Peace Region College May See Agricultural Revival

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“We tend to think that northwestern Alberta has been a bit left behind due to circumstances”

Fairview College Notes

Fairview College began as a School of Agriculture and Home Economics in 1951

Western Canada’s first Animal Health Technologist program began here in 1974, becoming certified by the Canadian Veterinary Association in 1978.

Over the years, offerings have included turfgrass management, pesticide applicator, sportsfields/ parks, irrigation, horticulture, beef production, agricultural diploma as well as equine (horsemanship and horse training majors).

Green roofing, straw bale building and timber frame building, clinics on equine health, colt training and numerous other courses are being offered, reflecting the changing agricultural economies and growing emphasis on sustain-ability and environmental concerns.

Programming has expanded to meet the demands of both industry and students in the region offering apprenticeship and pre-trade programs as well as a Transitional Vocational certificate program enabling young people with special needs to become self-sufficient.

Unique offerings include the only authorized Harley-Davidson training facility in Canada and the only apprenticeship and pre-trades Motorcycle Mechanic programs in Alberta.

Fairview College is looking at a return to its roots, while it completes a significant change of leadership this summer. Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC) took over the reins of the venerable institution from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) last month, a move that is meant to improve access, says Dr. Rik Vandekerkhove, dean of trades, agriculture and environment. “We believe that under the more local entity (GPRC) we’re going to be better positioned to bring our campuses in Fairview and Grande Prairie to the forefront.”

NAIT took over Fairview College in July 2004. Now, five years later, the institution comes under the bailiwick of GPRC.

“It’s really an initiative of the province,” says Vandekerkhove. Much like what was done to the health sector, provincial administrators allocated colleges in different regions of Alberta. This move was to ensure the allocated colleges would have the responsibility for making sure an adequate portfolio was available in each of the regions.”

As a result, the jurisdiction of GPRC spans the area from Grande Cache to Peace River.

AGRICULTURAL ROOTS REMAIN

Dr. Vandekerkhove, formerly an associate chair of the Animal Health Technology Program, says good things are coming to the Fairview campus. Despite administrative changes, what has been known for decades as Fairview College continues to have strong ties to agricultural programming. Established in 1951 as a School of Agriculture and Home Economics, today the facility offers only one of its original ag programs, a two-year Animal Health Technology diploma program accredited by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. Students receive training in animal nursing, surgical assistance, anesthesiology, laboratory procedures, diagnostic imaging, pharmacology and dental procedures. The campus features a working farm with a variety of large animals plus companion animals on site.

Vandekerkhove says Fairview’s agriculture course offerings may soon be expanded. The institution commissioned a study by Dr. Brian Larson who will be “taking a close look at the history of our programs and what might be of interest to us today,” he said. Larson has an extensive background in agricultural postsecondary training, from student to instructor to all the way up to president. “We’ll be waiting for his report before we make any decisions as to which programs we might try to re-introduce in today’s climate,” Vandekerkhove said.

EQUINE PROGRAM COULD RETURN

Though the report isn’t expected until October, Vandekerkhove said one of the programs that could be revived is one that has most recently been discontinued. Administrators will be taking a hard look at reintroducing an equine program, which was discontinued two years ago due to enrollment issues and because it didn’t match with NAIT’s mandate.

Still, any major program changes would be a couple of years down the road. In the meantime, additional short programs such as horticulture, herbiculture and organic farming may be introduced sooner than later, says Vandekerkhove. Likely, these short courses will be similar to what the college has been offering via its construction program, with courses on straw bale construction, log building and green roofing.

Taking these initial steps will help build toward the institution’s reputation for delivering quality ag-based programming.

“Certainly, it will be a step-by-step approach. Agriculture is an industry that’s changing,” says Vandekerkhove. “The fringes of the industry are becoming increasingly entwined with energy and the environment and Fairview campus needs to reflect that.”

Three other colleges in Alberta – Olds, Lakeland and Lethbridge – mean that buoying Fairview’s stead in that regard would be a good fit geographically, says Vandekerkhove. “We tend to think that northwestern Alberta has been a bit left behind due to circumstances. It hasn’t been really well-served as an area and how we can remedy that within the constraints of feasibility are some hard questions.”

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