BY BILL PHILLIPS
Albert Koehler is a happy man.
After a decade of pressuring the powers that be to create an undergraduate engineering program at UNBC, his vision has become a reality.
“We’ve been funded to run a civil engineering program and a new enhanced environmental engineering program that will mean undergraduate engineering students will be able to UNBC, study here and complete their entire degree right here in northern British Columbia,” said Dr. Dan Ryan, Provost and Vice-President, Academic, to a cheering crowd of about 100 people at the university Tuesday.
UNBC will receive $400,000 of start-up funding in 2017-18 for the new civil and environmental engineering degree programs. This funding will ramp up to support a total of 280 spaces by 2022-23, with 70 graduates per year expected by 2023.
Ryan said developing the engineering program has been a “labour of love,” at the university.
“This was a community effort,” he said. “It’s a testament of how when we work together … what we can achieve.”
He added it’s part of developing UNBC as a ‘destination university.’
The College of New Caledonia (CNC) will receive $250,000 in 2017-18 to develop a new civil-engineering technologist program. The program will support a total of 50 spaces by 2021-22, and is expected to produce 25 graduates per year by 2022. This will be the first engineering technologist program in B.C. to be offered north of Kamloops.
CNC president Henry Reiser credited the work of MLAs Shirley Bond and Mike Morris for laying the groundwork for the program, which is being funded by the new government. He also credited Koehler and the Northern Technology and Engineering Society of B.C. for advocating for the programs.
“As a mechanical engineer myself, this was a goal when I arrived, to increase the number of engineering technology programs and strongly support UNBC and its goal to offer more engineering programs,” Reiser said. “We know students who study in the North stay in the North and we have a desperate need for engineers and engineer technologists.”
The program will be the first in B.C. to be offered north of Kamloops.
Of the 83,400 job openings in tech-related fields in the next decade, 2,200 are expected to be in northern B.C. This provides opportunities closer to home for graduates of the new tech programs at UNBC and CNC, should they choose to stay.
One of the students who will likely take advantage of the new program is Paramon Koutorjevski, president of the UNBC Environmental Engineering Student Association.
“I can truly tell you that I am absolutely in love with this place,” Koutorjevski said of UNBC. “One of the biggest factors that makes me love UNBC the most is the engineering program.”
He said the engineering faculty is very supportive of the students.
“The first civil engineering students who walk through these halls will receive the undeniable support and guidance that the environmental engineering students receive,” he said.
The announcement is also being hailed by the Innovation and Central Society.
“Engineering and tech-related careers are the stable, well-paying jobs of the future,” said Will Cadell, board chair of Innovation Central Society and Sparkgeo.com CEO. “We need access to a talent pool which can support the growth of our tech sector. Training and educating tech talent here in the North is critical to ensuring that employers can continue to grow with the support of homegrown talent. Additionally, tech professionals have the potential to work remotely, increasing work-life balance options in the North.”
However, the last word goes to Koehler who said that while he was often a thorn in peoples’ side pushing for the engineering program, he was just lobbying. The program also needed a lot of people who actually did the work to make a reality.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about the centre of our beautiful province.”
He also credited Bond and Morris for doing much of preparatory work and the lobbying of Ryan, Reiser, and UNBC president Dan Weeks.
He said he talked to many businesses in the North who looked for engineers and couldn’t fill the positions.
“There was gap in applied sciences (in the North), it was really missing,” he said. “This gap is now in the process of being filled.”