May 28th, 2024

A year of returns for Lethbridge College

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on January 6, 2022.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman Lethbridge College president Paula Burns reflects on a year filled with challenges that also brought many accomplishments, as she looks forward to 2022.


For Lethbridge College 2021 was a year of return.
The return of students to campus and a return to some normalcy, while continuing to keep their community safe and healthy, according to college president Paula Burns.
Burns said that one of the highlights of 2021 was having their first valedictorian, Ashley Pierson, who graduated with Honours with Great Distinction from the Business Administration program with a GPA of 4.0.
She said that being able to hold their fall convocation in person was another highlight, where they were able to honour their second valedictorian Kyla Hornberger.
“I know that was a highlight for students, but also for staff. I think for all of us it was really important to see sort of that excitement and the reason why we’re all here,” said Burns.
Burns mentioned that the impact made by international students was not as big as they thought it would be, as they were able to retain some that were already enrolled and gain new international students with some able to arrive while others started their studies abroad.
She added that having an open house in person and the Christmas market fair with vendors, was another highlight as the energy started to return to campus.
“The campus life part and the culture of our campus, and be able to come back I think it is a huge highlight,” said Burns.
Burns wanted to note that they never stopped doing the things they normally do. Even though they were not fully on campus, a lot of their activities continued.
Burns also highlighted the fact that they were able to launch their Bachelor of Agriculture Science degree and the Bachelor in Ecosystem Management degree. Both are for students that are transitioning from a diploma to a degree.
“It’s really a continuation of studies and very focused in our local market,” said Burns.
The college introduced two new micro-credentials in 2021, one in solar panels and the other in aquaponics. Burns said that they have been involved in research in both of those areas.
“Being able to create that micro credential that offers sort of that job skilling part for the economy, we think is really important,” said Burns.
She added that one of their biggest successes continues to be their applied research area, particularly in the agriculture, and they received a Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant worth $1.3 million to go towards their post harvest production. They also developed a partnership with Sunterra farms to continue their work in irrigation. This included funding from the Regional Development Network.
“Our agriculture applied research area focuses in a lot of different areas that are very key to southern Alberta, but key to Canada and really the whole sort of agrifood business, which I think Alberta is really trying to expand and we’re a big part of that solution,” said Burns.
She said that overall their applied research area ranked 26 in the top 50 of Canada colleges and institutes, and they are the third fastest growing.
“I think that says a lot. Watch for the future, I think our ranking will go up even in this next year,” said Burns.
Even though the college is very focused on agriculture, they also focus on virtual reality and some of the spatial technologies, and have received additional grant funding in those areas as well.
Burns said they developed four foundational value programs this past year. One of them is Indigenization and partnership with the Indigenous community to make sure the college is a welcoming place.
“We’re an active participant in truth and reconciliation, so the education of our employees and our students, and showing that we are part of the solution in that we are responding to those calls to action,” said Burns.
She said in March they launched the Niitsitapi strategy, which was the culmination of more than a year’s worth of work in consultation with their Indigenous communities as well as their internal community.
“Our strategy talks about some of the things that we do on a regular basis and some of the things that we need to do, which would include putting more emphasis in curriculum on those knowing, being, doing Indigenous ways,” said Burns.
The second foundational program they are focusing on is Equity Diversity and Inclusion. The college is part of a large study called the Dimensions project and they received $400,000 in grant funding.
“We hired an EDI strategy coordinator, to see where we are as a college and what are some of the systemic barriers that we need to break down to be even more inclusive,” said Burns.
She said that Michelle Ní Dochartaigh-Derbich, the new EDI strategist, has been working really hard with the leadership team, board and community to create a safe environment for everyone on campus.
The third foundational program they are focusing on is health and wellness strategy, for which they had a soft launch in May.
“What I think is unique for us is that we recognize health and wellness is the strength of our institution. If our people are healthy and strong, then we are able to accomplish all the other things,” said Burns.
She said they developed this strategy with employee and students together, so rather than having a health and wellness strategy for students and another for employees, they merged them together.
The fourth foundational program they are focusing on is sustainability. Burns said that sustainability is something they have had conversations about, but have not developed a strategy for. But they are developing a sustainability committee with internal and external people which will be launched in early 2022.
“The focus of that committee will be first of all to assess what do we have going on that is related to sustainability, where do we want to be in terms of the sustainable goals that Canada has identified that are part of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals,” said Burns.
Burns said that for 2022 they are looking forward to finishing the academic year with everyone on campus.
“I would foresee that we’ll have more micro-credentials and maybe more certificates programs that we’ll be looking at launching, and then continuing to find ways to really support students as they transition into continuing different ways of working and learning,” said Burns.

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