Douglas 360°

2023 Student Leadership Awards winners announced

Last night, the Student Leadership Awards ceremony honoured this year’s winners and nominees. The awards are given to students, faculty and staff who have shown themselves to be leaders through their outstanding contributions to the College. 150+ guests attended to show their support. 

Congratulations to all the winners and nominees of the 2023 Student Leadership Awards. 

Student Leader Award 

Axel Bernoe, Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing – WINNER 

Axel is one of those people who genuinely loves socializing and being involved in building community. Whenever I see him in the concourse or watch him host an event, I observe his friendly, approachable attitude and the ease with which he interacts with his fellow students and attracts them to the activity he’s overseeing.

He is confident and comfortable speaking with fellow students, and I am always in awe when I see how well students respond to him. 

  • Jayden Haywood, nominator 

Bailey Cove, Bachelor of Physical Education and Coaching – WINNER 

Bailey has put more effort and time into engaging the student community than any student I have known in my five years at Douglas College. She truly cares about her peers and consistently strives to create positive opportunities on and off campus.

As the president of the Sport Science Student Council, Bailey has taken to the leadership role beautifully, overhauling some existing structures and working to ensure the council is doing whatever it can to offer support, opportunities and engagement to our students. 

  • Shawn Hetherington, nominator 

Jenny Bui, Bachelor of Business Administration in Management – WINNER 

One of Jenny’s strengths is connecting with all types of people. She makes them feel welcomed and at ease. Many of the volunteers who have joined the Career Centre Volunteer program talk about the close-knit community the program provides them. This would not be possible without Jenny’s infectious personality, which contributes to the uplifting and inspiring space. She asks great questions to clarify what you want and actively seeks feedback on ways to improve. 

  • Lilian Truong, nominator 

Martha Alejandra Espinoza Munoz, Diploma in Marketing – WINNER 

Martha has great leadership and social skills. She is able to encourage people to achieve goals with great passion and enthusiasm. She is always friendly and polite, but professional and cautious too. 

I have never met someone more empathetic, caring, supportive and kind. It is people like Martha who make the way for the rest of us to enjoy a peaceful, functioning, and happy world.  

Most of her work is purely altruistic; she has never received payment or compensation for her service to the College and the community, all while working, studying and raising two children alone as her husband is far away due to work. 

  • Antonio Alejandro Hoyos Espinoza, nominator 

NOMINEES for Student Leader Award 

Congratulations to all the students who were nominated for the Student Leader Award. 

  • Aamish Arora 
  • Aryan Dhamankar 
  • Daniel Villasenor 
  • Danna Domasig 
  • Denise Smadello 
  • Emmaline Ruby Damon 
  • Gabriel Santos 
  • Gurjot Singh Bawa 
  • Himadri Joshi 
  • Jasper Brodie 
  • Maya Moalla 
  • Mort Zowghinia 
  • Myat Noe Pwint 
  • Myungsan Yun 
  • Oommen George 
  • Taydra TenBroek 
  • Nat Gingerich 

Up and Coming Student Leader of the Year Award 

Ava Ferenc, Associate of Arts in Environmental Studies – WINNER 

Ava is a dedicated student who has made a positive impact on the College community through her role as a Coquitlam Campus Representative for the Douglas Students’ Union.

While maintaining a high GPA and a notable presence on campus, Ava takes initiative in her work to always make students and community members feel welcome, safe and comfortable within College spaces. 

  • Andew Dalton, nominator 

Jasper Brodie, Associate of Arts in Gender, Sexualities and Women’s Studies – WINNER 

Jasper has been a stand-out Student Assistant with Indigenous Student Services. Jasper has shown an ability and desire to go above and beyond to increase student engagement through planning, organizing and running biweekly arts and crafts sessions in the Indigenous resource centre. 

  • Nova Macleod, nominator 

NOMINEES for Up and Coming Student Leader of the Year Award 

Congratulations to all the students who were nominated for the Up and Coming Student Leader of the Year Award. 

  • Amari (Mariana), Barillas Flores -Calderon 
  • Aryan Dhamankar 
  • Benjamin Li 
  • David Marin Mejia 
  • Jackkson Newton 
  • Jenny Bui 
  • Sam Lima 
  • Shrishty Jain 
  • Shivani Prakash Ithawar 

Outstanding Contribution to Student Engagement by College Staff or Faculty Member Award 

Irene Chan, Facilitator, Accessibility Services – WINNER 

Without Irene’s outstanding dedication and professionalism, I would not have been able to provide my students with anything remotely close to the learning experience that they have in my courses. On many occasions, Irene has supported me without any hesitation whatsoever with all sorts of new requests regarding the exams for my Computer Programming and Game Development courses. Irene is immensely respected by anyone who has had the pleasure of working with her. 

  • Shahriar Khosravi, nominator 

Padmapriya Arasanipalai Kandhadai, Instructor, Computing Studies and Information Systems – WINNER 

Padmapriya believes each student has potential and she gives a letter of reference to ensure students achieve their career goals. She provides a safe and inclusive environment for everyone in the class to share their thoughts and questions.  

I really appreciate the way Padmapriya motivates each and every student. 

It’s clear she loves to teach. She offers deep connections to her students. It gives her great inspiration to see her students achieving their dreams. 

  • Jain Shrishty, nominator 

NOMINEES for Outstanding Contribution to Student Engagement by College Staff or Faculty Member Award 

Congratulations to all who were nominated for the Outstanding Contribution to Student Engagement by College Staff or Faculty Member Award. 

  • Caleb Cheek 
  • Eugene Dy 
  • Pauline Low 
  • Saeed Mirjalili 
  • Shahriar Khosravi 
  • Will Gunton 

Global Citizenship Dean’s Award 

Derek Graham, Applied Community Studies – WINNER 

Ignacio Yanez, Commerce and Business Administration – WINNER 

Neda Azimi, Humanities and Social Sciences – WINNER 

Phyllis Leung, Health Sciences – WINNER 

Milica Savic, Language, Literature and Performing Arts – WINNER 

Sandra Chiorean, Science and Technology – WINNER 

Learn more about the Student Leadership Awards on our website. 

The complicated history of Paldi, B.C.’s earliest multicultural community 

By Fenn Stewart and Jastej Luddu

In 1917, Punjabi Sikh immigrants founded Paldi, a logging community in the old-growth forests of Vancouver Island, seated on unceded Cowichan territory near Duncan, B.C. For the next 50 years (until the nearby forests were logged out) Paldi was home to a diverse community of Sikh, Chinese, Japanese and white workers and their families. This community practised a range of religions and cultural traditions. It included an elementary school and a gurdwara, or Sikh temple. Each year, the residents of Paldi held a large celebration, or jor mela, on July 1. 

As researchers of Canada’s history of colonialism and anti-colonialism, when we learned of Paldi two years ago, we were obsessed. We had never heard of an early Canadian resource-extraction community founded, and led, by people of colour.  

Moreover, we were struck by how so many former Paldi residents – and their descendants – have described it as a kind of multicultural utopia. In fact, Paldi is often called a microcosm or blueprint for Canadian multiculturalism — an early example of national diversity.  

For the past two years, supported by a Douglas College Research and Innovation Grant, we’ve been researching Paldi’s history, as well as representations of the community. We’ve been looking into the accuracy of Paldi’s reputation, and investigating how the real story of this community might enrich our understanding of early B.C. history. 

The history of Paldi 

Photo credit: Cowichan Valley Museum Archives, 2014.

Paldi’s founders were Punjabi men who had previously worked in white-owned mills in the Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley. These men and their families endured systemic racism on several counts. Paid less than their white counterparts, they faced racial harassment from government officials and business owners. The men couldn’t vote. And for years, their loved ones couldn’t join them because B.C. barred the immigration of women and children from India. 

At the time, Canadian political leaders were frank about their desire to exclude Indian (and other Asian) immigrants. For example, B.C. Premier Sir Richard McBride insisted that Canada was a “white man’s country.” Vancouver’s Conservative M.P. Henry Herbert Stevens claimed that Canada would be “swamped with Orientals” if Asian immigration was allowed. (Atkinson 2016)

Under these conditions, dozens of Punjabi Sikhs decided to start their own mill rather than keep working for less pay. This was where Paldi began. In fact, the community was founded just three years after the 376 Punjabi passengers from the Komagata Maru were prevented from landing in Vancouver by police and immigration officials.  

In contrast, Paldi was a place where Chinese, Japanese, Punjabi and white kids grew up together. This was long before this became common in (some) other parts of the country. The photos of Paldi schoolkids are in black and white, and the kids in the pictures are wearing old-fashioned clothes. Even so, they remind us of our own years in school in Vancouver and Surrey, nearly a century later. 

The limits of Paldi’s diversity 

Photo credit: Cowichan Valley Museum Archives, 2007.02.2.18

Since we began this project, we’ve travelled to Paldi several times. We’ve interviewed local residents and made visits to archives on Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland. We’ve worked with student researchers – Kyrstyn Llagas, Kudratdeep Kaur and Daksh Shokeen – to compile online material in English and Punjabi.  

We’re still impressed with what Paldi’s residents accomplished in creating a diverse community in early 20th-century B.C. But we’ve also learned that its story is more complicated and less comfortable than the one often told in public. 

Despite the glowing descriptions of Paldi’s multicultural community, with its supposed absence of racism, we have found almost no references to Indigenous people in or around Paldi. We’ve found no mention of the local First Nations communities whose lands it was built on, and whose forests the residents were busy clear-cut logging.  

What does it mean to celebrate Paldi without acknowledging how its diverse workforce also contributed to the project of settler colonialism? How might a more honest portrayal of Paldi’s history honour its residents’ achievements while making space for the fact that these struggles took place on lands that the Cowichan peoples are still fighting to reclaim? 

We’re also uncomfortable with the way much media coverage of Paldi has avoided acknowledging B.C.’s history of systemic, legalized racism. As other researchers have argued, popular celebrations of multiculturalism in Canada often gloss over the many forms of racism and colonialism that have continued in the years since 1971, when the federal multiculturalism policy was introduced.  

According to scholars such as Himani Bannerji, Richard Day and Sunera Thobani, Canadian multiculturalism policy, and popular understandings of it, generally contain difference, “exalt” the white settler nation (Thobani), and limit more radical efforts toward racial justice and anti-colonialism.  

Looking to the future  

Photo credit: Cowichan Valley Museum Archives, 1997.02.7.5

So, what does it mean to describe Paldi as “multicultural”? Do these media representations sacrifice the real story of Paldi to portray Canada as “multicultural” from its beginning? 

Our research confirms that life in Paldi did contrast starkly with the experiences of people of colour in nearby white settler communities. But depictions of Paldi must recognize that its relative safety did not emerge from government support for multiculturalism. Rather, Paldi existed despite barriers created by Canadian governments. Further, while the community differed from white-settler B.C. in a number of key ways, Paldi’s history also connects to the broader context of settler colonialism, in which resource extraction takes place on Indigenous lands without Indigenous consent. 

Over the next six months or so, we’ll continue writing up our findings. We hope to submit an article to the journal BC Studies by next summer. We’ll also be sharing our findings at this year’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences conference in Toronto.

This year, a new Canadian Heritage Minute dedicated to Paldi will be released. What version of the story of Paldi will it tell? 


Fenn Stewart is regular faculty in the English Department at Douglas College and occasional faculty at UBC. Jastej Luddu recently finished a Master’s in Social and Political Thought (York University). He is the Communications and Story Producer at 221a, a Vancouver-based arts and culture non-profit. Fenn and Jastej’s recent collaborations include an article in Briarpatch about Mewa Singh, a post on the Oecologies blog about decolonization and the end of the world and, with Afuwa, a forthcoming guest-edited special issue of The Capilano Review, focused on “bad feelings.” 

Disclaimer: This article is a guest submission from Douglas College faculty and colleagues. Opinions expressed in this article belong to the author(s) and should not be taken as statements made by Douglas College.

Douglas College launches Canada’s first Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management

Professionals in health information management (HIM) form the unseen spine of Canadian medicine and health care. Despite their necessity, there just aren’t enough trained HIM experts to fulfil the demands of our strained health care system. And while information managers in the field currently bring valuable skills to the table, many of them only hold one part of the puzzle. There’s been no one place in Canada to learn the complete mix of knowledge and skills and ground it in the health industry. 

That’s why Douglas College is leading on filling the gap with the new Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management (BSc-HIM). This program provides the practical skills and experience needed to step up to the plate – whether you’ve already got experience in the sector or your passion for HIM is newfound. 

“Introduce me to HIM” 

Health information management is a line of work that focuses on gathering, analyzing, securing and sharing health-related data. To accomplish this, HIM professionals leverage a unique cocktail of skills – data analysis, project management, IT know-how and much more. The information they collect and analyze helps guide critical health care decisions made across the industry. This includes everything from nurses triaging in the ER to health authority leaders signing off on the latest best practices. 

If you work in health information management, you’re part of a process that influences health care at every level. You’re showing leaders in government and health the facts that decide our hospitals’ policies and where we allocate tax dollars. You’re informing evolving best practices across hospitals while streamlining the flow of information needed by primary care teams. Most importantly, you’re helping patients get the fastest, most comprehensive care possible.  

According to Dr. Patricia Visosky, coordinator for the Health Information Management department at Douglas and Vice-Chair of the Canadian Health Information Management Association, there’s not one decision about health care in Canada that gets made without insights provided by the HIM industry. Those insights blossom from the individual level upward, patient by patient. 

“To build that essential body of information, there are things we need to know about every person seeking care. Their experience in treatment matters,” Dr. Visosky says. “But we miss chances to do better whenever we can’t capture that data or use it effectively.” 

Right now, we don’t have enough trained HIM experts in Canada to meet the demands of the modern healthcare system. That exacerbates many if not all of the hot-button issues in health right now. Think about unacceptable wait times, a lack of nurses and doctors, hamstrung communication between care providers and more. But more health information managers means more capacity to investigate the best ways to support our frontline health care workers.  

More than that, HIM professionals drive the innovations that lead to a simpler, less barrier-fraught experience for future patients. One major example is the way institutions transfer patient information, orders for medical tests, and more. There are historic cases where messages and requests have been missed, contributing to a real cost in human life. A famous Canadian example is the Greg Price case of 2012. A man lost his life to testicular cancer, partially because faxed referral documents and other information went missing in transit, delaying his diagnosis.  

Dr. Visosky says the technology already exists to ensure up-to-date e-health records are readily available to everyone who needs them, including the primary care team, pharmacists, mental health professionals and the patient themselves. However, a bigger population of HIM professionals are necessary to build these systems and implement them across Canada.  

“As soon as we hit ‘enter’ and a patient’s record is saved,” Dr. Visosky says, “whoever else needs it should be able to access it.” 

The Douglas difference 

The BSc–HIM at Douglas College is the first post-secondary program in Canada to train HIM professionals with the depth of a dedicated bachelor’s while also allowing for specializations through multiple pathways. You can choose to concentrate on information intelligence, operations management or the general stream.  

Uniquely, this program offers the chance to do two internships at regional health organizations. There’s also an 180-hour supervised practicum in the health, government or private sector. With this applied learning, you get the hands-on training and mentorship opportunities you need to graduate ready to work. 

With the demand for HIM-trained workers steadily rising, you’ll graduate on track to gain financial stability and further your career. That’s true whether you already work in health information management or are just starting out.  The degree prepares you to start a well-paid job right after you graduate, in hospitals, government, health authorities, or even research and academia. The median salary for B.C. health care managers, for example, is more than $95,000. And over 19,300 jobs in HIM, database analysis, health care management and/or health policy research are projected for B.C. alone in the next 10 years.  

Working in health information management empowers you to get patients in your communities and across the country closer to an ideal standard of care – one dataset at a time.  

Want to explore your options with the Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management? The first intake is September 2023. Interested applicants looking to complete pre-requisites for the degree can enrol in our newly launched Academic Foundations certificate program. Read more. 

A guiding voice: Youth Justice grad helps secure the futures of teens at risk

By Zach Siddiqui, Marketing and Communications

Kayla Gambler wanted an education that would help her better support Indigenous youth facing the same challenges she once did – living away from her community, and dealing with grief, trauma and substance use. She discovered the two-year Diploma in Youth Justice and hasn’t looked back.  

“I love learning how to help youth navigate the justice system,” Kayla says. “When you don’t understand the laws in place and you see how unfairly people are often treated, it can be overwhelming. I’m gaining the knowledge I need to, hopefully, change things for the youth I work with piece by piece.” 

The winding road to justice 

Before Kayla studied at Douglas, she was a support worker in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Through a recovery program run by a women’s resource organization, she helped women reduce their substance use while providing them with food, one-on-one support and harm reduction supplies.  

The work was fulfilling, but it was also psychologically challenging. After a while, Kayla felt she was no longer able to be the person this community needed. 

“There’s a lot that comes with that job,” Kayla says. “You’re seeing a lot of mental health struggles, addictions, trauma. The work burned me out. I realized I couldn’t give 100 percent to the women that I was supporting, not anymore.” 

Kayla took a step back, choosing to continue her relief work on a part-time basis, and refocus on her education. She hoped to both rejuvenate herself and to reorient her career trajectory to something new in the same field. Considering her options at Douglas led her to the Diploma in Youth Justice. It fit perfectly into what Kayla felt was her next calling: provide support to youth in need, especially Indigenous youth. 

“I wanted to work with youth. I wanted to work with high-risk youth. And I wanted to learn so much more about the external and underlying factors out there that shape their lives.” 

Making sure the kids are all right 

Acclimating to the Youth Justice program took Kayla some time. In her previous job, she was part of an Indigenous-led team working mainly with Indigenous women, a community she already felt deeply connected to. Leaving that behind to restart her studies made her feel uprooted. But she enjoyed the coursework and her cohort, and soon hit her stride. 

“For lots of people, going back to school means long lectures and huge class sizes,” Kayla says. “It’s hard to connect with people. But I felt lucky to have a very different experience with my Youth Justice cohort – all great people going through this program together in a tight-knit group. I couldn’t imagine starting my college career any other way.” 

The two-year Youth Justice Diploma features courses in behavioural theory, public policy, skill development and more. One of the program’s biggest attractions is the hands-on learning it offers through two practicums.  

In her first year, Kayla did a five-week placement with ACCESS Youth, a local youth outreach service doing work on the ground with high-risk youth throughout the Tri-Cities. Kayla’s team was regularly stationed in Coquitlam’s commercial district – a hotspot for local youth – sometimes working until as late as midnight. 

“We were there to keep them safe,” Kayla says. “If they were drawn into conflicts, then we connected with them and made sure they were OK. We were mediators between them and local businesses and mall security. We gave them resources: snacks, contraception, harm reduction supplies.” 

Kayla was hired at ACCESS full-time after her practicum. She became their first youth worker whose portfolio focused on Indigenous outreach.  

Rerouting the roots 

Kayla’s applied learning will serve her even further once she graduates this summer. Her diploma and work experience will open doors to careers working with children, youth and families in community support, crisis intervention, judicial administration and much more.  

But Kayla wants to take that to the next level by completing a Bachelor of Social Work. 

“When I started my diploma, I’d originally planned to graduate and focus on my career,” Kayla says. “That’s a great option to have. Personally, I found an interest in continuing my education to further build my skills, to have the opportunity to do even better for the youth I want to work with.” 

Kayla says her two years in Youth Justice have been rich with opportunities. She has a film project coming out, though the details are still hush-hush. She’s travelling this semester through the Indigenous Global Learning Program to the University of Hawai’i, where she will connect with local Indigenous communities.  

Right now, she’s waiting to hear back from the University of Victoria about her application to transfer into their social work program, a move that would mean huge changes. 

“I’ll have to figure out where I can work, and live, and set my roots. I’ll have to re-establish my life. But I’m so excited to take my experiences at Douglas, and everything I’ve learned here, and use that toward all my future achievements.” 

“Space, not place”: A Geography Open Lab tech opens up about the human side to geography

As a lab technician in one of Douglas College’s Geography Open Labs, Sasha Djakovic takes on a unique teaching role in the Department of Geography and the Environment. Geography students use the Open Labs to explore everything from weather to topography to ecological damage. Sasha guides these students through using the lab’s tools, many of which he personally curates, for their assignments. Between this, cultivating a welcoming social space in the lab, aand much more, Sasha acts as an all-round source of support to the department’s faculty. 

Since starting at Douglas, Sasha’s portfolio has branched off from the Open Lab – though his research feeds back into it. He guest lectures in and out of the Geography department about Indigenous land rights. Last summer, he travelled to the Lil’wat First Nation’s territory to help uncover all kinds of topological data, using the Lab’s resources to analyze it through the lens of traditional Lil’wat stories and knowledge. 

What does it mean to be a lab technician at Douglas? 

The job title is deceiving. My priority isn’t the lab, but the students using it. We have the equipment – computers, data, maps – they need to complete their lab assignments. On top of that, I’m there to assist. Generally, my job is to make sure everyone’s happy, the equipment’s working, and the space is safe and all-inclusive. 

How does the Geography Open Lab support students? 

Geography has many human aspects. So, I cultivate a lab culture where every student feels they can freely express their feelings about what they’re learning. Most likely, they’re not the only one in the room with thoughts. That leads us to having great conversations as a class. On top of that, it’s not just a place to work. I’ve made a lounge area here, so students have somewhere to chill and eat lunch if they want. “It’s a space, not a place” – we use that phrase a lot in geography. 

How do your guest lectures engage with Indigeneity? 

I’m a big advocate for Indigenous rights and title. I’ve been on the frontlines with activism, where I’ve learned a lot, and I have a background in mapping Indigenous territory. We live in a complex time and place here in B.C., on unceded territories. It makes for a lot of conflict and issues both inside and outside of First Nations. So, in my lectures, I like to showcase that and try to summarize who owns rights to what.  

Tell us about your work with the Lil’wat First Nation. 

In the summer, I travelled to the Lil’wat First Nation’s territory as part of an archaeological dig. Unbelievable things have emerged from that. For example, using the Geography department’s drone, I’ve acquired detailed imagery of the archaeological sites, like the depressions where pit houses and cache pits are. Of course, I’m sharing all the data with the Lil’wat First Nation. Anything I’m taking, including knowledge, from their territory is theirs.  

How will you translate this data to Geography labs? 

A related project I’ve been working on is a lab session that weaves traditional Indigenous ecological knowledge with Western-based science. I acquired a story from the Lil’wat First Nation, the Copper Canoe story once told by Charlie Mack, which describes how landscapes form and behave. In this story, there’s a mountain that crosses a river “at will,” at any time. Then the copper canoe sails through the river and tames it. After learning of it, I examined this mountain geographically, and it’s very prone to erosion. There are crazy avalanche tracks. And using the tech in the Open Lab, like our AR sandbox and Google Earth, you can put yourself in this valley, seeing how this mountain almost hangs over the river. You can prove that this mountain really can block the river at any time.   

How are students responding to this type of learning? 

It’s been great so far. The students are way ahead of their time, even ahead of us in the department, when it comes to Indigenous knowledge and understanding Indigenous rights and title. We had students directly involved in our work with the Lil’wat First Nation this summer, and then those who are working with this data in the Open Lab right now. Of course, doing this work in the classroom is delicate, because I don’t want to take or appropriate. I’m sure I’ve made mistakes – but that’s the process, as is doing the work to identify and fix them. 

What comes next for the Geography Open Lab? 

Geography is ever-flowing – I’m constantly coming up with new technology and labs to incorporate. Mainly, I want to continue strengthening our relationship with the Lil’wat First Nation. I want to keep collaboratively gathering this new data from their lands, and with their consent, bring more of this traditional ecological knowledge into our lab work.  

What is your advice for students interested in studying geography at Douglas? 

Geography is the science of everything. It finds a way to touch on every other subject. There’s a physical side, but people don’t realize there’s also that very different human side – though both involve a lot of crying. So you can go down a lot of different routes career-wise. I always suggest trying out two introductory geography courses, one more physically focused and one more humanities-based. That’ll tell you if it’s the right fit for you. 

Want to learn more about the Associate Degree in Geography and the Environment? Learn more at the Douglas College website.

This Child and Youth Care student overcame her shyness to help others succeed

By Elizabeth Douglas, Marketing and Communications

When Myat Noe Pwint started at Douglas, she had a hard time speaking in front of her classmates. But through her work as a Student Assistant for the Douglas College (DCI) Mentorship Program, the introverted Bachelor of Arts in Child and Youth Care student improved her leadership and public speaking skills. 

“Every semester, we would gather for training sessions, and I would have to speak in front of 50 to 60 mentors,” she says. “At first it was nerve-wracking, but I slowly got used to it, and now it’s much easier for me to speak in front of others.”  

As a Student Assistant, Myat uses her experience as an international student from Myanmar to guide new students through their first steps at Douglas. 

“Most international students really want to get involved with on-campus activities. Everything is new and exciting,” she says. “It’s nice to be able to help students, as well as run fun networking events for them.” 

These are leadership skills Myat will bring to her career in Child and Youth Care. She explains that working with young adults, like her international student mentees, has furthered her practical experience in communicating with youth transitioning to adulthood.

Advocating on campus

Earlier this year, Myat also became the Women Students’ Representative for the Douglas Students’ Union (DSU). In this role, she organizes initiatives through the Women Students’ Collective and advocates for its members. 

“I run monthly themed tea parties within the Women Students’ Collective to build a sense of community,” she says. “A recent theme was elimination of violence against women, where we made self-protection keychains and went through a self-defense workshop.” 

Although her volunteer positions are quite different, Myat has found ways to bridge the gap between the two. She routinely shares information about the DSU with her international student mentees, and in turn, she uses her position with the DSU to reach out to new international students about resources and opportunities available to them.  

“When I meet new international students, especially women of colour, they’re very willing to learn more about culture here in Canada while sharing and celebrating their own. I’m able to refer to the knowledge and resources I’ve gathered as a women’s representative and bring it back to these students.”

Looking to the future

After Myat graduates, she plans on becoming a child and youth worker and advocating for youth with immigrant backgrounds. She says she’s confident that the skills she has learned through her degree, as well as being a mentor and women’s representative, have provided her with the tools she needs to reach her career goals.  

“When I apply for jobs, I can tell employers I have experience working with 10 international students each semester. That process of connection with students is very similar to connecting with youth in my field,” she says.  

For Myat, getting involved on campus has become more than just a volunteer experience, and it’s something she’d recommend to anyone at Douglas – especially her fellow international students.  

“I would encourage anyone to volunteer. Get out there and be involved, because that’s what opens you up to different opportunities and interests that you might not have otherwise discovered.”  

Grounded in growth: Jeff Ross coaches women’s volleyball with a focus on the players’ future

Meet Jeff Ross, head coach of the Douglas College Royals women’s volleyball program. As a guide and mentor for student athletes, he views his biggest role as giving his players a great experience full of opportunities for personal growth.  

On Nov. 11, Jeff received the 2022 National Indigenous Coaching Award from the Coaching Association of Canada at the Petro-Canada Sport Leadership Awards Gala. Though Jeff considers himself an ambitious coach, he doesn’t do it for personal recognition. His top priority is always the athletes – and the young coaches he hopes to inspire to chase their dreams.  

How did you start coaching the Royals? 

In the summer of 2016, the Douglas position opened and I figured I would take the opportunity and apply. At that point in my coaching career, I had coached a lot with Thunder Volleyball Club and Team BC programming, and I was assisting with UBC Women’s Volleyball. So, I felt ready to take on a head coaching role. The attraction there, I think – for any coach who reaches that point in their career – is that chance to run your own program while seeking your personal growth as a coach. 

How intensive is your coaching style? 

I hold my athletes to a pretty high standard both on and off the court. I try to keep things relaxed and calm, but at the same time, they know my expectations. With that said, I cherish every day in the gym with the athletes – the practices, the match prep. It’s great to be able to create those relationships, help them as much as I possibly can and, hopefully, be a good role model. 

Coaching is about more than just overseeing practices, of course. What else do you do to support your team and their growth? 

In terms of the job tasks, there’s the long-term, behind-the-scenes pieces, like fundraising, organizing the tournaments or planning team trips. But while all these logistical pieces are important, our department thinks more about the bigger picture: How are we preparing these student athletes for life after our program? In everything we do, we work on equipping these young athletes with the tools to be successful long after they leave Douglas. That, to me, is the most important form of support we give. 

Have you faced any big barriers in keeping the Royals competitive? 

At the start of my career at Douglas, one big block was resources – specifically, the lack of them. U-Sport schools had access to a lot more resources than we did. But over the years, the athletic department has been tackling many of the challenges we’ve faced to create an experience that is on the same level as those top programs.  

What other challenges have you faced in your position? 

Speaking as an Indigenous coach, I see a lot of hurdles even today. It’s much tougher to get career opportunities or chances for professional development. That makes it hard for many Indigenous coaches to consider this a viable career. So on top of trying to be a role model to my players, I also try to be a good role model for young coaches, showing them that this is a realistic career path. I don’t want to call it “leading by example” – it’s more like we’re all putting in the work together, a joint effort to build something exceptional. 

Something I really want to do myself eventually is start an Indigenous coaching program. It would get more coaches involved from many communities across Canada and give them that doorway into this type of career. And I don’t know how that looks, or how it would look, but it’s been on my mind for a few months now, if not years.  

As a coach, how can you make a permanent difference for student athletes? 

I would hope that when the athletes move on from Douglas and the Royals, they leave with the tools – work ethic, time management, communication skills – they require to be successful five, 10, even 20 years down the road. Honestly, I want them to have the chance to inspire young athletes to chase their own dreams. 

What are the volleyball team’s current priorities? 

Obviously, every year we’re chasing a national championship. We’re going after it every day, and we’ve been there three times in the last five years. We’ve lost in the national final twice, so the top priority is to get there again and give ourselves a chance to win on that scale. While we’re on that path, we’re still thinking about making the experience positive for our players, so that our journey as a team makes them better people, too. 

From Kenya to Vancouver Island: Irene Jesso’s marathon journey to improve the lives of marginalized communities  

By Brian Helberg, Communications Officer

The tiny island village of Alert Bay, B.C., is over 14,000 km from Kenya. But for Kenyan immigrant Irene Jesso, this remote community is now home.   

Irene and her family moved to Vancouver Island after she graduated from Douglas College in 2020 with a Bachelor of Social Work to help struggling families in Alert Bay, working with K’wak’walat’si Child and Family Services. 

“Children should always have access to food, shelter, education and medical attention. When I see that that’s not always the case in many communities, it breaks my heart,” says Irene. “Understanding the effect of power — and powerlessness — is key when working with marginalized communities. So is knowing you can amplify someone’s voice, and advocate for their rights and needs. That is what I am doing in Alert Bay.”  

Irene is a registered social worker with the BC College of Social Workers and a qualified SAFE home study practitioner. Acquiring the skills necessary to deal with complex and sensitive situations has been a lifelong journey for Irene. She learned the initial lessons during her youth in Kenya. 

Starting line  

Born and raised on the opposite side of the world from British Columbia, Irene never imagined that one day she would be living in Canada and fulfilling her dream of becoming a social worker. While Irene herself grew up with the privilege of a healthy, happy home, she saw the suffering in her community. She has carried these memories with her throughout her life.   

“Life in Kenya can be harsh for some children,” says Irene. “Child welfare is not as we know it here in Canada. I grew up seeing suffering, innocent young children suffering.  There are children who are born in the streets, live in the streets, and grow up in the streets. They have children of their own in the streets and the cycle continues. Seeing that level of suffering was soul-crushing, and I wanted to do something about it.”  

Irene was 19 years old when she began building an orphanage in Kenya. She not only helped physically construct the orphanage, but also assisted in raising the funds to build it.  

“Social work has been a passion for me since I was a teenager,” says Irene. “Whether it was talking to people, counselling people, helping people or fundraising – I discovered while building the orphanage that I was doing what I love.” 

This experience shaped her perspective as a person and further cemented her desire to work with underserved communities. On a daily basis, Irene uses empathy and generosity – two traits she learned to harness while creating change in her home country.   

“I remember realizing during my childhood that if you are in a fortunate position in life and have the means, you should try to help less fortunate people,” says Irene. “My passion for using my knowledge and skills to improve the lives of marginalized people started during my youth. It has continued to grow throughout my life.”  

Read more: “This Social Work alum wants her master’s degree to help her create systemic change”

Breaking through the wall  

Irene touched down on Canadian soil for the first time in her 20s as part of an international mission program. She initially resided in Kelowna before finding her way to Vancouver. After researching local colleges and universities, Irene decided that Douglas College’s Social Work program was right for her.  

“I know in my heart that my education at Douglas College was a gift,” says Irene. “We did case studies in class that prepared us for the real world by letting us work with real people in real situations. My instructors gave me the confidence that I could be a social worker and succeed in creating positive change.”  

Like many of her classmates, Irene found her motivation to enrol at Douglas in the chance to engage in practical learning opportunities. She wanted to get training from professional social workers and get hands-on experience during her practicums.   

Irene spent over 1,000 hours working at two practicums with Coast Mental Health. After graduating, Irene got her wish to become a social worker in a remote Canadian community after securing a position in Alert Bay.  

Hitting her stride  

Irene’s initial destination of choice was Nunavut, but Alert Bay proved to be perfect for her. Situated off the northern coast of Vancouver Island and home to fewer than 1,500 people, Alert Bay and its residents face major challenges. These include food shortages and a lack of affordable housing.  

“The more I learned about marginalization, intergenerational trauma and the current effect of colonization in Canada, the more my desire to work in a remote community grew,” says Irene. “The population I work with in Alert Bay is over 90 percent Indigenous. I feel privileged to be able to work with this population because it’s an opportunity to honour their identity, their traditions and their backgrounds.”  

With limited resources available to the residents of Alert Bay, Irene’s duties vary greatly depending on the day. The skills she acquired in her Douglas days have come in handy, as she deals with many challenging hurdles: environmental, geographic and – for the residents of Alert Bay – personal.  

“I am often dealing with home study assessments for caregivers and foster parents. The goal is to ensure child safety when a youth is placed in a home, which involves interviewing families and assessing situations,” says Irene. “We also do a lot of preventative work, particularly related to food shortages and inflation issues. Both problems have hit Alert Bay hard. So, we try to help those who have been affected.”  

Living in Alert Bay has been an incredibly rewarding experience for Irene and her family. Though she has had to deal with challenges associated with uprooting her family and moving to a small island, her desire to help marginalized people in underserved communities made joining K’wak’walat’si Child and Family Services the perfect choice for her.  

“I would encourage more social workers and other professionals to dedicate a few years after their graduation to work in remote communities,” says Irene. “You learn so much, and it challenges your skills. That’s how you grow. You become part of a greater community and work closely with other professionals. It’s incredibly rewarding to feel you are making a positive impact in people’s lives.”  

Read more: “A sense of community: How this Social Work student is advocating for students inside and outside the classroom”

Podium finish  

Irene’s journey from Kenya to Douglas College to Alert Bay has been more of a marathon than a sprint. But her positive attitude and determination have allowed her to achieve her lifelong dream of bettering the lives of people living in a remote community.  

“It hasn’t been easy, but I believe in living the talk – having the strength to take on challenges but always making sure you are standing by the values you profess,” says Irene. “I have always been motivated to accomplish my goals, both personally and professionally.   

“I know one day I will go back home to Kenya and give back to the community, but I love my life in Alert Bay right now. I’m living my dream as a social worker.”  

Visit the Douglas College website to learn more about the Social Work program and how to apply.  

‘Tis the season for frightful weather

With winter weather on the horizon, it’s time to start preparing for more treacherous road and sidewalk conditions, and using extra caution when commuting to and from campuses.

Campus closures

Douglas College continuously monitors the weather and makes decisions about operations of its campuses with the safety of students and employees as our primary consideration.

If weather takes a turn for the worse and a campus closure seems likely, Douglas will inform the College community prior to 6:30am for morning closures and 2:30pm for afternoon closures.

The College website homepage is the best source for up-to-date information. Information is also available from the College information line (toll-free 1 877 679 0823) and DC Alerts. DC Alerts subscribers get rapid campus closure updates sent via text, email and/or phone messages. Sign up for DC Alerts now.

What happens if the College is open but I’m unable to travel due to severe weather conditions in my area?

Douglas College serves a large and diverse geographic area. We make decisions based on the impacts to the largest portion of our population, but we understand this will never include every student or employee. It is the responsibility of each individual to make decisions about what is safe for them. If this means you are unable to travel to class, please notify your instructor as soon as possible.

Instructors have been requested to consider weather conditions when making decisions about attendance during winter weather. Ultimately, these decisions are the sole discretion of individual instructors. 

Sidewalk conditions

The College takes all precautions to ensure our campuses are safe. We will be keeping sidewalks and pathways on campus clear of snow and will apply salt to help melt any ice. If you feel sidewalk conditions on campus are unsafe, please contact the appropriate campus:

We understand sidewalks off campus can be treacherous when icy. Keeping city sidewalks clear is the responsibility of local businesses. If you feel sidewalk conditions are unsafe, please contact the appropriate city:

Winter weather preparedness tips

  • Allow extra time to get to campus (whether by car, bus, SkyTrain, etc.) Translink posts service outages and updates on their website.
  • Wear appropriate footwear and winter clothing, especially if regularly moving between the New Westminster Campus and the Anvil Office Tower.
  • If driving, use caution and ensure you have winter tires that are in good condition.
  • If walking, use caution and consider driving conditions, while watching for vehicles (even at crosswalks).

Are you ready for the Big One?

By Safety, Security and Risk Management

You’re working at your desk when suddenly the room begins to sway and shake. It’s an earthquake. What do you do?

On Oct. 20, in an effort to prepare for a potential earthquake, Douglas College students, employees and visitors can take part in the Great British Columbia ShakeOut – a province-wide earthquake drill – at both campuses (excluding Anvil Office Tower).

“Seismic experts tell us that we can expect a major destructive earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone,” says Rob MacMillan, Manager of Emergency Management at Douglas College. “We don’t know when it might hit. This drill is about practising how to protect ourselves when it does.”

Get ready to drop, cover and hold on 

On Oct. 20 at 10:18, an announcement will inform people on campus when the drill begins. When you hear the announcement, carefully drop to the ground, take cover under a desk or table, and hold on. If you are not near a desk or table, or are physically unable to drop, cover and hold on, cover your head and neck with your arms and crouch in a corner, away from any glass. The drill will last around 90 seconds. You will be advised when it is over. 

This could save your life 

MacMillan says it’s crucial that people are prepared to take the correct action in an earthquake. 

“This is about how to take that immediate life-saving, injury-reducing action. In a small or moderate quake, you may hear objects rattling in your office or classroom or feel a quiver under your feet. In a large quake, the ground or floor will move – possibly violently – and you may feel dizzy and unable to walk. You will probably feel shaking and rolling,” he says. “You need to drop, cover and hold on.”