THUNDER BAY – Two years of COVID-19 is a ready-made excuse to abandon a strategic plan, hunker down and wait for things to return to normal.
It’s not an excuse Confederation College president Kathleen Lynch was willing to use.
Lynch on Wednesday delivered her first in-person report to the community, updating supporters and stakeholders on the progress the Northwestern Ontario school has made over the past year or more, including a number of key partnerships aimed at meeting its progressive five-year strategic plan.
Among the highlights stressed by Lynch was the three-year, $10.6-million SkillsAdvance Ontario project, a partnership with 23 organizations to provide fast-tracked, affordable training in a variety of health-care fields, including personal support workers, home support workers and medical lab assistants.
“This program provides access to potential students by covering tuition and other expenses to create opportunities for individuals who might not otherwise be able to attend college. The health-care project will have a tremendous impact on the health-care system and economic development in the Northwest,” Lynch told the early morning crowd gathered to hear the update at the Victoria Inn.
Lynch also mentioned more than $3 million in funding for aviation equipment and funding, and singled out the Embark Indigenous STEM Education Program, a one-year certificate program focusing on teaching science technology, engineering and math to Indigenous women and youth.
“Embark aims to remove barriers and ground students in cultural knowledge, while helping them access STEM skills,” Lynch said, adding students are building an actual birch-bark canoe from scratch, using the skills they’ve learned in the classroom to solve problems and obstacles on the way.
Lynch said letting the public know the good things the college is doing, especially in an in-person manner, is important.
The college is a huge economic driver in the community, estimated to add $703 million through the school and its latest count of 4,853 full- and part-time students. That's down about 16 per cent.
“To tie it all together in a report to the community is really important to show all the accomplishments of our staff and students, especially our students,” Lynch said. “It’s been really tough this last couple of years and they’ve done really well in persevering and staying with us through this.”
The fourth-year president said COVID-19 was a struggle, but it’s also led to improved best practices at the school, which are already proving beneficial to students.
“We’ve implemented a way students can book online to see our support staff, like counsellors, or if they have learning needs that need to be addressed, or tutoring,” Lynch said.
“It’s great, because students love booking online. Also, they can continue to get help virtually, and many of them are choosing to do that.”