Campus Life  

OC grad seeks to inspire those around him

College congratulates Class of 2020 in new video

For Ajeet Paul, completing his diploma in Environmental Studies at Okanagan proved to be a journey of learning and personal growth, capped off with a whirlwind final semester as he and his classmates overcame the unexpected challenge of graduating in a pandemic.

Paul is one of more than 2,000 students who will graduate from Okanagan College this year, and although his credential is on its way to him by mail, he’ll need to wait a little while longer to be able to don his cap and gown.convocation video sm

Earlier this spring, after surveying graduating students on their preferences for virtual or in-person ceremonies, the College made the decision to postpone its June convocation ceremonies until the time comes when the events can be held face-to-face.

“It goes without saying that Convocation is one of the most special times of year for the Okanagan College community,” says Okanagan College President Jim Hamilton. “And so, while we’re saddened to not be hosting ceremonies right now, we congratulate all our graduating students. We are thinking of you, and we look forward to a day in the future when we can all get together, in-person, to celebrate your accomplishments.”

To honour the graduates of 2020, the College recently produced a convocation film, assembling messages of support and congratulations from all corners of the OC community, along with a message from the Honourable Melanie Mark, B.C. Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, Mark and many other members of the OC community. Click here to watch the video.

“Over the past few months, it’s been very heartening to see the way in which our students and employees have supported and encouraged one another. This video is one of many examples of that positivity and community spirit that makes Okanagan College such a special place,” adds Hamilton.

A sense of community is something Paul found, and seized the opportunity to help foster, during his studies.

For Paul, who made the transition to online learning back in March, he says the pandemic reminded him of his first semester, when like many, he had to adjust to a new way of life as a first-year student.

Fortunately for Paul, he quickly found his stride in the collaborative, interdisciplinary approach of the Environmental Studies diploma; he gravitated to the natural resource management stream.

“The program opened the door to so many possibilities,” he says. “The environment is so dynamic and so many people have different opinions on it. I had always been interested in the environment and not just reading about the science part of it but how people are affected by it, the impact they have, and vice versa.”

Naturally outgoing, he says he made it a priority not just to learn, but to help foster dialogue and a positive atmosphere in the classroom. He found a group of peers with a similar mindset, yet he relished the way in which they challenged him with their own opinions.

“By my third and fourth semesters, I found my people and we ended up doing really neat projects together,” says Paul.

Okanagan College normally hosts eight ceremonies throughout the year, beginning with Winter Convocation in January, followed by Spring and Summer Convocation in June.


Grizzlies change habits to coexist with people—but is it enough?

Photo of a grizzly bear

UBC study examined 40 years of data following the fate of 2,500 grizzly bears.

Bears living near people rely on ‘immigrants’ and nocturnal behaviour to sustain populations

Researchers have determined that bear populations near people need two things to survive—adaptive behaviour to become nocturnal and immigrant bears moving into their region.

A study published this week looks at 40 years of data following the fate of more than 2,500 grizzly bears in BC. Researchers learned that bear populations living near people depend on other bears ‘immigrating’ from adjacent wilderness areas to sustain population numbers. And the bears need to change their behaviour, becoming nocturnal, to avoid conflict with humans.

Unfortunately, this adaptation takes time and many bears die before they learn to live with people, says study author Clayton Lamb, a Liber Ero post-doctoral fellow at UBC Okanagan’s campus.

“Human coexistence with large carnivores poses one of the greatest conservation challenges of our time,” says Lamb. “Bears that live near people are actively engaging in nocturnal behaviour to increase their own survival and reduce conflicts with people, but this is often not enough to sustain the population. These populations rely on a ‘lifeline’ of immigrants from nearby areas with low human impact.”

Lamb, who conducted some of this research while a doctoral student at the University of Alberta, works with Adam Ford, an assistant professor in biology at UBCO and principal investigator in the Wildlife Restoration Ecology (WiRE) lab. Researchers in the WiRE lab bridge the gap between applied and theoretical science to support new ideas in ecology and decision making. Ways to better coexist with wildlife is a key contribution from WiRE researchers.

While carnivores pose a real and perceived threat to people and property, Ford says, humans are genuinely fascinated by them.

“This creates a profound tension in conservation,” Ford adds. “How can people and carnivores coexist?”

Ford says when coexistence does occur, success is often attributed to the role of people acting to reduce human-caused mortality. However, evidence suggests the bears themselves also play a role.

“Bears in human-dominated areas increased their nocturnal behaviour by two to three per cent past their third year of age and this led to a two to three per cent increase in survival rates each year,” Ford says. “In wilderness areas we detected no significant age-related shift in bear nocturnality, suggesting that humans are inducing the bears to change their habits.”

Lamb says social tolerance for carnivores along with creative solutions for coexistence are on the upswing. Reducing human influence at night can restore carnivore movement and wildlife highway crossings can increase carnivore survival and connectivity without interfering with human transportation.

However, the current mortality rates are far too great to maintain existing bear populations without immigration. There’s a lot of dead bears, Lamb says, and survival is quite low for bears living near people, especially if they are young.

“There are two outcomes for young animals in landscapes of coexistence—adapt to people by becoming more nocturnal or die because of people,” he says. “Although it sounds bleak, grizzly bear populations are currently sustaining themselves near people in many places, and even increasing. Key examples include range expansions in southwest Alberta and the eastern Okanagan near Big White. But if we were to double the human population in BC or halve the wilderness areas, this balancing act of populations sustaining themselves with wilderness immigrants might collapse.”

The study, funded by the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, Forest Enhancement Society of British Columbia, was published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Science journal.

Read more about WiRE Lab research including a mule deer project in BC’s Southern Interior and studies into BC’s wolf populations.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

OC Salmon Arm hosts virtual info session to showcase expanded opportunities for students this fall

One silver lining for students during the pandemic might be greater choice of College courses this fall.

Okanagan College is hosting a virtual info session at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, July 7 to inform students and parents about the greater array of courses available to students attending the College in Salmon Arm and Revelstoke.OC SA web

To register for the info session, click here or visit www.okanagan.bc.ca/infosessions. 

“The shift to online learning for many courses this fall has opened up the array of offerings that students can tap into,” explains Joan Ragsdale, Regional Dean for the Shuswap-Revelstoke. “That’s going to be a huge benefit for recent high school grads and mature students alike in the Shuswap-Revelstoke area. They can stay local, learn from home and access courses which normally they would have to travel to Vernon, Kelowna or Penticton to pursue.”

“It’s particularly exciting for students in Revelstoke, as they’re going to be able to enjoy a wider range of academic courses,” adds Ragsdale.

“We’re encouraging students to chat with one of our education advisors as soon as possible so we can help them plan their fall schedules.”

One program of note coming up in Salmon Arm this September is the College’s Human Service Work diploma, which is offered annually in Kelowna and on a rotating basis in Salmon Arm and Vernon.

“It’s very timely that we’re able to offering this program this year, as we know there is huge demand for Human Service Work graduates locally,” says Ragsdale. “It’s a health care career that you can train for in Salmon Arm and find work in Salmon Arm, so it’s a great opportunity for students looking to step into the health care field now.”

And while many courses have moved online in response to the pandemic, Ragsdale notes that the College will still offer limited physically-distanced, in-person instruction in a host of trades, science and health courses that rely on that hands-on, practical training.

“As you would expect, the College will be closely following the guidance of the Provincial Health Officer, Interior Health and the Ministry of Advanced, Education, Skills and Training to ensure the safe delivery of those in-person classes, recognizing that they are critical for students’ education and training in some disciplines.”


OC Education Assistant grads ready to support learners in new and ever-changing world of education

The phrase “going back to school” is exciting on many levels for Okanagan College Vernon graduate Toby Griffin.Toby Griffin

When she took the leap of returning to College at age 48 to pursue her dream of becoming a certified education assistant, Griffin never could have imagined she’d finish off her studies during a pandemic – nor could she have anticipated how much this experience would inspire her and her fellow students to support learners in new and innovative ways.

Education Assistants (EAs) are trained to help students be successful in meeting their educational goals. Griffin is one of a class of 27 new OC EA graduates who took time recently to show their appreciation to their instructor for helping them meet theirs.

On Friday, June 19, grads from the EA program at the College’s Vernon campus came together – in a physically distant way – to mark the completion of their program. 

They held an informal graduation send-off at an acreage in the Vernon area belonging to the family of student Karissa Goodrum. Griffin gave the student address.

“I’m a proud mother of five children and I’ve always been passionate about supporting young learners,” explains Griffin. “I’ve been a Montessori pre-school teacher, a basketball coach, and held others roles in the community. It felt like it was my time to be able to go back to school to do this, to continue putting my love for education and supporting learners to work, and, hopefully, to inspire others around me to pursue their dreams.” 

Griffin notes that while the pandemic presented challenges – such as the rapid shift to online learning in March – it brought students together and offered up lessons that will be invaluable for them going forward.

“Now that we’re finished, I can definitely say I appreciate the experience so much more, and took so much more away from it. I have a much deeper appreciation for children in the school system who have exceptionalities. I think we’ll all be better EAs for experiencing what we went through as learners during the pandemic,” says Griffin.

“We really built a bond as a team, and I know we’ll collaborate for a lifetime as professionals. It was very special that we could take this opportunity to have a kind of grad ceremony, to celebrate each other for making it through, for supporting one another, and to reflect on what we’ve all accomplished.” 

Michelle Howe, the class’s lead instructor, also relished the opportunity to celebrate her students’ achievements. 

“This truly was a special group of students. They faced the challenges that came their way, transitioned to online learning without missing a beat and supported each other in ways that left me so inspired and amazed,” says Howe. 

Following the theme of celebrating diversity and inclusion, a topic that occupied many of their virtual discussions in recent weeks, the students swapped grad gowns for funky dresses at the celebration – giving them all a chance to showcase their individuality and perspectives, notes Howe. 

“We talked a lot in recent weeks about the value of diversity and inclusion, and what it means for the future of the classroom and how we can all be champions and allies,” notes Howe. “I was incredibly inspired by the way they gravitated to that topic and carried it forward in so many ways.”

Christy Gelz, Program Coordinator for Continuing Studies at Okanagan College, says the students’ gratitude toward each other and their instructor was evident throughout the night – and was perhaps best exemplified in a kind gesture. 

“The students dropped off gifts and cards at Michelle’s house to show just how much they appreciated the way she went above and beyond in getting them through the program during a semester nobody could have ever anticipated would turn out like it did,” says Gelz.

The gesture was deeply appreciated by Howe, who looks forward with interest to see what her students will accomplish as they step out into the new and ever-changing world of education in the Covid era.

“I look forward to see what they will all do in future when they step back into their next classroom, working with students,” says Howe. “They are going to be a phenomenal group of EAs.”

Education Assistants are in high demand across the province.

The College offers its EA Certificate program in Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton, Salmon Arm and Revelstoke.

Over the past five years, the College has sent more than 700 EA graduates out into the world.


UBCO engineers look at ways to power electric vehicles sustainably

Majid Moradzadeh, doctoral student in power engineering, poses in front of an electric vehicle power station at UBCO.

Majid Moradzadeh, doctoral student in power engineering, poses in front of an electric vehicle power station at UBCO.

Fossil fuels a key part of keeping plug-in vehicles on the road

New research from UBC Okanagan aims to improve the efficiency and cost associated with charging electric vehicles.

Despite the perception that electric vehicles are environmentally friendly, the reality is that most of the electricity used to power these vehicles is generated by fossil fuels, says Majid Moradzadeh, a doctoral student at UBCO’s School of Engineering.

“Renewable energy sources are currently a small part of the larger electricity generation system,” explains Moradzadeh. “Due to the variability of electricity output by these renewable sources, energy storage systems are vital to ensuring continuous power is available.”

In the first study of its type, Moradzedeh developed a comprehensive planning method specifically for fast-charging stations. The method considers a wide range of technical and operation features of renewable resources, energy storage systems and the electric vehicles’ charging demand. The goal is to create a fast-charging station at minimal optimum cost, while meeting its performance requirements.

The proposed cost-efficient and sustainable fast-charging station prioritizes the source of its power whether it be renewable, from storage or the main distribution system. It also mitigates the adverse impacts of charging electric vehicles on the distribution network.

“The key to building sustainable electric vehicle infrastructure is to ensure that it is economical,” says Morad Abdelaziz, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at UBCO. “By developing a planning method, we are building a roadmap towards fast-charging stations that can seamlessly target renewable sources of power instead of relying on existing fossil-fuel-powered sources.”

According to Moradzedeh, the findings will be used by governments to help establish future charging stations while highlighting reduced peak power usage and opportunities to postpone the distribution system upgrade.

The findings were published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Transportation Electrification.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBC Okanagan uncorks new Wine Research Centre headquarters

UBC’s Wine Research Centre, located on the Okanagan campus, is dedicated to fostering cooperation between academic institutions, the wine industry sector and communities around the world.

UBC’s Wine Research Centre, located on the Okanagan campus, is dedicated to fostering cooperation between academic institutions, the wine industry sector and communities around the world.

Wine Research Centre will expand its presence across both UBC campuses

The renowned wine region of BC’s Okanagan Valley now boasts a new research hub, as UBC shifts the headquarters of its acclaimed Wine Research Centre (WRC) from its Vancouver campus to its Kelowna-based campus.

The move provides the WRC with a dual-campus presence in Vancouver and the Okanagan, where researchers have developed strong collaborations with the BC wine community. The WRC, one of only two such research centres in Canada, will be led by its newly-appointed director Jacques-Olivier Pesme. A founding member of the Board of the Institute of Vine and Wine Science in Bordeaux, France, Pesme has been working with UBC since 2012 as special advisor to the dean of the Faculty of Management.

“The Okanagan is an ideal environment for the next chapter of the WRC,” Pesme says. “All the major research and education wine institutes in the world are situated in close proximity to vineyards, wineries and wine visitors. The WRC will combine operations between the Okanagan—home to more than 80 per cent of BC vineyard acreage, and Vancouver—a gateway to the world.”

First established in 1999 on the Vancouver campus, the WRC is dedicated to interdisciplinary research, education and development, with a core mission to support a sustainable Canadian grape and wine industry. It brings together researchers, faculty and staff from across UBC as well as Canadian and international partner institutions to undertake cutting-edge research in oenology, viticulture, management and social sciences. The WRC also provides academic and extended education, and engages closely with industry and wider communities.

“We are thrilled by this development of the Wine Research Centre,” says UBCO’s Provost and Vice-President Academic Ananya Mukherjee Reed. “This is an important step towards the university’s mandate as a partner in regional socio-economic development. Wine research in the Okanagan provides experiential learning opportunities for students, accelerates innovation and creates an opportunity for strengthening connections with our industry partners.”

The changes at the WRC will enhance UBC’s wine research and education, while supporting and stimulating the provincial economy. BC’s wine industry has an annual impact of $2.8 billion and employs about 12,000 people.

“The WRC will bring together researchers from both UBC campuses, and build upon contributions to cutting-edge wine research conducted in facilities like the Michael Smith Laboratories on the Vancouver campus over the past two decades,” says Roger Sugden, dean of the Faculty of Management and a core contributor to the WRC. “BC’s wine industry has a major influence on the economy and society of regions across the province. The WRC will help the industry, and communities across the territory, to shape that influence by sharing knowledge and offering opportunities to explore different possibilities.”

Among the WRC’s new initiatives are plans for a sensory analysis lab in Kelowna. It will feature research facilities and offer programs for the public to learn about wine tasting, oenology and the local industry.

Ongoing WRC initiatives include the annual Wine Leaders Forum—now in its seventh year—where wine owners and principals come together with researchers for strategic planning. The WRC also conducts industry seminars and workshops across the province, and maintains UBC’s Wine Library in Vancouver which currently houses more than 4,500 bottles of wine from all over the world.

“Because the WRC is now headquartered in the heart of BC’s wine country, it is well-positioned to engage even more deeply with growers, wineries, tourists and residents,” says Pesme. “I am excited to be guiding the centre in its role as a contributor to the continued growth and the success of this rapidly changing wine territory, and especially to reinforce its international reputation.”


The Wine Research Centre is a unique research and education centre that supports the development of a sustainable Canadian grape and wine industry through world-class research, excellence in wine education, applied solutions and knowledge exchange.

The Wine Research Centre operates across UBC campuses in Vancouver and the Okanagan, where it is headquartered. It conducts cutting-edge research in oenology, viticulture, management, and social sciences; provides academic and extended education; and engages with industry and communities on the challenges of wine territory development.

The centre is dedicated to fostering cooperation between academic institutions, the wine industry sector, and communities around the world in a way that encourages growth with integrity and inclusivity. Its ethos is one of rigorous curiosity and open-minded collaboration while pursuing excellence.

BC's wine industry by the numbers

  • 929 vineyards, including more than 350 licensed wineries
  • More than 60 grape varietals produced
  • $2.8 billion annual economic impact on the province
  • About 12,000 people employed
  • Top international markets include China (54 per cent); Taiwan (23 per cent) and the United States (11 per cent)
  • 14.5 million litres of BC wine sold in the province annually
  • 84 per cent of BC vineyards are in the Okanagan

Sources: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; WineBC 

OC business students adapt FruitSnaps project to feed those in need during pandemic

Okanagan College Media Release


FruitSnaps Team March 2020When the pandemic hit, they adapted. When greater need appeared, they collaborated. When an unthinkable tragedy struck, they supported each other through it. And when the chance came to share their idea with the country, they rose to the challenge.

It all started in the fall of 2018, when Okanagan College business student Abby Lagerquist noticed apples still on the trees at the end of harvest season. After inquiring with the orchard owners, she discovered that these apples were imperfect and would be left on the trees to rot (sadly, the fate of a half a billion apples across the country each year).

Before long, Lagerquist and her Enactus OC teammates formed an idea to pick and transform the apples into FruitSnaps, a healthy apple chip, that could feed children facing food insecurity in the Okanagan.

“In BC, 1 in 4 kids live with food insecurity, and for indigenous children it’s 1 in 2,” explains project manager Karsten Ensz. “FruitSnaps started out with Enactus OC delivering servings to schools, which also gave us the opportunity to teach the children about responsible consumption and sustainability.”

The team forged a partnership with the North Okanagan Valley Gleaners, a not-for-profit organization that dehydrates vegetables for soup mix to send to developing countries. The Gleaners allowed the team to use their facilities to dehydrate the unsellable apples.

BC Tree Fruits donated more than 10,000 lbs of apples that would have otherwise gone to waste.

In a little less than two years, the idea has grown into a project that has provided more than 4,000 students with access to a healthy snack, engaged 33 community partners, diverted more than 8,300 kilograms (18,500 pounds) of food waste, and helped to conserve an estimated 3,885,000 litres of water (a figure based on the amount of water required to grow an apple, multiplied by the number of apples spared from going to waste). The team has produced more than 35,000 servings, including 12,000 distributed internationally.

But that success has not come without adversity.

In February, the team earned top project at Enactus Canada Western Regionals, which earned them a berth to compete at Nationals.

Then the pandemic hit. Schools closed.

The team knew their distribution model, which had worked so perfectly for more than a year-and-a-half, would need not only to adapt but somehow also to expand, as students from across the region who counted on these healthy snacks would need them now more than ever.

In a matter of weeks, the students rapidly cultivated new community partnerships:

Starfish Pack in Penticton distributed packs across eight schools, Emmanuel Baptist Church in Vernon, supported 25 families with kids at Mission Hill School, the Salvation Army in Vernon and Salmon Arm arranged for deliveries to families, as did the Community Resource Centre in Salmon Arm.

The list of partners engaged and families supported continued to grow.

Along the way, they somehow found time to spark another innovative partnership – a collaboration with Enactus BCIT. The two teams are now working together to explore how they can bring solar technology into the dehydration process to up the sustainability factor even higher.

Their faculty advisor, Andrew Klingel, who is a professor with the Okanagan College School of Business, has been in awe of their efforts.

“Seeing the students adapt to all these challenges and to find ways to continue to bring this project to people in need in our communities has been incredible,” says Klingel.

“I think a lot of their success can be traced to their collaborative approach. It takes courage and it takes a lot of work to build strong partnerships like these, and they’ve been exemplary in the way they’ve gone about that. The partnership with the Gleaners is a phenomenal example, and the collaboration with BCIT is another. These students are used to competing against each other in regional and national competitions, and so to see the way they took a different approach and worked together has been very inspiring.”

Klingel also notes that the greatest challenge the students faced this year was not the pandemic, nor its ripple effects. It was the loss of one of their own.

In the early hours of March 18, OC Vernon student Sheryl MacIntosh tragically passed away in a motor vehicle accident.

It was a devastating blow for the FruitSnaps team and for the whole Vernon campus community, notes Klingel. She had been a pillar of the triumphant team that topped the podium at Enactus Regionals mere weeks before she died.

“I had the opportunity to teach Sheryl in several classes. She was an excellent student and a positive influence in the classroom, with boundless energy and a great sense of humour,” says Klingel. “I really enjoyed seeing her getting involved in Enactus, where she quickly became a leader. She ran the first pub night fundraiser on campus and made a huge contribution to the FruitSnaps project.”

“She was also a key member and a rock for the team at Regionals. She was always ready to help out a team member or crack a joke at just the right time.”

To commemorate McIntosh’s life and her dedication to her studies, her family is working with OC to put in place a lasting tribute.

“Sheryl has left behind a trail of beautiful memories. To honour Sheryl, the family, with the support of Okanagan College, will be placing a memorial bench at the Vernon campus,” said the McIntosh family.

Her teammates also rallied together to compete in her honour.

In late May, the team, comprised of Karsten Ensz, Abigail Underwood and Marin Carruthers, backed once again by their advisor Andrew Klingel, presented virtually at Enactus National Exposition. They faced peers from universities and colleges across the country.

Their passionate presentation earned them third place in the country for the Scotiabank Climate Change Challenge, just behind impressive projects by teams from Wilfred Laurier and University of Alberta.

“Our team put in a lot of hard work to make the project what it is today,” said Ensz. “We spent countless hours brainstorming new ideas and solving problems. It became very tiresome at points, but when we would deliver the FruitSnaps to schools and got to see the impact we were having it made us really appreciate the project. It is so rewarding to see kids get excited to eat FruitSnaps, nothing compares to that.”

Their efforts to adapt, overcome, and innovate were not unnoticed.

The project garnered two other awards: a newly minted Collaboration Award, which recognized the unique partnership between OC and BCIT on the project. Brad Egerton from the North Okanagan Valley Gleaners was honoured with Team Advisor of the Year. Additionally, Nicole Sapieha, the new President of Enactus OC, took home the Founder's Bursary for her superior leadership and team development skills; one of only 16 awarded across the country by the John Dobson Foundation.

“This project is yet another shining example of the resiliency of our students and the tangible positive impact they bring to their communities,” said Okanagan College President Jim Hamilton.

“They found a way to adapt and fulfill a pressing need for many youth and families. We are deeply proud of them for what they’ve accomplished, and we watch with admiration and excitement to see how they’ll continue to grow the project.” 

Any orchardists anticipating they may have apples to donate this year can contact Andrew Klingel at Okanagan College at [email protected].


College and Westbank First Nation sign new MOU, continue to deepen partnership

Okanagan College and Westbank First Nation (WFN) recently signed a new Memorandum of Understanding, building on a long history of working together to increase access and support WFN members in achieving their post-secondary education goals.

2020 WFN OC mou signing

In all, the new MOU outlines seven ways in which the partners will continue to collaborate on projects and programs that will benefit learners from the WFN community, while helping both organizations learn from one another and build professional capacity.

Signing on behalf of Westbank First Nation was Chief Christopher Derickson and Councillors Andrea Alexander, Jordan Coble, Lorrie Hogaboam and Fernanda Alexander. Representing Okanagan College was President Jim Hamilton, Interim Vice President Students Allan Coyle and Director of Student Services James Coble.

The agreement notes how the College and WFN will work together to embrace the spirit and intent of reconciliation in developing culturally appropriate, meaningful, and quality education and training that meets the needs of Indigenous learners and responds to key skills gaps in the region.

“Our members have been accessing post-secondary education and training opportunities at Okanagan College for decades and in growing numbers, and so we value being able to provide input and guidance into how the College can continue to make good on its commitment to providing welcoming, inclusive and supportive spaces for Indigenous students to thrive. I’m encouraged by the way we continue to add more and more examples of collaborative programs and projects that are benefitting students with each passing year,” said Westbank First Nation Chief Christopher Derickson.

2020 WFN OC mou signing 2

The announcement of the new agreement comes on National Indigenous People’s Day in Canada.

It also comes during what would have been Convocation season at Okanagan College, with hundreds of graduates usually crossing the stage to collect credentials in June.

After surveying students on their preferences, the College postponed Convocation until COVID-19 conditions will allow for in-person ceremonies.

“Given all that’s going on in the world and in our community, it’s very timely for us to be thinking about how we can support learners. Congratulations to all the new graduates at Okanagan College who will be stepping out into our communities and sharing their knowledge and skills at a critical time,” said Chief Derickson.

The MOU also describes how Okanagan College will continue to turn to WFN for guidance on how First Nations ways of knowing, doing and being can be incorporated to enrich the educational, organizational and cultural fabric of the College. 

“This agreement is the continuation of a very positive and deeply valued relationship between Okanagan College and Westbank First Nation,” said Okanagan College President Jim Hamilton. “It’s a collaboration that has benefited many students – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – over the years. The partnership has provided us with valuable insights into how we can continue to support WFN learners, how we can learn from Indigenous ways of knowing and doing, and how we can build on this mutually beneficial relationship.”

Okanagan College has one of the highest and fastest growing rates of Indigenous student participation of any institution in the sector. In 2018-19 the College delivered educational programming to 1,825 Indigenous students.

Working with and Learning from the Indigenous Community is one of the College’s key directions outlined in its Strategic Plan 2016-2020. As a result of that plan, the College created an Indigenization Task Force in 2016 and has since collaborated with Indigenous communities, student learners (past, present and future) and Elders from across the region to inform and guide that effort.

The MOU continues a long history of collaboration between OC and WFN that dates back decades and includes of a host of collaborative initiatives and projects that have benefited WFN members, while also fostering understanding and appreciation for Indigenous ways of knowing and doing among the College’s non-Indigenous students.

In 2016, the College and WFN signed a formal MOU to work together on collaborative projects, programs, cultural events and ways in which to support learners.

“The agreement signed this spring renews and expands on that commitment,” adds Hamilton.

Last year, the flag of the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) was raised at Okanagan College’s Kelowna and Vernon campuses to acknowledge that those campuses reside on unceded territories of the Syilx Okanagan people. A Secwepemcúlecw flag was raised at the Salmon Arm campus, located on the unceded territories of the Secwepemc.


College working with students, employers and communities to enhance co-op opportunities for Indigenous learners

Okanagan College Media Release


Jewell Gillies June 2020How can Okanagan College enhance support for Indigenous students stepping into co-op work terms with employers? And in turn, how can OC better assist employers looking to hire students and set them up for success during their time in the workforce?

These are just two of many questions inspiring Jewell Gillies as she consults with students, employers, other post-secondary institutions and Indigenous community members in the region and beyond as part of a 15-month long research project.

“This project delves into many aspects of co-operative education or work-integrated learning, with the goal of better understanding Indigenous students’ experiences, what their questions and concerns are,” she explains. “These conversations with students and community are invaluable – they are helping to shape recommendations for how we can better serve Indigenous students and our employer partners.”

Gillies is drawing on years of experience in supporting Indigenous learners in post-secondary.

She’s worked with the College since 2017 as an Aboriginal Transitions Planner. The service improvement project finds her currently supporting the Student, Graduate & Co-op Employment office.

She was in the planning stages for the project when COVID-19 arrived, but she says the pandemic has presented a speedbump rather than a stop sign, as she’s been able to continue her outreach virtually.

Response to her efforts has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I’ve been really struck by the positive response. I wasn’t sure initially how employers might respond but they’ve been very keen to engage with the work,” says Gillies.

“Many are very appreciative of the opportunity to hear what others are doing and to gain insight into best practices they can put in place to better support Indigenous employees. Many are also looking for ways to support their non-Indigenous employees in learning about and engaging with Indigenous culture.”

The project received funding from the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training for work integrated learning initiatives.

Gillies says she’s encouraged by the way in which the project has also been an opportunity for the College to build on existing relationships with employers, and to foster new relationships.

The challenges of remote working and learning during the pandemic hasn’t stopped students from voicing their experiences and perspectives Gillies is pleased to report.

“I want to hear from any OC students and alumni who self-identify as Indigenous and who are interested in sharing their thoughts or questions about work-integrated learning,” she says.

“We are calling it a survey, but in truth it’s a conversation. Some conversations happened in person before the pandemic, but whether it’s a phone call or an online video chat, it’s about two people hearing each other’s voices, sharing and learning from each other’s experiences and perspectives.”

One of those students who has been a contributor of insights and a keen supporter of the project has been OC business student Jillian Seronik.

A strong advocate for inclusivity in the classroom, Seronik notes that she hopes her experiences could inspire other Indigenous students to follow in her footsteps in pursuing post-secondary studies and thinking about co-op.

“I never thought I’d do a co-op but a friend of mine encouraged me and I’m so glad I did,” explains Seronik, who completed a term with RBC in Kelowna during the Winter semester and was hired back for the summer.

“My co-op experience has been great. RBC has been great to work for. I’ve personally felt supported and that they care for their employees,” says Seronik. “They have initiatives for their Indigenous employees. I’ve also really appreciated and seized opportunities to share my culture with my non-Indigenous colleagues.”

Seronik also credits her co-op experience in helping her identify her goals after graduation: she now hopes to find a role within RBC in HR or Marketing.

“I’ve been excited to share my experience because I think there needs to be more support, encouragement and opportunities for Indigenous youth to get into co-op.”

Anyone wishing to connect with Gillies to learn more about the project or engage in the consultation process, can reach her at [email protected] or 778-715-6864.

Sunday, June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada.


Community leadership, academic excellence and unwavering determination lead to prestigious Pushor Mitchell recognition

Lake Country’s Teagan MacDougall is the 2020 recipient of the Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize.

Lake Country’s Teagan MacDougall is the 2020 recipient of the Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize.

Aspiring pediatrician wins top student award

Teagan MacDougall reminds herself of one thing when the going gets tough—how worthwhile this will all be when she’s able to help sick children as a pediatrician.

Today, MacDougall graduates with a Bachelor of Science in microbiology (honours), celebrating not only the end of her undergraduate career, but also being awarded the Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize.

The $10,000 prize, now in its 11th year, is the highest honour available for an Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences student and recognizes a graduating student who has excelled academically and shown leadership while earning their degree.

Andrew Brunton, managing partner at Pushor Mitchell LLP, says the firm is proud to recognize the accomplishments of another exceptional student at UBC Okanagan.

“We are happy to support Teagan and hope she continues to chase her dream of becoming a pediatrician and is able to continue her great work in the community,” says Brunton. “We are proud to be a supporter of UBC Okanagan and to be able to add Teagan to the distinguished list of Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize winners.”

MacDougall grew up a short drive from the UBC campus in Lake Country, BC. After graduating high school, she relocated to Whistler to spend her days on the slopes and evenings working in the hospitality industry—before returning to the Okanagan and enrolling at UBCO in 2016.

Having enjoyed biology in high school, and knowing her end-goal was medical school—microbiology was a natural choice.

Though thrilled to be back in the classroom—bad study habits started to haunt her. She struggled during her first semester, trying to learn weeks of course material for an upcoming midterm in one night.

“I was up all-night studying, drank six red bulls, and I got 20 per cent,” she says. “It made me wonder whether or not I was cut out for university—I asked myself what I wanted to do. I could either walk away or try harder and I decided to try harder.”

MacDougall registered for a summer physics course—this time committing to give it her all.

She did just that—and completed the course with 97 per cent. From that moment forward, she never received a grade lower than an A.

Aside from academic achievements, MacDougall was deeply involved in research during her time at UBCO, volunteering in a biomedical research lab, and working as an undergraduate research assistant.

An honours student, MacDougall also produced original research investigating the persistency and viability of a fungal probiotic in the human gastrointestinal tract—winning first-place poster presentation at UBCO’s Undergraduate Research Conference.

In her sparse spare time, MacDougall founded Heroes for Little Heroes, a registered Canadian non-profit where volunteers wear princess and superhero costumes to visit medically-vulnerable children at local hospitals and disadvantaged children at social service institutions.

“The smile on their faces when they see a princess or superhero walk into the room—it’s so heartwarming,” says MacDougall.

“We do crafts, read books and just talk and keep them company—but, honestly, they’re the real heroes. They overcome huge adversities at a young age and still come out smiling—they’re so brave and inspire me to be resilient every day.”

Aside from pediatrics visits, MacDougall is also a volunteer at Kelowna General Hospital, doing patient visitations and providing information in the emergency department. She also serves as a youth mental health ambassador with the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre at BC Children’s Hospital, a position that piqued her interest for personal reasons.

“During my teenage years, I suffered from an eating disorder,” she explains. “Although it was horrible—I try to think of it as a silver lining. That experience helps me to better understand and empathize with youth suffering from similar disorders.”

Over the next few months, MacDougall will work with the early detection research group at the BC Cancer Agency—while studying to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) this fall.

Though her medical school of choice is UBC’s Southern Medical Program on the Okanagan campus, MacDougall says she’s open to the idea of relocating if necessary.

“Wherever my journey takes me, the financial flexibility that comes with winning this award will allow me to further my education and continue growing my foundation with the goal of helping as many people as possible,” she says, thanking Pushor Mitchell and her professors for their support.

As she graduates today, she shares one final lesson not learned in a textbook.

“Hard work does pay off and I want my fellow students to know they are capable of much more than they know. No one should sell themselves short. Anything worth having is worth working for—it’s so simple, yet so true.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

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