UBC Okanagan will always be the little sibling to its well-established Vancouver counterpart, but the Kelowna post-secondary institution is quickly making a name for itself.
Going on eight years, the Kelowna campus has had to triple its building space since opening in 2005 to accommodate a student population boom from 3,500 to more than 8,300.
With that expansion comes opportunities and potential partnerships, said Deborah Buszard, the university’s principal and deputy vice-chancellor. She spoke about those opportunities at a breakfast seminar hosted by the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce recently at the Prestige Hotel.
The campus features 1.5 million square feet of floor space in buildings “purpose-built for the 21st century,” which represents more than $400 million in capital construction. There are enough dorm beds for 1,700 students.
Buszard estimated UBC Okanagan’s economic impact on the region to be around $1.45 billion, based on university spending, staff salaries and benefits, and student spending.
“The way that these building are being constructed, by local contractors using local materials, is really an inspiration,” said Buszard. “It’s a very special place.
“It is remarkable that here in the Interior of B.C. we have access to one of the world’s top-25 universities.”
North Okanagan’s youth certainly seem to be taking advantage of the university’s proximity as there are currently 442 Vernon school district graduates enrolled, and more than 1,700 have taken classes since it opened.
Buszard said future enrolment will see a more diverse student body thanks to the university’s decision to follow “broad-based admissions” criteria. Rather than focus solely on grades, UBCO is now starting to consider other qualities that might make for a more well-rounded student.
“One of the things that is important is to make sure we actually do make our campus open to all,” said Buszard. “Yes, it’s great if you can get 90 per cent, but it would also be good if you wanted to make a contribution to society in some way.”
To help enrich the student experience, both UBC campuses have been involved in the Start an Evolution campaign, which has raised $1 billion. A hundred million of that is earmarked for the Okanagan to enhance aspects of university life that are not covered by government funding.
One area where UBC Okanagan has excelled is in its community collaboration, said Buszard.
UBC has been recognized as the largest number of Engage grants – a program sponsored by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada – and most of them are held by the Kelowna campus (more than 50 grants since 2009).
“If that isn’t a recipe for transformation, in terms of growing a knowledge-driven sustainable economy, I don’t know what is,” said Buszard. “We’re determined to grab those opportunities and build on them.
“Engage grants are designed to support collaborations between industry partners – small, medium and large businesses – that want to partner with professors to address particular issues and opportunities they might have.”
One Vernon-area organization already benefitting from the UBCO brain trust is the North Okanagan Hospice Society. Ruth Edwards, executive director, said the hospice has been partnering with the school of nursing and health sciences.
“The school of nursing is looking at doing nursing differently, right back to the curriculum, through to the practice and logistics,” said Edwards.
“They’re talking about advanced care planning and how nurses conduct difficult conversations with clients. All those things are being looked at, with an emphasis on the role of hope and how it factors into end-of-life care.
“We’re thrilled UBCO is taking a role in that with us.”