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Northern post-secondary institutions collaborate with Mastercard Foundation on COVID-19 response

College of New Caledonia president Dr. Dennis Johnson

Four post-secondary institutions in northern British Columbia in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation are enhancing supports for Indigenous students and investing in technological solutions to improve access for remote education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coast Mountain College, the College of New Caledonia, Northern Lights College, and the University of Northern British Columbia are collaborating on the project, which includes additional funding for student counselling support, employment opportunities for students, and a last-mile connectivity technology project to ensure students are able to access online programming.

“This pandemic has created additional barriers to educational success and summer employment for Indigenous students,” said CNC president and CEO Dr. Dennis Johnson. “We’re thankful for the support from the Mastercard Foundation and are honoured to work with other northern B.C. post-secondary institutions on this important project that will have both a short-term and lasting impact for Indigenous communities.”

A total of $380,000 in support from the Mastercard Foundation Recovery and Resilience Program will be evenly divided between the four institutions. The program will enable Indigenous communities and young people to respond to the short-term impacts of this pandemic, while strengthening their resilience in the long-run.

“This support from the Mastercard Foundation will be transformative in assisting our current Indigenous students as they realize their academic goals during this period of uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said UNBC Interim President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Geoff Payne. “In addition, by collaborating with communities, technology innovators, and our northern post-secondary partners, this project will enhance the capacity for future distance education through improved internet access.” 

Indigenous students studying at the four northern B.C. post-secondary institutions will also receive academic mentoring and mental health counselling to help them navigate the barriers and challenges that come with isolation at home during these unprecedented times.

Each institution will develop employment opportunities focused on investigating how to address the challenge of isolation, lack of connectivity, and the resultant barriers and challenges for students. The student employees will also explore best practices and learning models that work well in this context.

Another exciting component of the collaborative partnership with the Mastercard Foundation is exploring the possibility of deploying new last-mile connectivity technology in remote communities to provide students with more access to distance learning. Installing this technology will have the added benefit of improving connectivity for the entire community.

“We are grateful for the Mastercard Foundation’s focus on access to education, skills, and work for Indigenous youth in Canada during this time of crisis. In partnership with the Foundation, our four institutions in the North have the opportunity to strengthen the support for Indigenous communities across more than half of British Columbia,” said Dr. M. Bryn Kulmatycki, Chair of the Northern Post-Secondary Education Council and President of Northern Lights College.

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