The Kelowna Chamber of Commerce recently hosted a lunch and learn designed to explore the pillars of success and support in our community. As moderator of the discussion between Deborah Buszard, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UBC Okanagan and Jim Hamilton, President of Okanagan College, I was given the opportunity to really dig into the kind of growth and innovation happening within our post-secondary institutions.

What became clear is our institutions are working strategically and collaboratively to offer more access to more programs for more students. Both these institutions have made the conscious effort to evolve as partners, ensuring community and industry needs are being met. The results of this effort are undeniably positive (unless you trying to find parking). Okanagan College has grown from 4,000 to 14,000 students since 2005 and the UBC Okanagan is now home to over 9000 students.

If you are looking for a good indicator of both our growth and success at the College, I would challenge you to try and find a parking spot at the campus after 9am. —Jim Hamilton

Joint programming between the College and the University has also been a winning formula. In addition to the 130 programs already offered by the college, a new joint nursing program with UBCO is in the works. Students interested in social work can now get an undergraduate degree from the college and Master’s degree from the University. In the past five years, UBC Okanagan has become the number one choice of transfers students looking to leave Okanagan College. This spot was formerly held by the University of Victoria. Perhaps more importantly, UBC Okanagan stats indicate that 48% of their graduates are choosing to stay and work here in the Okanagan.

Bringing a world-class institution like UBC to the Okanagan Valley did not come without its share of skepticism. With innovation comes risk and it was a chance both the institutions and the region were willing to take. The University was established in 2005 and had a small research budget of under $7 million. In the last 13 years, this budget has grown by 3X and there is now over $21 million in research dollars being invested here. This is a phenomenal growth rate for academia in Canada a sure sign of the success of UBC Okanagan.

Both institutions have also set up shop at the newly constructed Innovation Centre in downtown Kelowna. The college launched a new, two-year animation program designed to arm students with foundational skills and feed the ever-growing demand for animators right here in the Okanagan. The University will be running their student entrepreneurial training program at the Innovation Centre as well as opening the Innovation Precinct at the UBC campus. This revolutionary new space for research and development will be a physical and intellectual hub for innovation and expertise.

The Innovation Precinct is a wonderful example of the kinds of global partnerships we’re building here.—Deborah Buszard

So why have these institutions been so successful in feeding the talent pipeline and building new programs? What is driving all this growth and investment? I am of the opinion that both the people and the place have a lot to do with it.

Alex Usher, a world-renowned Higher Education Strategist, acknowledge in a recent post that although higher education can be an incredibly conservative industry, the need for experimentation and innovation is high to meet the demands of our new economy.

“We have one of the most fascinating experiments I’ve ever seen going on at UBC Okanagan,” said Usher. “Taking a small teaching-oriented university college and turning it into a full-fledged research university in the space of fifteen years—it’s working!”

Allan Coyle, Director of Public Affairs for Okanagan College, observed that the Okanagan is currently sitting at the intersection of right place and the right time. I would like to echo that sentiment. Our community is thriving, the energy is palpable, and looking around, it’s obvious that it’s all here, now.

Raghwa Gopal

CEO, Accelerate Okanagan

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