Campus Life - Kamloops  

Open Learning gives artists freedom to study their way

Christine Wunderlich

By Tyler Lowey

Flexibility has always benefited TRU alum Christine Wunderlich. Whether she’s spinning, twirling, bending entwined around a piece of fabric strung up 20-feet above a stage, or taking online classes through TRU Open Learning, she’s always thrived when doing things her way. Online learning allowed the Canadian dancer to pursue a business certificate while travelling and performing across the globe.

Wunderlich was late to the game in the dancing world. Growing up in Victoria, BC, she had many hobbies before falling in love with dance as a preteen. Her passion took her to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School at 16 and soon to the Big Apple, where she attended The Ailey School: Alvin Aiely American Dance Theatre in New York.

“Dance has always given me so much energy and spark,” Wunderlich said. “There is always new things to discover and the creative possibilities seem endless. When I first started, I was open to learning new things and just ran with it.”

Studying, working and performing in New York City for four years, Wunderlich landed a job with the cruise ship company Royal Caribbean International, where she performed while navigating the seas.

“We did all kinds of different shows on those ships. Some shows were pretty intense at times, but it was an awesome way to perform different acts and see the world at the same time,” said Wunderlich.

Photo: MIMIKA Photography

Working on cruise ships for nearly 10 years, Wunderlich was introduced to another side of performing: the business.

“I experienced a lot of the behind the scenes stuff. The administration and management on how the business was run was an eye-opener,” said Wunderlich. “Those kinds of things really interested me, but I didn’t have the skill set or knowledge to do those jobs.”

She learned about TRU’s OL program through a friend who supplemented courses at TRU while doing a semester abroad. So while sailing port to port, she began chipping away at her Certificate of Business Skills —whenever the satellite wifi allowed her to download the latest syllabus. 

“I took far longer than most people usually take because of all the travelling and working full time. However, if it wasn’t for the online program, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my certificate,” said Wunderlich.

Along the way, Wunderlich was also developing into an elite aerialist, performing above the stage as if someone temporarily turned off gravity.

In search of a fixed address, Wunderlich used her talents as well as the skills learned in her business program to land a job in Berlin, Germany, at the Friedrichstadt-Palast Theatre, a 102-year-old institution that seats nearly 2,000 people in a non-COVID year. It was her dream landlocked destination.

“Not many dancers have agents or managers, so I learned about marketing, social media, managing yourself, writing cover letters and negotiating contracts. It definitely prolonged my career,” said Wunderlich.

Eight years later, she is still performing up to 10 shows per week, each lasting at least two hours at the same theatre. Five years ago, in her spare time, she began teaching, working with the next generation of dancers and aerialists. Her classroom setting has changed over the past 16 months, like much of the world during the pandemic. Still working with small groups of young adults, she now consults online through her program, Aerial Edge Virtual Coaching. After seeing the artists recorded video, she provides feedback on their acts.

“I would recommend the Open Learning program to anyone who is thinking about it, especially artists,” Wunderlich said. “I’m a true believer that you never should stop learning. With Open Learning, you don’t have to feel pressured with trying to balance full-time school and work schedule at the same time. Artists are facing a struggle now more than ever before. Open Learning is a good way to possibly look into future interests while maintaining your focus and interest in the arts.”

With no immediate end in sight to her dance and aerial acrobatic days, Wunderlich is contemplating diving back into Open Learning to improve herself as a teacher, performer and even a director, from wherever her artistic journey takes her next.

For more about Christine Wunderlich’s work, visit her website at christinewunderlich.com.

Learn more about TRU Open Learning at tru.ca/distance.

Business alumni now heads Tourism Prince George

Colin Carson
Colin Carson, TRU alumnus & CEO of Tourism Prince George

Colin Carson came to Thompson Rivers University to play volleyball and left with a Bachelor of Business Administration, majoring in marketing. Seven years later, he is the chief executive officer (CEO) of Tourism Prince George.

Carson started out in general studies, thinking he might like to get into education, but then moved into business after taking a commerce class that he enjoyed. From there, he discovered an interest in marketing.

“My approach was to find something I enjoyed in school and figure out the career after,” he says.

Following his time at TRU, he moved to Denmark to play volleyball professionally, then spent over a year working in China before taking a job in his home town of Prince George. He started with Tourism Prince George in 2017 as manager of Sport and Event Development, and progressed to CEO on July 1, 2021.

As CEO, Carson oversees the entire organization which is responsible for destination marketing, visitor services, events, destination development and communications for British Columbia’s ‘base camp in the north.’ And he’s taking on the job just as the province emerges from a pandemic that had a significant impact on the tourism industry. According to visitor centre numbers, visitation was down 70 percent in the summer of 2020.

Carson says visitors are coming back and people are particularly looking for outdoor experiences, wanting to stay away from large crowds.

“We brand ourselves as the gateway to the north and offer a good opportunity for people to avoid crowds,” he says. “We have 1,600 lakes and rivers within 100 kilometres of Prince George, lots of good hiking and mountain biking, fishing, things like that.”

Think you might be interested in working in destination marketing or a tourism business? Carson says to check out co-op and summer employment opportunities to try different things.

“We’re always looking for summer students,” he says. “It gives them that extra insight.”

Renowned wildfire expert based at TRU

Dr. Michael Flannigan is the new British Columbia Research Chair in Predictive Services, Emergency Management and Fire Science at TRU, the university and Province of British Columbia have announced.

This is a monumental announcement for Kamloops and the Interior region to have potentially nationally and internationally renowned research taking place right here. Extreme weather events will increase in number and intensity in the coming years, which makes this research even more critical.

Flannigan is an award-winning researcher and leading expert on wildfire behaviour and landscape fire modelling. Flannigan’s research goals include developing methods to help predict when and where extreme fire weather may arise and exploring the development of early warning wildfire notification systems.

Flannigan will work directly with BC Wildfire Service staff to address challenges related to predicting wildfire activity and behaviour, which will enhance their ability to prepare for and respond to wildfires in the province.

“This is an exciting opportunity to collaborate with the BC Wildfire Service, emergency management agencies and academic institutions,” said Flannigan.

“The wildfire landscape is becoming more challenging and demanding due to climate change, so I’m excited to help shape the future of wildfire prediction and analysis as part of a collective research effort.”

The total cost of the research chair is $5 million, with $3.2 million contributed by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development and $1.8 million from the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training.

“TRU is delighted to welcome Dr. Mike Flannigan as the British Columbia Research Chair in Predictive Services, Emergency Management and Fire Science,” said TRU President and Vice-Chancellor Brett Fairbairn.

“His award-winning expertise will enable TRU to become a national and international leader in the study of wildfire behaviour and landscape fire modelling. The important work of the Interior Universities Research Council, including the University of Northern British Columbia and University of British Columbia Okanagan, has helped make this news possible.”

“The appointment of Dr. Flannigan as research chair reflects three years of collaborative planning in partnership with the City of Kamloops and the provincial government — and TRU is deeply grateful for this investment in the region and our university,” said Associate Vice-President of Research and Graduate Studies Will Garrett-Petts.

“We know that effective disaster response requires government-funded scientific research around climate change, wildfire prevention and flood management.”

Garrett-Petts said Flannigan’s appointment enhances TRU’s research capacity in these areas and provides a heightened level of leadership from a world-class scholar and expert in wildland fire modelling, prevention and mitigation.

Flannigan said an average of 7,000 fires per year have occurred in Canada in the past decade. That results in an average of 2.5 million hectares burning annually — about half the size of Nova Scotia. His research will enable critical data, information and knowledge to help manage these events in the future. The appointment is effective July 1.

Connecting with words

There is power in words. Thompson Rivers University President Brett Fairbairn understood this when, in 2019, he embarked on a regional community consultation to create a new vision and goals for the university.

Comments from the consultation were compiled and within a year, TRU’s new, 10-year vision was created. It centered around a Secwépemc word that embodied the vision of TRU’s role in the region.

Community-minded with a global conscience, we boldly redefine the university as a place of belonging — Kw’seltktnéws, we are all related and interconnected with nature, each other and all things — where all people are empowered to transform themselves, their communities, and the world.

Fairbairn sought to get the Vision Statement, encompassing TRU’s vision, mission, values and goals, translated into Secwepemctsín, the language of the Secwépemc People, to strengthen and honour relationships with the Indigenous communities served by TRU and to build better understanding among everyone within the university community.

TRU President Brett Fairbairn during the consultation where Kw’seltktnéws was brought forward as a central theme to the university’s Vision Statement.

“Our vision is one of relationship and belonging. This vision is inspired by the people of these lands, by the Secwépemc language and belief system, and by the lands themselves. It is a vision that reflects deep insights into the nature of learning, insights from which all of us can benefit. Respect for all is the foundation of a learning community where people develop themselves in interaction with and support from others,” said Fairbairn.

“A sense of connection is what leads us to take action locally and within our sphere of responsibilities, whether this is about working to improve communities, ensure sustainability, build intercultural understanding or the even harder work of truth and reconciliation. Secwepemctsín is the original and authentic way to express these ideas that we have made central to our vision as a university.”

The translation began with Airini, then dean of Education and Social Work, bringing in Garry Gottfriedson, a member of Tk’emlups te Secwépemc, poet and Secwépemc Cultural Advisor to the dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work. He was asked to review the Vision Statement and provide Secwépemc concepts.

Deepening understanding

“The purpose of translating the Vision Statement for TRU, was to provide the president, provost, and all members of the TRU community with a greater and deeper understanding of Secwépemc worldview, since TRU is situated directly within the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (TteS) territory. As part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls for Action, TRU is in a position to ultimately show respect for the ‘host house’ and ensure that meaningful measures are taken to put words into action,” Garry Gottfriedson said.

He brought in his nephew, Ted Gottfriedson, who is TteS Language and Culture Department manager, to oversee the process.

“We had a meeting where Brett met with the Elders. He wanted to express his gratitude. He was very humble when he was doing this with our Elders’ group. They are a group of fluid speakers — all Secwepemctsín first-language speakers, which is very, very rare,” said Ted Gottfriedson.

The Fluent Elders came from several area Secwépemc communities —TteS, Simpcw, Bonaparte and Skeetchestn — and included Daniel Calhoun, Leona Calhoun, Marie Antione, Flora Sampson, Mona Jules, Bill Pete, Garlene Jules, Charli Fortier, Garry and Ted Gottfriedson and Jessica Arnouse.

The Fluent Elders group is known as Wumecwílc re Secwepemctsín. It means bringing the Secwépemc language back to life.

Especially now, this translation project has meaningful significance, Ted Gottfriedson said.

“For these folks to come together and speak a language for which they were forbidden to speak as children. . . . I spent my adult life trying to learn Secwépemc. I had to do it as an adult, because my grandmother, who is a fluent speaker, wouldn’t teach me. As a residential school survivor, she wouldn’t teach my mom, and she wouldn’t teach me,” he said.

“After all those years in residential school, to have people who can speak the language is super rare. Then to have those people who can speak it actually share the language and want to speak it, is super rare among that super rare group.

“For example, we have two speakers in our community. One, for her own personal reasons, refuses to share the language, to speak the language. Those are issues she has to carry with her. Those are from her childhood.”

Ancient language meets high tech

Soon after the group was established, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down face-to-face meetings. Most Elders didn’t have computers, so iPads were provided to them and family members helped them.

That technological connection proved to benefit not just the project, but the Elders themselves, as they were able to see others during a time of isolation.

Gottfriedson said he and the younger people involved in the project had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with front-row seats as the Elders translated the Vision Statement’s concepts and views into an ancient language.

The Elders were equally as enthusiastic.

“They’re quite excited that people are interested. It’s important to them for people to hear the language. It’s important to them to pass it on.”

The biggest challenge was translating an English Vision Statement into a written form of an old, traditionally oral language. The Elders had to think about which words to use, and drew from each others’ perspectives.

“This document also offers students rich insights into the strength, resilience and beauty of the Secwépemc land and people.”

Garry Gottfriedson

Sometimes the Elders would just tackle one sentence. Sometimes they would have to translate a concept rather than words, because of context. It was quite the long and slow process. While there were many revisions, the Elders reached a consensus, he said.

“Things like this help our language preservation. Our elders have to try to conceptualize ideas that are foreign, really not a part of everyday vernacular, and for us to be able to document that, is pretty cool. It helps in our goal of language revitalization.”

He is hopeful the vision project will lead to more understanding.

“For non-native folks, I hope this creates an interest in our language, in our culture, in our very being in this area.”

The translations are posted on the TRU website along with an audio clip that provides pronunciation. It’s a step in building cultural understanding and strengthening TRU’s relationship with the Secwépemc Nation.

“It ensures that this document has life because Secwepemctsín is a living language, not meant to be dormant. This also demonstrates that TRU is actively moving away from discussions about TRC Call for Actions and illustrating that they are doing it,” said Garry Gottfriedson.

“This document also offers students rich insights into the strength, resilience and beauty of the Secwépemc land and people.”

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