She’s the new Vice Principal of the North West Regional College, but even occupying the second most senior position at the five campus College, Samantha Traynor insists that every day’s a school day.
Proudly “Tyrone born and bred” Samantha says at its core, the college strives to educate and bring out the best in students from right across the North West, all the while maintaining strong links with key stakeholders locally and regionally.
The institution still often referred to as “the Tech” has grown way beyond its old familiar title.
The NWRC has placed itself at the centre of a strong education network in the North West, and positioned itself as a key economic driver, steadily producing thousands of graduates who Samantha hopes will base themselves in the North West region and contribute to the economy here.
To stay relevant and to be effective as an education and skills provider, Samantha says connections with local stakeholders are key for staff and students at the local college.
“We have strong links with Derry and Strabane District Council. They recognise and we recognise the contribution that education and skills will make to developing a thriving economy here,” she says.
“We also have a strong socio-economic focus. We are regional, of course, but community is important to us too. We have three types of student, those leaving school at 16 plus who want to develop the skills to get a job; those already in work who want to upskill; and those furthest from the workplace who are economically inactive and have become disengaged.”
Samantha, in the course of her career, has seen education from every angle. But her driving force is still the mantra instilled in her by her late father, Brian, as she explains: “He always said: ‘Be the best you can be’.” Samantha has taken this, and guidance from her mother Rosaleen into every aspect of her professional career, and she says, into the rearing of her three children Connor, Gavin and Aoife, together with her husband, Peter.
She started out as a primary school teacher in a small rural school in Tyrone, before moving to what was then the North West Institute of Further and Higher Education in 2002. Initially an Early Years lecturer, Samantha was promoted to Head of School, and then Head of Department before taking up her current role.
“As a young teacher, I saw that children can only be the best they can be if they are given the best opportunities, and our college gives that,” she says.
Samantha’s philosophy on leadership, she says, is encouraged by NWRC Principal, Leo Murphy.
Often credited with turning things around at the College, the new Vice Principal says her boss has done just that.
“His style of leadership is fantastic and he’s been a great support to me in this role,” she says.
Samantha describes her own approach to getting the balance right in a senior position.
“I think as a leader, sometimes you stand in the middle of your team; sometimes you stand behind them and in challenging and difficult times, you stand in front of them. That’s the approach I take,” she says.
In what she describes as an exciting era where NWRC has more on offer than ever before, Samantha says a world of opportunity awaits students who sign up for a course in Derry, Strabane, Limavady, Greystone or Springtown.
She’s encouraging people to come along to the College’s Open Days on February 6,7 and 8 and see for themselves the resources which she strongly believes can tap into a need in the local economy.
She refers specifically to the Professional Training Restaurant, the Foodovation Centre, and a state of the art Maths Centre called ‘The Cube’ where students are given tailored one to one support. The college can also boast a Design and Innovation Assisted Living centre as well as being a Curriculum Hub for Health and Social Care.
Apprenticeships remain a key focus for the NWRC too, as Samantha explained:
“Apprenticeships really drive a strong economy in the North West.
“There’s an opportunity for people to earn while they learn and there are now white collar apprenticeships in software, IT firms and accountancy as well as the traditional apprenticeships in areas like motor vehicles.”
For Samantha, and principal Leo Murphy, the focus is on equipping people with skills, and pouring that skills base back into the local economy.
“People can stay in the North West, remain at the North West Regional College and train to Level 6 without having to get on a bus, train or plane to go to England,” she says.
She’s mindful, also, of the challenges closer to home and says the college wants to “step up and be counted” and play its part in the delivery of the Programme for Government.
On Brexit, the Tyrone teacher takes the same approach as she does to her own commute to the office every day.
“Learning has no borders,” says Samantha.
“Our college, with Ulster University, Letterkenny Institute of Technology and the Donegal Education and Training Board will maintain strong working relationships in the times ahead.”
She’s also adamant that Further Education must be protected in the wake of ongoing cuts to the education budget.
“When the Government talk about protecting education they must include Further Education as well as school education,” she says.
For Samantha’s part, building on the College’s already strong reputation in the North West is paramount over the years to come, while acknowledging the challenges that lie ahead, she’s positive about the future.
“It’s a really exciting time to be here and we’re ready to play our part in delivering a strong economy for the North West over the coming years.”