It’s the year we’d all like to forget. One soaked with anxiety, uncertainty and the bleak reminder that humanity is fragile. We witnessed a planetary battle fought with something not visible to the eye, but completely obvious in its successful invasion of global society. A year of heartbreak and disappointment that changed everything we understood as normal.
As we eagerly anticipate turning the page, amidst the pandemic haze comes hope. This is not forever and though there will be a toll, there is reason to celebrate the spirit of perseverance and caring of community. As difficult as the last ten months has been, it’s heartening to know rural British Columbia will emerge in 2021 with a focus on recovery and renewal.
The faces of 2020 at Selkirk College include: (Top L-R) Candace Ferguson, Donna Drover, Donna Sterne, Amanda Sigrudson and Jordan Sherstobitoff, Kerri Webb; (BOTTOM L-R) Kim Pham, Parker Wakaruk, Ruth Currie, Scott Weatherford, Yujin Choi.
At Selkirk College, students and staff have not backed away from the challenge. From the remote delivery pivot in the spring to the altered learning environment of today, the importance of a post-secondary education has not shrunk in the stare-down with COVID-19. Our region and our world need welders and health care assistants, childcare workers and silviculture surveyors, nurses and potters, musicians and social workers, entrepreneurs and chefs. The education, skills and training needed for dream careers has not stopped and will not stop.
The story of 2020 at Selkirk College is not the pandemic, but how individual determination helped us step out of the long shadow cast by COVID-19. Rural post-secondary is always focused on building student success, but in this wild year it’s those personal stories gave us hope. Vital to surviving the stress and turmoil is knowing that we are doing it together.
The story of 2020 is the people who make up Selkirk College… the students and staff who provide the heartbeat of our post-secondary community. Individual stories are the mirror held up to Selkirk College as a whole, a place where post-secondary is within reach and anything is possible. Here are just some of the people we met over the last 12 months who helped us understand a most unusual year.
When Kindness and Safety Collide: Donna Drover
Selkirk College’s Health & Safety Advisor Donna Drover is guided by a calm approach that eases anxiety for those she works with on a daily basis. Her expertise and ability to execute large-scale planning on an institutional level in 2020 was nothing short of phenomenal.
“I have had to deal with a lot of adversity in my life that has given me experience that has served me well in this capacity,” the 44-year-old said back in anxiety-filled days of May. “Quite often it’s the panic that creates problems, success in the response is about how we handle it.”
Health & Safety Advisor Donna Drover in the shops of the Silver King Campus in Nelson.
Even as Selkirk College adjourned classes in mid-March and pivoted to remote learning/working, Drover started work on laying the groundwork for a safe return to campus. Following the lead of the Provincial Health Officer and working in collaboration with colleagues from across British Columbia, Drover lead the incredible effort that had School of Industry & Trades Training students at the Silver King Campus back in altered shop spaces by early-May.
The health and safety planning continued throughout the summer creating a learning environment that was in-person where possible and online where required. Campuses were physically reworked, a mandatory mask policy was implemented in mid-August and volumes of documents were prepared to act as overall guidance.
“There is a desire from everybody at Selkirk College to make the best of this situation to ensure success for the students. When that happens, it makes our jobs much easier,” Drover said. “I’m really proud to work for Selkirk College. When talking to colleagues across the province, other institutions are amazed at what we have accomplished in all aspects of our response to this crisis. Every day something happens where I am reminded of the quality of people we have working here, everybody wants to go above-and-beyond to make it a great place to be.”
Read more about Donna Drover and the work she helped accomplish here.
Feeling the Soft Hand of Community: Ruth Currie
A single mom in the Social Service Worker Program, Ruth Currie was hit hard by the interruption and uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March. With a four-year-old daughter at home and the Winter Semester to complete via distance learning, normal financial stress was elevated. Currie applied for Selkirk College emergency funding and in late-April received confirmation of a special bursary.
“I was elated and breathless when I received the email, all the stress was immediately lifted,” said the 33-year-old Castlegar resident. “I was falling into a trap of having no income, so having the financial help to fall back on at this particular time was such a huge relief.”
Social Service Worker Program student Ruth Currie was hit hard by the interruption and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March. A bursary from the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund has helped Currie and her four-year-old daughter Sephora weather the financial storm.
The funds Currie used to buy groceries and pay the vital bills that threatened her ability to complete the term were made available through the COVID-19 Student Relief Campaign started by Selkirk College Foundation in early-April. Donations poured in from community members, retirees, Selkirk College staff, unions, local business and students themselves with an extraordinary $93,235 raised over a four-week period.
Like the hundreds of other students who received emergency funding, Currie’s appreciation runs deep.
“Being part of a community is really what matters when something like this happens, it’s appreciated and gives me more strength to pursue my education,” she says. “It warms my heart to be in a community that is so thoughtful, caring and supportive. That people care so much about the individual and the success of the individual, I will carry that into my career wholeheartedly. I can’t wait to help other people.”
Read more about Ruth Currie and the COVID-19 Student Relief Campaign here.
Making History with Class of 2020: Kim Pham
Kim Pham’s journey at Selkirk College almost ended soon after it began. Arriving to the West Kootenay from bustling Ho Chi Minh City in December 2017, the Class of 2020 co-valedictorian felt like she made a mistake by choosing a rural college to start her Canadian education. She missed her family in Vietnam, was stung by the winter weather, grappled with culture shock and was surprised by the serene pace of life in Castlegar.
“For the first weeks that I started at Selkirk College, I wanted to leave,” Pham recalled. “I talked with two other Vancouver-based colleges to see if I could transfer right away. I was planning to move, but I am so glad that I made the decision to stay.”
An international student who arrived to the West Kootenay from bustling Ho Chi Minh City in December 2017, Kim Pham (third from right) is one of two valedictorians to represent the Selkirk College Class of 2020.
Though the in-person Convocation 2020 ceremony and celebration scheduled for the end of April was canceled due to the pandemic, the graduate of the Post-Graduate Business Management Diploma Program still managed to make Selkirk College history as the first international student recognized as valedictorian.
A tireless worker, Pham made the most of her Canadian education by getting involved in both Selkirk College and community on a many levels. The sudden halt to her final semester in March was difficult, but Pham said it provided an even greater appreciation for her rural college experience.
“I learned a lot about how people take care of each other in a rural community,” she said. “This is even more evident during COVID-19 where the situation is much different than it would be in the big city.”
Learn more about Kim Pham’s journey at Selkirk College here.
Teaching Under the New Normal: Kerri Webb
Selkirk College Math Instructor Kerri Webb’s passion for solving puzzles came in handy during the riddle that was 2020.
Focused on a teaching career that passes a devotion for getting to the right answer onto students, Webb and her team of colleagues prepared for the Fall Semester at the Castlegar Campus looking to solve how to best deliver post-secondary education in the new normal brought on by COVID-19.
“It’s overwhelming, but this is a giant puzzle to solve,” Webb said during her summer preparation. “We are taking the techniques that used to work in the classroom and adapting them to what works in the new environment. It’s exciting because I am building into my courses what I should have always been doing. There are elements that will continue when the in-person environment returns and will make my classes even more successful.”
Along with her colleagues in all programs, Selkirk College Math Instructor Kerri Webb is making sure the delivery of curriculum under the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions provide students with the best post-secondary education available. When not teaching students the magic of math, Webb can be found taking part in her other passion of exploring the outdoors.
The unexpected twist brought on by the pandemic spurred instructors in all programs to adapt their pedagogy as they prepared to pass on knowledge, skills and training in ways that depart from traditional face-to-face learning. Building community and firm connections posed the biggest challenge, but Webb points to the Selkirk College advantage of small class sizes and a post-secondary education built on relationships.
“The biggest part of a student’s success is not the tricks and tools that an instructor presents to them,” Webb said. “It’s about whether the instructor is passionate and knowledgeable about their subject matter, and are they invested in their students. The investment I see from Selkirk College instructors in our students is so inspiring. We have chosen this as our career because we want to share our knowledge with students.”
Read more about Kerri Webb and what lead her to teaching here.
Sudden Endings and New Beginnings: Parker Wakaruk
As the Selkirk College Saints prepared for the opening game of the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) playoffs in Langley on March 12 against the Trinity Western University Spartans, the team received the news that all games were suspended.
“We knew what was happening with professional leagues at that moment, but we still had to get ready to play. We were hoping that some way we would be able to get through that series,” said Saints’ captain Parker Wakaruk. “It was weird because you are just done. You don’t win, you don’t lose, you are just done. There is no emotion to it, it’s a real bizarre feeling. There is no closure or any kind of exit… it’s just over.”
Parker Wakaruk played three seasons with the Selkirk College Saints where he emerged as a leader both on the ice and on campus.
Like so much else in the early stages of the pandemic, sport was knocked down the list of priorities. It was a crushing blow to the student-athletes on the Saints realizing all their hard work fizzled in a moment completely out of their control. Instead of wallowing in the disappointment, Wakaruk and his teammates threw complete focus into their studies.
“We are living through history right now,” he said in early-April. “As students, we all need to use our support systems. Set up meeting times for a group-chat with your classmates to get the work done or complete the projects. It’s difficult, but you need to create the most normal atmosphere as you can. If you try to do it all by yourself, you are just going to struggle and all your motivation goes right down the drain.”
Read more about Parker Wakaruk’s journey at Selkirk College here.
Leadership Key During Uncertainty: Scott Weatherford
In what is arguably the most tumultuous time for regional post-secondary since Selkirk College opened its doors to learning in 1966, the path forward requires strength from its leaders for success into the future. It’s into that role that Scott Weatherford was thrust as the newly appointed chair of the Selkirk College Board of Governors.
The chief executive officer of Fruitvale’s ATCO Wood Products, Weatherford is helping the college through the challenges of moving forward in pandemic-peppered times. He’s enthusiastically up to the task.
“The more I learn about Selkirk College, it just completely blows me away,” Weatherford said in the summer. “There is so much that people underestimate or don’t realize about Selkirk College, it is such an asset to the region. It’s amazing that we have this institution so ingrained in our communities, it continues to inspire me and I am excited to be part of it.”
ATCO Wood Products CEO Scott Weatherford at his mill in Fruitvale where the family-owned business is a foundation of the regional forest industry. Weatherford is the new chair of the Selkirk College Board of Governors.
Appointed by the Provincial Government, members of the Selkirk College Board of Governors play a vital role in their responsibility as trustees of the public interest. Joining elected students and staff, the eight external board members arrive to their post from various sectors in local communities and help guide the college through policy, approval of budgets, strategic foresight, monitoring of performance of key areas and outreach.
As he settled into his role in 2020, Weatherford’s commitment has been key in helping Selkirk College fulfill its important role of supporting regional recovery efforts, rapid upskilling of the workforce and regenerating the local economy.
“It accentuates the importance of a lot of our programs. We need good, smart people with great critical thinking skills to help us figure out this world going forward that has become so much more complex and difficult,” Weatherford said. “To me it’s not a question of survival for Selkirk College, it’s how we find the opportunities and figure out ways to offer the model of post-secondary education that fits. There will be a lot of change, those organizations that can recognize that change and quickly adapt will do well.”
Read more about Scott Weatherford and the role the Selkirk College Board of Governors plays here.
Making Safety Happen: Donna Sterne
When classes at Selkirk College were adjourned in mid-March, those on the frontlines charged with maintaining the physical operation of campuses across the region took no pause. The custodial and maintenance team spent months transforming campuses and cultivating cleanliness to ensure operations are possible in an adjusted educational landscape.
Donna Sterne has worked at Selkirk College for three decades. A custodian at the Castlegar Campus, she has witnessed the bustle of generations of learners following their educational pathways towards success. What has taken place in 2020 will easily go down as the most challenging she has worked.
“This year we haven’t had many students working here at night when I am doing the daily cleaning… which is sad,” she says. “Custodians have been here through the whole situation, at times it has felt like a ghost town.”
During the quiet months of the spring and early summer, custodial staff were redeployed to work outside with the grounds crew and helped provide a deep cleaning of student housing facilities on both the Castlegar Campus and Tenth Street Campus in Nelson. The flexibility helped the college manage the preparation required to create safe campuses.
After helping adapt the Castlegar Campus to allow for limited in-person delivery of programs and services, Sterne now takes on additional tasks of providing frequent attention to common touch points and heightened cleaning where necessary. Though looking forward to the time when the buzz of more normal times return to campus, Sterne is proud of the work that has been undertaken over the last few months.
“It’s nice to know that everybody on our entire team is doing their job to keep everybody safe and that makes me feel more at ease too,” Sterne says. “It’s a safe place to be. We have taken all kinds of precautions to make sure that both students and staff feel comfortable to be on campus when they have to be here.”
Read more about the Donna Sterne and the great work by the Facilities team here.
Building Knowledge of the Streets: Jordan Sherstobitoff and Amanda Sigurdson
Tasked with gathering the voices of the voiceless, Nursing Program students Jordan Sherstobitoff and Amanda Sigurdson played a vital role in a research project exploring rural homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In late-summer, the pair conducted more than 70 interviews with people experiencing homelessness to bring first-person accounts to the larger Rural Homelessness and COVID-19 project, one of several research projects currently being conducted at Selkirk College that support regional resilience and community development.
“The homeless population has great ideas and these people are the experts in what is happening,” said Sherstobitoff, now in her final year of studies. “We need to talk to them to see what kinds of services they need during a pandemic. There are gaps in services in our communities, which is a huge problem. COVID really brought out the inequalities and where we need extra supports.”
Selkirk College Nursing Program fourth-year students Amanda Sigurdson (left) and Jordan Sherstobitoff (right) were part of a research team that surveyed homeless populations in Nelson, Castlegar and Trail. The pair are seen here at the Nelson Civic Centre outdoor homeless camp this past summer.
Working in the streets and encampments of Nelson, Trail and Castlegar, the student nurses had more conversations with people experiencing homelessness in a day than most people have in a lifetime. Building off the knowledge acquired through the summer survey internship and the continued education she is acquiring, the 23-year-old Sherstobitoff is more committed than ever to work in the field of mental health.
“Many of these individuals don’t really care about the pandemic anymore, they have way bigger things to worry about than dying from COVID,” she said. “They are worried about dying from the opioid crisis, they are worried about freezing to death, they are worried about not getting their next meal… that’s what is on the mind of people living with homelessness.”
Read more about the Jordan Sherstobitoff and Amanda Sigurdson’s role in the project here.
Full Appreciation for Chance to Learn: Candace Ferguson
While adhering to the Provincial Health Officer’s COVID-19 pandemic guidelines for safe learning, studio programs on Nelson’s Victoria Street Campus opened the Fall Semester in September for in-person training.
Arriving to the West Kootenay from the Lower Mainland to take the 10-month Ceramics Studio Program, Candace Ferguson expressed gratitude for the opportunity to focus on learning during a time when distractions are everywhere.
Selkirk College Ceramics Studio Program students Caroline Payne (left) and Candace Ferguson (right) are thankful for the opportunity to attend in-person classes at Nelson’s Victoria Street Campus where they are part of an ten-person cohort making their way through the 10-month program.
“Creativity at this time is super important,” said Ferguson. “Nobody wants to be in this situation, but allowing creative people to do creative things… it actually gives life to others who enjoy the final outcome and it brings hope. It’s beauty in a place of brokenness.”
Instead of dwelling on what is going wrong, students like Ferguson are intent on directing their energy towards what is going right.
“Everyone is on the same page to make sure we are safe,” Ferguson said. “There are official protocols in place and there is an expectation that we all follow. We are accountable and doing what we can so that we stay here and get to learn. It’s amazing that I get to be here and work at bettering my craft.”
Read more about Candace Ferguson and the Victoria Street Campus here.
K-Moms Step Up for New Arrivals: Yujin Choi
Knowing the feeling of being a long way from home, a group of South Korean moms who attend Selkirk College reached out with kindness to the cohort of international students that arrived to the West Kootenay in during a most unusual summer.
Following strict COVID-19 quarantine protocols, 50 incoming students arrived in late-August and early-September from several countries to begin their Canadian post-secondary journey. To help get the new students through the quarantine period, a group calling themselves “We Care K-Moms” shopped and delivered food to different locations to help ensure a soft landing during a challenging time.
The We Care K-Moms have been working to ensure incoming international students have a soft landing in their new learning environment. The volunteer group of Selkirk College students includes: (L-R) Yeonmi Lee, Yujin Choi, Eunyoung Ha, Hyejin Lee, Soyun Lee, Seonah Jung, Hyeouju Yang, Mira Jeon, Jeonghee Lee and Wanhee Choi.
“We are people from different backgrounds and different education, however there is one thing that we have in common and that’s that we enjoy the voluntary service in Korea,” said Yujin Choi. “We are new to the area, but we want to serve too. Shopping for the quarantine students directly helps the safety of the community, we gladly accepted this work.”
The We Care K-Moms group consists of 10 students who are studying on the Castlegar Campus in a variety of different programs that include the English Language Program, Education Assistant & Community Support Worker Program, Post Graduate Diploma in Accounting Program and the Early Childhood Care & Education Program. All 10 women have children who are attending public school in the Castlegar area.
The food delivery is just the start for the We Care K-Moms who plan to continue their volunteer work in the greater community.
“It makes us happy to help other people, volunteering and giving our time is very important because want to be contributing members of this community,” said Choi. “We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to provide service to the community. We believe that our actions will be reflected in our children and this cycle will make the world more beautiful.”
Read more about the We Care K-Moms here.
Though forced to stay a safe distance apart, in so many ways we are closer than ever. Each of us experienced 2020 in our own way, but fought a common enemy and took strength from others along the way. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are inescapable, so it’s vital to rise above knowing that we will emerge stronger and more united than ever.