Ignite Spotlight on Business by Quin Hauck
Bow Valley College
It was a Calgary-cold day outside of Bow Valley College. I entered the South Campus, and life returned to the world in a way that always seemed absent in the freezing outdoors. I had never been to Bow Valley College, but it felt alive in a fresh way.
Dr. Misheck Mwaba, the President and CEO of Bow Valley College, would later describe the college as diverse and "multifaceted"-- this was part of the energy I picked up on. There are many dimensions to this assessment.
I passed huddled groups, speaking in unfamiliar dialects. As Dr. Mwaba, a Calgarian since 2017, would inform me, these were some of the languages of the nearly 100 countries that formed the student body. It was a stat Dr. Mwaba highlighted when asked what makes Bow Valley college unique. His answer continued, including many reasons why the college was multi-toned in its eclecticism.
"When you look at our economy, we are diversifying. We are receiving a lot of people who are immigrating to Calgary, [even] from other provinces. Bow Valley College's destiny is to position itself as the institution that will ensure those individuals have the skills that Calgary needs."
With an average age of late-20s, the studentry ranges from teens to sexagenarians. The student body is approximately 78% female, and most students already have at least one prior education certification. Dr. Mwaba understands diversity. His career has globe-trotted him in geographically and culturally distant places; he taught at the University of Zambia, completed his masters in England, experienced the Canadian spectrum, and the list goes on. But this was only one piece of the larger puzzle. Diversity of thought and challenging traditional education systems is paramount for Bow Valley College.
"When you look at research and innovation, part of research is discovering new ideas and ways of doing things differently. And as a college, our focus is applied research," Dr. Mwaba explains. "[With our] vision, we talk about shaping the future of college education. This cannot happen without innovation. For me, the innovation comes in when we talk about how we can deliver education in a different way."
At Bow Valley College, diversity is an all-encompassing guiding maxim.
Dr. Misheck Mwaba///Bow Valley College
"Bow Valley College is a Calgary institution, but there's no reason why we should not make our courses available to people outside Calgary."
Dr. Mwaba explains that certain classes start at 6 a.m. to accommodate students learning from India. They aren’t afraid to rework what constitutes a college community. The college has the most extensive practical nursing program in Western Canada, but the program's reach is worldwide.
While a pivotal part of Bow Valley College’s philosophy, technological innovation took centre stage during the pandemic. Touching on the nursing topic, Dr. Mwaba diligently explained how the institute embraced its mantra of innovation even during turbulent times.
"We learnt a lot of things very quickly. We started delivering courses to nursing students in China using Microsoft Teams, even before COVID. So when the pandemic hit, we closed the college for ten days, and leveraged the skills of the faculty nursing program, so that they could teach the others."
When Calgary dumps snow on you, you make snow angels, a silver lining approach taken by the college's unprecedented response to the pandemic.
"We realized post-COVID, things were not going to be the same. Every other institution on the planet now thinks they can do remote learning. For us, it meant that our courses needed to be of very high quality because the competition was going to be [significant], and the geographical boundaries were not going to be there."
Dr. Mwaba speaks carefully and concisely. Sitting across from him, I sense he is piloting this with experience and knowledge to back it up. Beyond education, he sits on Canada's Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. He's designed experimental facilities and managed research and development projects at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. He knows his stuff and conveys his knowledge with an open kindness.
Closing the college for ten days during the pandemic, it flipped all its classes into the online learning landscape. It was rapid innovation, and ten days later, they reopened. It was an academic success during unprecedented times. The lessons learned have extended well into our present. Over the next two years, 70 classrooms were retrofitted with the technology to teach remotely.
"[The innovations have] told us that you don't have to be in Calgary to attend college. We've demonstrated that students didn't come here during the pandemic because of restrictions. In fact, if we did this composition pre-COVID, the biggest challenge I saw was about space because we're expanding, and we needed to start looking for more space. Now, that's not the priority for me."
Growth from necessity has created an environment of progressive change that is snowballing. As a result of this innovation, further barriers to entry break, and the expanse of the student body grows even more comprehensive.
I've heard the term 'global village' used with globalization, and the technological practices and innovations utilized by Bow Valley College have created globalized learning. In many ways, this 'global village' perspective is a microcosm for Calgary itself.
"I've heard through Calgary Economic Development, and listening to the mayor that Calgary is the third most diverse city in the country."
It is a proposition Dr. Mwaba admits hasn't always held. But it's an idea that is growing, and he hopes Bow Valley College can be a gateway to further diversity in the multifaceted ways the college embodies. Beyond diversity itself, Calgary has the youngest and most educated working population in the country. Recently, it tied with Zurich, Switzerland, for third place in the Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) annual ranking of the world's most livable cities. They are a catalyst for progress and ingenuity, an early domino in a line that will continue to fall and break walls. Bow Valley College is like a snow globe within a snow globe and is what I experienced when I first entered the campus. Barriers to entry exist, however, and Dr. Mwaba advises on how to overcome them.
"We've got both technology and business programs at Bow Valley College, but very few people in Calgary know about Bow Valley College that way. Every time we bring people here and show them, they're surprised. [I would be] happier if more Calgarians knew about Bow Valley College, what we do, and how we contribute to the talent pipeline of Calgary. I dream of that day when Calgarians will talk more about Bow Valley College than they do now. We need ambassadors, and I think Calgarians need to do that."
Dr. Mwaba sees all that the college and Calgary have to offer one another and has experienced enough to know how much more can come from the relationship. Now living half a decade in the city, he's more optimistic about what the future holds.
"Calgary's destiny is to create an environment where people are going to feel a sense of belonging. As Calgarians, we don't do enough to explain how nice this place is. I'm not just talking about the good things. It is also having those difficult conversations where we can challenge one another to find solutions that will make Calgary very attractive. That's the destiny for Bow Valley College and Calgary."
As I traded one snow globe for the one outside, I further appreciated the importance of innovation and remote learning for a place like Calgary and its community. Calgary can be cold, but there's always warmth when you come inside.