Relocating to a new community is always a heavy undertaking. Arriving in a new province amid the disruption of 2020 can only be described as surreal.
But in a year that challenged our economy, exposed inequalities and tested our resilience, I also witnessed the collective power of a community and a deep understanding of humanity that helped it endure.
I relocated from Winnipeg to Kamloops in May to assume the role of vice-president of university relations at Thompson Rivers University.
Though I looked forward to beginning this work in a beautiful part of the country, it was an odd time to start. TRU faced a monumental pivot, both in its course delivery and day-to-day operations, to continue serving students and respond to the needs of industry. While the university’s relationships are more important than ever, I missed out on the opportunity to meet influential people in the Interior communities as early as I wanted.
On my trip across Western Canada, cities were in a lockdown state that made every stop eerily quiet. I still felt the presence of the Canadian spirit — perhaps even more so than normal. I had many conversations with strangers at six feet apart that might never have occurred without this unprecedented circumstance linking us together.
When I arrived in B.C., TRU was — and still is — operating from the homes of its staff, faculty and students across the Thompson-Nicola, Cariboo and beyond. The Kamloops campus was a ghost town, lacking the hubbub and energy that usually courses through a university, but that’s where I found myself on May 1.
Some international students remained in the residence building I temporarily called home. Beyond that, my only company was the much-loved family of deer that frequent the campus commons. I appreciated every hello from a student, every wave at a crosswalk and introductions that occurred at the ends of driveways. There’s a feeling of a tight-knit network here, a sense that we’re all looking out for each other.
That is foundational for community-oriented universities like TRU. What has struck me since arriving here is the university’s sense of flexibility, coupled with an understanding of its people. This is a university interconnected and built by community. TRU has the ability to respond faster and better because it was created to meet regional needs and that’s very much part of its DNA.
We have a shared mission with our regional communities —urban and rural —to emerge from this pandemic stronger than before. And our students have a strong part to play. They create a significant social and economic impact wherever they study or work and their skills are an asset to every community they call home.
Many people have been displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic and the university exists to support their desire to reskill, upskill or earn new certification wherever they live, from large cities to our most rural and remote communities. We’ve made a significant investment in virtual learning this year to meet student needs and lead future innovations in learning and teaching that make education more accessible.
There will be a gradual increase in face-to-face opportunities in 2021 and we know this news is welcomed by many —myself included. Witnessing the impact students and alumni have had as active global citizens during this difficult year has been a privilege. I can only anticipate the difference they will make in 2021 and in the years to come as challenges we faced in 2020 inspire new innovations, policy and knowledge creation.
It’s been a remarkable year, but I feel as though I haven’t yet seen the full potential of our students, faculty and researchers who have been toiling with their hands figuratively tied behind their backs. I can’t wait to join the TRU family on campus for the first time and I can only imagine the talent that will emerge in 2021.
I also look forward to meeting new people in the region, face-to-face, and developing new partnerships that support the Interior’s pandemic recovery.
Happy new year and all the best in 2021.