Colleges refresh, revise and renew

Selkirk College and College of the Rockies are improving and enhancing program offerings.

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New programs, staff and support for students

Investing in students in the Basin benefits the region, as they contribute to our communities today and will become the people who live, work and play here tomorrow. From helping these individuals shape their careers, to building the local workforce, to collaborating with communities as they address their needs, the Trust and the region’s post-secondary institutions share many priorities.

That’s why, in 2019, the Trust committed $6 million over three years to Selkirk College and College of the Rockies. With this support, the colleges are developing ways to improve and grow their program offerings, plus enhance the quality, availability and uniqueness of the college experience for students. The results so far have been broad. Some are behind the scenes. Others are more noticeable. Here is how these two institutions have added to or adjusted their offerings so students can renew and reach their aspirations.

REFRESH THEIR OFFERINGS

When the pandemic “basically destroyed” Vince Mackie’s career in corporate events, the Vancouver resident decided it was time for a radical change: he enrolled in Selkirk College’s new Digital Fabrication & Design program. The Trust support enabled the college to develop this two-year diploma, which launched in September 2020. Here, students learn high-tech ways to design and create products—for example by using 3D CAD (computer aided design), 3D printing or CNC milling (computer numerical control).

“The program combines hands-on digital fabrication training with design-focused education,” says instructor Kailey Allan. “The goal is to prepare and inspire design-forward problem solvers and fabricators so they can respond to rapidly changing environments.” Graduates will be able to work in sectors as varied as timber production, architectural design or even medicine—with many employers right here in the region.

“Digital fabrication is being applied in every industry right now in some form or another,” says Allan. “That’s the beauty of this program: when students come out of it, they have the ability to choose.” Student Christien Cleland, who previously worked in construction, particularly enjoys the CNC machines. “They seem like they have a lot of potential,” he says. As does his future. When pondering all the jobs that might lie ahead, he says, “It just seems like there are so many possibilities.”

A good chunk of the program takes place in the Selkirk Technology Access Centre in Trail. This lab is the newest evolution of the former MIDAS lab (Metallurgical Industrial Development Acceleration and Studies), which the Trust helped launch in 2016 and which the college took over in spring 2020. Here, Mackie and Cleland gained even more hands-on experience doing co-op jobs in summer 2021. In fall 2021, the program is welcoming a second instructor and even more students. “The technology that we teach is rapidly changing,” Allan says.

The program will be continually refined to ensure it is “suiting the needs of industry.” It also aims to suit the needs of its students. Even though his life has flipped, Mackie is enthusiastic. “I think I’m on a good path here,” he says. “I really do.”

REVISE THEIR DELIVERY

Everyone go home! In spring 2020, that was the gist of the message abruptly sent to post-secondary students, faculty and staff around the province, including College of the Rockies (COTR). While the adjustment was difficult for all students, it seemed like learning from home would be nearly impossible for those in extremely hands-on programs like the trades. “And yet our faculty were incredibly creative and innovative and flexible in figuring out how to make that work,” says Robin Hicks, COTR’s Vice President of Academic and Applied Research.

While some learning still required mandatory in-class, small-group sessions, the theory components went online. And with the Trust funding, the college gave the faculty the tools they needed to replicate the classroom experience as much as possible. This included creating six “broadcast rooms” at COTR’s Cranbrook campus: each complete with a camera on a tripod, a smart board and a “document camera” that focuses on a single document or object, all seen by students through Microsoft Teams. It also upgraded technology in other locations.

Kevin Szol, instructor of the electrician apprenticeship program, used one of these rooms. Rather than only seeing his face onscreen, “The students could actually watch me as if they were sitting in class,” he says. He could draw on the smart board and point out specific items. He could place a breaker, for example, under the document camera and students could observe its parts up close. Every now and then, he lightened the mood by turning the camera toward the window so they could all gaze outside. Despite the distance, he says, “The technology helped us do what we do.”

Even after the pandemic, the college will continue embracing this innovative delivery method. And Szol himself plans to continue recording his classes—helpful if a student is ill or can’t attend due to weather. While he’s super grateful to see faces in person again this fall, this new technology “gives us choices.”

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