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UBC Reports | Vol. 51 | No. 8 | Aug. 4, 2005

UBC Okanagan: Planning a Community of Excellence

By Bud Mortenson

UBC Okanagan’s bold new academic plan emphasizes “excellence at all times and in all things” and makes integrated research, interdisciplinary learning, and fun (yes, fun) very intentional parts of a distinctive UBC Okanagan experience.

Moura Quayle, seconded from UBC in June to serve as B.C.’s new Deputy Minister of Advanced Education, was at the helm of the UBC Okanagan academic planning process. “One of the hallmarks of UBC -- all of UBC -- is the idea of excellence,” says Quayle. “We spent a lot of time thinking about what excellence means at UBC Okanagan.”

As deputy minister, Quayle has had to step away from the project and her former role as Dean of UBC’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems. However, she remains an enthusiastic supporter of the plan she helped prepare, and the consultative process behind it.

“I like to think one of the successes of this plan is it really did try to step up and look at the big picture,” she says.

That scope is evident in the plan’s long list of priority action items, calling for the creation of a campus life council, a community engagement office, a global citizenship implementation task force, and a common undergraduate experience. Other initiatives will cover graduate student assistance, research services, sustainability and equity issues, and much more.

UBC Okanagan Deputy Vice-Chancellor Barry McBride says he is impressed by the quality of the work and the speed with which the plan was prepared.

“Staff, faculty and students rallied and put together an imaginative, creative plan in record time,” McBride says.
The plan, now ready for UBC Okanagan Senate consideration in November, began to take shape in spring 2004 when McBride and Quayle went on the road to consult with community groups throughout B.C.’s southern interior.

Community roundtable meetings and more than 50 “university circle” meetings were held with students, faculty and staff of the former Okanagan University College (its North Kelowna site became the UBC Okanagan campus on July 1). The meetings helped an Academic Plan Working Group gather ideas that were explored in a series of mini-projects, many summarized in the final plan.

The result is a comprehensive document that goes beyond traditional academics by calling for a rich campus life with many social and cultural connections that will become central to the UBC Okanagan experience.

The plan is aimed squarely at achieving excellence, building global citizenship and supporting the vision of UBC’s Trek 2010 strategic plan. It’s built on four imperative statements calling for:

  • An intimate learning community
  • An integrated research community
  • A locally responsive, globally conscious community
  • A flexible, adaptable and sustainable community

“What excites me about the plan is the way the imperatives all connect to one another,” Quayle notes.

The campus is described as small and light on its feet, attributes Quayle says create the intimate learning environment called for in the plan.

“Students will have direct contact with professors and high-quality research at UBC Okanagan. It’s a relationship that’s harder to come by at a larger university,” she says.

“Creating an intimate learning environment is also about the relationship students have with each other and breaking down large classes with the idea of engaging students in their own learning processes.

“A campus that is light on its feet allows us to experiment -- if someone asks, ‘what if we tried to do this particular cross-disciplinary class this year?’ We can give it a try.” Many universities could take this approach, but with a smaller campus and a great deal of integration, “it’s just easier to make it happen,” says Quayle.

McBride is confident the plan will make UBC Okanagan a campus full of creativity and innovation, providing an environment where students have an opportunity to build programs on an interdisciplinary basis. Take, for example, the new Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, where students will be encouraged to study across traditional subject boundaries.

Then there’s the fun factor. The plan highlights fun as an important, not frivolous, component of the university experience.

“University life also includes more than just academic rigor,” the plan states. “For most young students, it marks a period of emancipation, liberation, exhilaration and, it has to be said, fun. We ought not rely on that happening by accident -- for students, faculty or staff.”

Fun, in the UBC Okanagan context, “is a feeling of excitement about the learning environment you’re in,” says McBride. “You can be serious and have fun.”

To view the UBC Okanagan Academic Plan, go to www.ubc.ca/okanagan and select Academic Planning Process in the QuickFind section.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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