The establishment of a new UBC satellite campus in Kelowna in 2004 was a post-secondary transition that left many wondering where Okanagan College (OC) would fit in.
When it came to the future of OC, it was a bit of an unknown. But over the next two decades, OC would transition into a place where students of all ages could get training to get them into the workforce.
“Many people welcome the change with the addition of UBCO and many feared what would transpire next for Okanagan College,” said Allan Coyle. “But I think a lot of those fears have been put to rest in the years since.”
Having joined the college as director of public affairs in 1991 until his retirement in 2021, Coyle had a front-row seat to that evolution, seeing how OC forged its own identity outside the shadow of UBCO and further integrate its brand to the grassroots of the communities it served.
Coyle said both institutions had different mandates, UBCO giving greater focus to research while OC was what he called more practical, focused on delivering education, skills and training to communities in areas where a need was identified.
“Part of that sea of change was also the perception of how the Okanagan College campuses would operate,” Coyle recalled.
“If OUC at that time was a wheel, the Kelowna campus was the hub, but that changed to realize all four campuses in Vernon, Salmon Arm, Penticton and Kelowna were of equal value.
That does not mean in terms of size or program delivery, but each of them leaned into their communities to what was needed, to pay close attention and to reestablish relationships with their communities and especially employers.”
Coyle said a trades shortage in the 2000s enabled the college to significantly grow its vocational program, while campus communities responded with support for college initiatives which in turn the province responded to with capital or program funding.
“When you build those sorts of relationships, and invest in our belief in our employees, our alumni and our students…you are off to the races,” he said.
While the relationship between Kelowna and OC had deep ties, Coyle said a visit by President Jim Hamilton and the regional dean to Salmon Arm council, reinforced how those same ties were also reflected in other campus communities.
“Every single person on that Salmon Arm council that day talked about their personal connections to OC, how proud they were to be alumni of the college, and it made us realize how we could capitalize on that going forward.”
Coyle also extended an acknowledgement to Hamilton, who was willing to champion the college to whoever and wherever people would listen.
“He was instrumental in raising our profile in ways that many people in that position might not be comfortable doing…He was carrying the torch, not just as an institution in transition, but also as to what it is we want to be,” he said.
The former director also saw the value and need for the Okanagan College Foundation to play a larger fundraising role for the institution, raising its profile from beyond largely just moral support to financial support as well.
“The foundation gave us another opportunity to connect with the community,” he said, today serving as a catalyst for fundraising initiatives to expand post-secondary program services such as in trades and health care.
Today, Coyle said when he drives by any of the Okanagan College campuses he can’t help but feel positive about that sea of change that began to sweep over the college in the past two decades.
“These are things we talked about years ago and to see those things pushing forward and continue under the new administrative team is really satisfying to see.”