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CATT Community > Member News > Economic diversity and post-secondary education in Tofino
September 15 2011Posted by:
In an attempt to increase the socioeconomic, cultural and employment diversity of the West Coast, several Tofino residents are working on developing partnerships and programs with Canadian post-secondary institutions.
A collaborative educational feasibility meeting was held in March and was facilitated by the Westcoast Aquatic Management Board, and sponsored by the Clayoqout Biosphere Trust (CBT) and the Tofino- Long Beach Chamber of Commerce.
According to the chamber's executive director Gord Johns, the idea to promote Tofino and Clayoqout Sound for post-secondary education was part of the chamber's strategic plan for the year.
"Our goal was to showcase our region to as many post secondary education institutions as possible and we just started to create relationships in different forms," said Johns.
The chamber brought forward the higher education ideas to organizations with similar educational visions, such as the CBT, Westcoast Aquatic, Ecotrust Canada, and the Tofino Botanical Gardens.
"All of the organizations were very excited and wanted to move forward with the idea."
Johns said Clayoqout Sound is filled with education opportunities in biology, tourism, marketing, arts and political science, among other topics.
In addition, the West Coast also offers abundant indigenous culture studies.
Currently, post-secondary connections with Tofino and Ucluelet include Vancouver Island University (VIU), North Island College (NIC), Camosun College, Royal Roads University and the University of British Columbia (UBC).
Johns said UBC's Sauder School of Business is currently working with local businesses in Tofino in developing communications and marketing plans.
Through the school's community service learning partnerships, there are nine projects in Tofino involving 28 UBC students.
According to Andrea Lloyd, the community service learning coordinator, the students learn more about their course work through interactions with the community.
"We were also interested in partnering with Tofino because it is a vibrant community that can offer UBC students an opportunity to learn about small business, entrepreneurship, resilience and diverse strategies for local community economic development," said Lloyd.
Another connection with Camosun College sets up co-op students with local businesses.
"Our goal is to create those relationships. And as the universities see the potential and opportunities of students engaging with a rich, beautiful exciting region, that they will see the benefits," John said.
NIC recently became a member of the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, and has an educational base in Ucluelet.
Tom Weeger, regional director of Port Alberni and the Alberni-Clayoqout Region at NIC, said a six-month program with the Ucluelet First Nation just wrapped up in June.
The Residential Building Maintenance Worker program (RBMW) includes carpentry, electrical, pluming, roofing, and interior design.
Weegar said the program covers the residential construction trades.
The NIC Ucluelet branch also offers adult basic education and upgrading, along with continuing education courses such as occupational and marine first aid.
"I think one of our goals is to try to start offering a little bit more out in the Tofino area as well," said Weegar, adding that without a centre in Tofino, it may be more challenging to do so.
But, he said, many community colleges have the multi-campus approach, offering courses through-out smaller communities within a region.
"One of the strong values that community colleges hold is that of accessibility to a variety of programs," said Weegar.
"We're very clear that accessibility is important and we want to make sure that we offer programing as close to people where they live and work."
Accessibility to education was a concern for Laura Loucks, Tofino resident and associate professor at Royal Roads University.
"It has become a bit of a pattern, students will migrate out of our communities to go to university," said Loucks. "It's important that our students have that opportunity here to transition from high school into higher education without necessarily having to leave this place initially."
The distance education professor said this is not a sustainable model for the community.
Loucks is teaching a sustainable development course through Royal Road University's School of Environment and Sustainability.
She said academics can be in rural communities "where it all happens, it's the convergence of social and ecological systems in place."
Being a professor is Loucks' first step towards her long term vision for the region to teach in Clayoqout Sound and have the doorway open through online technology for students anywhere in the world to join the course.
"If we can teach from here, and have urban students join us, that's a real reversal from the traditional pattern," she said.
Eli Enns said having a local postsecondary education centre also eliminates the culture shock students experience after moving from a small community to a city to study.
Enns, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations's Tribal Administrator, has several projects in association with universities across Canada.
Among them are the VIU, University of Victoria, Guelph University and York University, both in Ontario.
"These relationships haven't happened by accident, we set out to estab-lish a stronger relationship with post secondary institutions several years ago," said Enns.
He said the relationships are one of the strategies developed to help the goal of establishing a university on traditional territory in the future. "Tla-o-qui-aht has a high value on education and for years now have been encouraging members to get university education," said Enns. "We've been involved with skill and training opportunities as well."
"Generally speaking, from a Nuu-chah-nulth perspective, Hishuk-ish Tsawaak, or everything is connected. Bringing in education can be a large part of a sustainable economy in Clayoqout Sound. It's all very connected," Enns said.
Loucks said the economy needs to diversify in Tofino.
"We've shifted into a very exciting economy of naturebased tourism, and we've lost some diversity in our occupations," said Loucks.
For Tofino resident Cathy Thicke, a higher education centre is essential in the economic development of the community in the long run.
Thicke recently completed her master's degree in Tourism Management from Royal Roads University, with a thesis focused on the feasibility of developing a higher learning centre in Tofino.
"I feel that the current evolution of tourism is going to be unsustainable in the near or not too distant future," said Thicke, who described Tofino as a one-economy town.
"My thought with regards to education is we already have the world coming here. It's just another avenue to increase and diversify the economy in the winter," she said.
Thicke worked with members of the community to develop her thesis. She presented her results to Tofino council in July.
Although council supported her request for a letter of recommendation, she continues to wait to hear back regarding a funding request to meet with potential partners and determine directives for the future.
"We're sitting on the doorstep of an amazing opportunity," said Thicke.
Johns said a formalization of the steering committee is scheduled for this fall.
He said if Tofino is successful in attracting a post-secondary institution, "it would not just change the economic landscape in our region, but it would likely change the lens in the future of how we view all of the industries within in our region."
Higher education is identified in the Tofino Official Community Plan (OCP) as part of the vision for the community.
Johns stressed the importance of local government participation in the process.
He said having a post-secondary institution in Tofino will take a long time to establish, and a partner is required for it to be complete.
Until then, the informal education committee hopes to create more partnerships and to flourish the connections that are currently available.
"I think we have a lot to offer in providing education here for both our youth, and for youth all over B.C., Canada and the world," said Loucks.
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