North Island College Works With Communities to Support Students

Vance Conway knows the power of in-community learning first hand. Conway took upgrading at the Cormorant Island Learning Centre before studying Communication Design in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. “If I had to take the ferry and bus to Port Hardy, I wouldn’t have started,” Conway said. “It was hard enough learning how to do something I wasn’t good at in high school. NIC built my confidence level and showed me I could do better.”

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Ahousaht’s first class of Education assistants create history in their community.

Vance’s success, and the success of nurses, education assistants, carpenters, and health care assistants in remote communities from Ahousaht to Fort Rupert epitomizes NIC’s students-first philosophy—a framework that builds relationships, empowers communities, and makes education opportunities possible across the North Island. “When a community comes to us with a request, we work very hard to make it a reality,” said Dr. Jocelyne Van Neste-Kenny, NIC’s Dean of Health and Human Services, who retired this year. “It forces us to stretch our processes, but when you look at our successes, it’s worth it every time.”

In Ahousaht, where nearly half of the community’s 725 residents are under 19 years old, residents came to NIC with a specific challenge. “They had educational assistants working in schools who wanted their certificate but didn’t want to leave jobs or family in Ahousaht to do it,” said NIC faculty Mary Pat Thompson, who worked closely with the group. “One of the students asked us to bring the program to Ahousaht.”

North Island College

The high school in Ahousaht where students teach and take classes.

NIC worked with the Ahousaht Education Society to hire local instructors, find classrooms and computers, and develop an evening class schedule for working students. It also doubled the program length to 20 months so students could take two classes per term and complete both required practicums.

As a result, eight students changed the history of post-secondary education in their community. Vivian Hermansen, Director of Aboriginal Education, noted, “It’s the first time an entire class of students in Ahousaht has completed a post-secondary program without leaving the community. It’s historic.”