Scott Weatherford’s crash course in rural post-secondary began when he was appointed to the Selkirk College Board of Governors in 2017. Ivy League educated, the chief executive officer of Fruitvale’s ATCO Wood Products jumped at the chance to help strengthen the region through governance work at the board table.
After two years as the vice-chair, Weatherford has now shifted to the role of Chair and will help lead Selkirk College through the challenges of moving forward in these pandemic-riddled times. He’s enthusiastically up to the task.
“The more I learn about Selkirk College, it just completely blows me away,” Weatherford says. “There is so much that people underestimate or don’t realize about Selkirk College, it is such an asset to the region. It’s amazing that we have this institution so ingrained in our communities, it continues to inspire me and I am excited to be part of it.”
Appointed by the Provincial Government, members of the Selkirk College Board of Governors (BOG) play a vital role in their responsibility as trustees of the public interest. Joining elected students and staff, the eight external board members arrive to their post from various sectors in local communities and help guide the college through policy, approval of budgets, strategic foresight, monitoring of performance of key areas and outreach.
Though management of the day-to-day operations is carried out by college administration, the board is essential to success of post-secondary in the region. As instructors, staff and students at Selkirk College prepare for the Fall Semester, Weatherford says the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19 has thrust all leadership to the forefront.
“We are well positioned to deal with the challenges and recognize the opportunities, but there is a lot of work ahead,” says the 46-year-old. “It’s not going to be easy, but we have a great board to provide governance, we have great leadership on the administrative team and we have exceptional faculty and staff that are ready to do their best for students.”
From Space Camp to West Kootenay Forests
Weatherford grew up in rural New Jersey, less than an hour’s drive to New York City. Between the summer of Grade 10 and Grade 11, his passion for science took him to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. It was there that he met Fruitvale’s Rebecca Nelson who stole his heart and would eventually lead him to the West Kootenay.
After high school, Weatherford attended Cornell University in Upstate New York where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering. While still maintaining a long distance relationship with his future wife, Weatherford went to work for John Deere designing combines in Illinois. After the couple were married, they moved west to Seattle where Weatherford started working for Kenworth Trucks and on the side earned a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Washington.
Swedish immigrant Atle Nelson moved to Canada in 1923 and by 1929 started a sawmill that would eventually become ATCO Wood Products, a family business that is a foundation of the regional forest industry. In 2005, the Weatherfords moved to Canada to take the reins at ATCO as the third generation leadership. Rebecca became the president of ATCO and Scott the CEO.
“It was a dream opportunity,” he says. “My background is engineering and business, so getting to be involved in a successful company that used my engineering/manufacturing side and the business management experience… it felt like it was custom-fit for me.”
A leader in veneer manufacturing in British Columbia, the Weatherfords have continued to grow ATCO over the last 15 years. More than 100 direct and contract employees derive a paycheque from the Fruitvale business.
Giving Back to Community
Weatherford’s entry into regional post-secondary governance came at the suggestion of former board chair Sharel Wallace. To that point, his involvement had been limited to hiring high quality Selkirk College graduates to work at ATCO and his understanding of the economic impact the institution has on the entire region.
“Thinking about it from a student’s perspective, Selkirk College gives you an opportunity to figure out what you want to do,” he says. “The breadth of opportunity for local students to explore different areas with such a high calibre of instructors, staff and fellow students, it’s a very engaging place.”
Weatherford takes over the chair position from Trail-based lawyer Bruce LeRose at a crucial time in Selkirk College’s 54-year history, but he is up to the task. As COVID-19 ravaged the world economy, Weatherford and his team at ATCO managed to keep the mill running and people employed. It is with this mindset of gritty determination that he is approaching his role at Selkirk College.
“This is a period of great challenge for Selkirk College, the post-secondary sector and society as a whole,” he says. “The pandemic touches everybody across the board in ways that we have never experienced, so it is certainly an unsettling time. This is changing everything for everybody, so we need to be cognizant that people are experiencing it in different ways. The challenge will be how to keep the momentum and be comfortable with the changes so that we can last the marathon and not just the sprint.”
As he settles into his role, Weatherford is committed to helping Selkirk College fulfill its important role of supporting regional recovery efforts, rapid upskilling of the workforce and regenerating the local economy.
“It accentuates the importance of a lot of our programs. We need good, smart people with great critical thinking skills to help us figure out this world going forward that has become so much more complex and difficult,” Weatherford says. “To me it’s not a question of survival for Selkirk College, it’s how we find the opportunities and figure out ways to offer the model of post-secondary education that fits. There will be a lot of change, those organizations that can recognize that change and quickly adapt will do well.”
Weatherford understands that the pandemic has created a murky situation for those incorporating post-secondary into their immediate future, but encourages those considering Selkirk College as part of the solution to remain steadfast.
“Selkirk College is in a very safe place and a very beautiful place,” he says. “We have a tremendous institution that can provide opportunity to learners whether they know exactly what they want to do or they want to explore options. When you stack it all up, there really isn’t a better place to be in the world right now.”
Learn more about the Selkirk College Board of Governors at: selkirk.ca/about-us/leadership/governance-policies