalf of ROMU.
Financial support for ROMU comes from two sources. A bank account was set up in June 2017 and primarily is used for revenue and expenses associated with coffee socials. Even though the funds are modest, ROMU has taken the opportunity on a couple of occasions to donate monies to student bursaries at the University. The second source of support is through the University’s Alumni and Development Department, which sets aside a small annual budget for ROMU. These funds are used to pay costs related to the annual reception and theatre night as well as other minor administrative expenses.
The Leadership Group meets monthly to develop various aspects of the retiree engagement strategy including the portal, services and benefits, strategies for building the ROMU community, special events, and the newsletter. During the summer and fall months of 2018, members of the Leadership Group focused on creating the association’s first set of bylaws. These were approved on March 19, 2019. The first AGM is scheduled for October 2, 2019.
As of July 2019, there are 189 members with a ratio of almost eighty-five per cent of retirees remaining in the Edmonton region. In July 2019, ROMU held its first out-of-province get together in Victoria, BC. Currently, ROMU members are contributing to the university’s next integrated strategic plan and providing input into the presidential search process. Looking ahead, ROMU is exploring a travel-abroad program to take place in Spring 2020 and participating in planning for the institution’s fiftieth anniversary in 2021.
Community, Communicate, Connect, Social Activities – these are the four pillars of the Retirees of MacEwan University. Being part of a community has been a cornerstone of the institution since its inception in 1971; it is a principle that resonated for employees of the institution throughout their careers. In what has been a very short time, ROMU has created an independent yet affiliated organization and become a vibrant community of retired colleagues, who are connecting and communicating with one another and the institution, and participating in social, cultural and educational activities.
We share this story to show how a great idea can come to life through the commitment of an organization and, in this case, its retirees. If members of ARTA are interested in learning more about the Retirees of MacEwan University, we would be happy to tell you more. Reach out to us: email@example.com; 780-497-4034.
Dr. Rick Lewis serves as the ROMU Leadership Group Chair. He was the Director of MacEwan International as well as a faculty member in Biological Sciences.
Margo Baptista, MA Lead is the ROMU Portal Information Manager and Archivist. She served as the institution’s University Secretary.