Douglas College looks for community partnerships to benefit students
By Patrick Vaillancourt, News Editor
Residents, community leaders, and business owners from New Westminster and Coquitlam gathered at community engagement forums hosted at Douglas College’s two campuses.
The goal was to brainstorm ideas on how Douglas College can partner with community groups to provide students with both an enhanced and hands-on learning experience, and to better the local economy in smaller communities surrounding Vancouver.
The forum included presentations from program coordinators and college faculty as well as a keynote address from Douglas College President Scott McAlpine.
McAlpine emphasized the need for Douglas College students to create connections and strategic partnerships in the community, particularly as demographic and labour market trends begin to shift.
“The reality is that by 2017 we will see an economy in the Lower Mainland that can be summarized simply as ‘Jobs without people; people without jobs,’” said McAlpine. “The next [Douglas College] strategic plan needs to include an emphasis on community partnerships.”
This is the first time Douglas College has hosted a forum with community participants, and comes on the heels of a forum held last year where Douglas College faculty and staff discussed ideas on how to better connect with the community.
Hazel Postma, Douglas College’s associate vice president of external relations, said that the forums were important in building community connections and providing students with more employment opportunities.
“Students will benefit by the increasing number of opportunities available to them for the applied portions of their programs,” said Postma. “As well, they benefit by having more community leaders aware of the depth and breadth of learning that takes place at Douglas—as employers hear about our connections and partnerships, they will be more inclined to hire Douglas graduates.”
The forums asked attendees about their idea of what community connections should be and how Douglas College can assist in supporting the community—be it in commerce, government, or social programs.
Postma said that, while there were apparent themes emerging from each forum, the needs of each community were unique and made apparent by the differing discussions between forum participants in New Westminster and Coquitlam.
“It was intriguing to see the differences in the feedback we received from the two forums—perhaps it reflects the urban nature in New West and the more suburban nature of the Tri-Cities,” said Postma. “We were pleased with the turnout and the wide representation from the community.”
Both forums were well-attended, and included members of the business community, heads of Chambers of Commerce, members of the Legislative Assembly, non-profit groups, school districts, and the RCMP.
Postma underscored that the business community seems to be keen to explore new connections with Douglas College based on how heavily they were represented in the forums.
“We would measure success by the number of new connections generated, new partnerships formed. And success is also in confirming that we are on the right track, that our existing partnerships and connections make sense,” said Postma.
A report on the community engagement forums is expected by the end of October, which will summarize the feedback from both forums and outline some next steps in establishing new connections.