Accepting the challenge of complex problem solving through an intimate community partnership approach has propelled Selkirk College onto the national research and innovation stage.
A fundamental commitment in the college’s Strategic Plan 2019-2024, Selkirk Innovates has grown exponentially over the last four years. With an annual operating budget that has increased from $1 million in 2016 to $3.9 million today, more than 100 faculty and students have worked on 97 different research and innovation projects in the last year. Selkirk College is ranked 39th on “Canada’s Top 50 Research Colleges” list and is second only to the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in the province.
Some of the Selkirk Innovates team outside the Applied Research & Innovation Centre that is located at the Castlegar Airport. With a budget of $3.9 million, over the last year Selkirk Innovates worked on 97 different projects that employed 106 faculty members and student research interns.
“It’s exciting to be around the talent that we have at Selkirk College amongst both students and faculty,” says Dr. Terri MacDonald, the Director of Applied Research & Innovation. “When you compare across the sector and the country, there are not too many teams in rural settings like ours that have been able to build capacity and collaboration to the level we have achieved. It’s an incredible group of people doing amazing work where they are leading change in our communities by solving problems and creating valuable learning experiences. This is what our success is built upon.”
A significant milestone in Selkirk College’s applied research and innovation journey took place in 2006 with the creation of the provincially-funded BC Regional Innovation Chair in Rural Economic Development. With a goal of developing the capacity in the region for sound decision making in matters related to economic development and assisting in the diversification of the regional economy through the promotion of research and innovation, it provided vital building blocks in what has become a key component to what Selkirk College offers both students and the community.
MacDonald arrived to the role of BC Regional Innovation Chair in Rural Economic Development in 2011 and with enthusiastic support from Selkirk College leadership, has helped grow the college’s research and innovation component to the current levels. Now under the umbrella of Selkirk Innovates, the work includes projects being undertaken by the Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute (RDI), Selkirk Geospatial Research Centre (SGRC), the Applied Research & Innovation Centre (ARIC), the BC Regional Innovation Chair (RIC), and the Selkirk Technology Access Centre (STAC).
With a collaborative energy, the Selkirk Innovates team works to solve an eclectic mix of challenging real-world problems presented by government, industry, the non-profit sector, small business and entrepreneurs. The diverse scope of projects includes areas of climate change adaptation, helping small business develop new products, incorporating the latest technology into the forest sector, local government studies on rural homelessness and COVID-19 economic recovery plans.
“We are critical to the competitiveness of the companies in the region, and the resiliency of local government and economic development agencies that are trying to ensure that we as a region not only survive but thrive,” MacDonald says.
It All Points Back to the Learner
Though making important inroads on a national level is an indicator of overall success, the focus of Selkirk Innovates remains on the learner. Along with those directly involved in paid research internships, students in a variety of Selkirk College programs are exposed to highly specialized technology and expertise. Students in the School of Business, School of Environment & Geomatics, School of University Arts & Sciences, School of Health & Human Services, and the School of the Arts are all benefitting from the ongoing research, new equipment and continual knowledge enhancement for instructors.
Members of the Selkirk Technology Access Centre (STAC) team based out of Trail. The arm of Selkirk Innovates provides leading-edge problem solving for small and medium sized businesses, community organizations and local government.
“It’s about taking the challenges in our region and connecting it to learning,” says MacDonald. “What helps to make us leaders amongst our peers in the sector is that we are making the critical connection between applied research and learning. Our students are a part of everything that we are doing, that’s why we are doing it. It’s not about just serving the community externally, it’s about that sweet spot where we are doing both purposely with the learners right at the centre.”
Having established Selkirk Innovates as a post-secondary leader, growth is expected to continue with both students and faculty acquiring in-demand knowledge and skills, which results in them bringing their exceptional abilities into the community. Work integrated learning allows graduates of Selkirk College to transition into positions that are sought after in a multitude of sectors.
“Employers are excited to scoop up our graduates because they have the latest in technological know-how and the latest in thinking,” says MacDonald. “The essential complex skills of the future like problem solving, collaboration, innovation, entrepreneurship… how do you teach that? The best way is to throw learners into the fire of a complex real-world challenge and get them working on projects while you coach them along the way. That’s the ultimate, that’s what we are doing and that is why our graduates are so desirable. We are preparing the next generation workforce while helping our partners in a cross-section of ways.”