Nova Scotia Community College
“Twenty-three thousand people come to us every year with a dream,” says Nova Scotia Community College president Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair. “Our work as a learning environment is to deliver on that dream and dock it up against the needs of industry.”
Ambitious? Yes. But then again, NSCC doesn’t seem to be easily daunted. The college serves a full-time student body of close to 10,000 with the rest of the students representing part-time, customized training, online and other learning configurations. Recently, NSCC completed the first phase of a major development project supported by a $123-million investment made by the provincial government in 2003.
“We’ve renovated all 13 campuses, we’ve gutted parts of the buildings, we’ve built new labs, built new learning centres – all to bring the community college up to the national standard and to surpass that national standard for community college education,” McArthur-Blair says.
A key project was the development of NSCC’s Waterfront Campus in Dartmouth, which had its official opening in November. Designed with the environment in mind – using about half the energy that a building its size normally would – the space is outfitted with leading-edge technology and graced with breath-taking views.
The venue also lends itself to the exchange of perspectives and talents. Doug Barnes is academic chair for the School of Applied Arts and New Media at the Waterfront Campus.
“Having so many applied arts programs in one place is just so exciting, because whether it’s music, photography, recording arts or radio and television arts, the synergies that are happening between the students are just incredible,” he says.
As an example, Barnes says when film production students needed background music for one of their projects they approached the music students who created original music which was captured by NSCC’s recording students.
“This is where their future network begins,” he says. “The building is beyond comprehension and it’s a great gift, but what’s really neat is the learning and the opportunity for students to connect with each other, connect with the faculty….They’re the people who are going to go out there and create the marketplace of the applied arts world in the future. Right here. I believe that.”
Preparing students for the marketplace and anticipating the needs of industry and the community is central to NSCC.
“Our mission says ‘building Nova Scotia’s economy and quality of life through education and innovation’ and we take that mission extraordinarily seriously,” McArthur-Blair says. “It’s not our mission to react, it’s not our mission to follow, our mission is to build and that places us at the centre of the possibility of innovation.”
Innovation is readily apparent in the second phase of NSCC’s development project which includes the construction of a Centre for the Built Environment on the Waterfront Campus. McArthur-Blair says the centre, scheduled to open in 2010, will be a “living curriculum building” that will serve the construction trades and develop graduates who “understand environmental stewardship.”
A NSCC media release says the centre will “maximize the use of alternative energy sources, such as solar and geothermal, wherever possible. Ecological highlights of NSCC’s Centre for the Built Environment include planted roof tops and “bio-walls” – structures that will support indigenous and exotic plant life.”
It was an interest in the environment that led second-year student Sanjeev Tagra to travel from Rajasthan, India to attend NSCC’s Environmental Engineering Technology – Water Resources program. He appreciates the college’s blend of theoretical knowledge and hands-on training.
“The best thing about NSCC is they prepare you for the job,” Tagra says. “They treat you as if you were on the job and coping with the circumstances there.”
Tagra’s remarks are borne out by statistics provided by NSCC. They state that in 2007, the employment rate of NSCC graduates in the labour force was 90.4 per cent with 85.7 per cent of employed graduates engaged in work related to their studies. As of 2007, 93 per cent of employed graduates live and work in the province.
Ten thousand NSCC students, faculty and staff experienced a unique hands-on learning opportunity on Oct. 17, 2007, when they participated in Reach Out to Nova Scotia. Developed as a way to thank the community for its support of NSCC, the initiative saw college volunteers take on more than 300 community projects throughout the province – from painting to renovating.
To pull together an event of such a magnitude demanded resourcefulness, an important quality at NSCC. McArthur-Blair says resourcefulness involves adopting a mindset where the answer is yes rather than no.
Resourcefulness will be called upon as NSCC pursues “education without boundaries.” It’s a vision which includes looking at how educational experiences can fit together versus being fragmented, examining education delivery and changing the perception that education is part of one’s pre-work life versus being integrated into a lifetime of learning.
McArthur-Blair calls education “one of the economic pillars of this province,” and sees Nova Scotia’s 11 universities and the community college system as complementary. “I think for me what makes Nova Scotia a powerful place from an educational point of view is that we have different slices of education at different institutions being done extraordinarily well.”
In addition, McArthur-Blair says there is “a quality of appreciation for success in Nova Scotia. I believe that quality enables people to succeed and as a result I think we have tremendous things before us as a province.”
And at NSCC, where McArthur-Blair describes the workplace spirit in this way: “I have never worked in a place with people who are more committed to what they do, believe so profoundly in what they do, are altruistic with their time and energy in terms of making sure that learning is what it needs to be. We have inside the organization a culture of focusing on what matters and what matters is meeting those 23,000 dreams a year.”