Northern Lights College

B.C.'s Energy College

The evolution of Northern Lights College (NLC) as B.C.’s Energy College has occurred during a very hectic three-year period for the post-secondary institution located in northeastern British Columbia.

The process started in 2007 when NLC was designated as the province’s Centre of Excellence for Oil and Gas training. The majority of that training and education is based at the college’s campus in Fort St. John, the largest city in northeastern B.C. and a hub for the petroleum industry in the province.

Since then NLC’s energy focus has grown. While continuing to train needed workers for the oil and gas industry, NLC expanded its energy focus, as the province’s Centre of Excellence for Clean Energy Technologies (CECET). As a result, NLC is an educational leader in clean energy technologies, through construction projects and course development based at the Dawson Creek Campus.

“Our vision is to ensure we are well aligned with what is going on in the emerging clean energy industry and with the oil and gas industry, both big industry drivers in this area,” says Laurie Rancourt, President of NLC. “The natural resources that exist in northern B.C. and the industries that are developing here are either aligned with clean energy or oil and gas. NLC programming is geared to the direction industry is going, allowing students access to unique programming, which will allow them to work in northern B.C. or internationally.”

When Rancourt joined NLC in late February—after a 15-year career as a senior administrator at Collège Boréal in Sudbury, Ont.—she knew she was coming to a progressive institution that had already gained national and international recognition for its work in clean energy programs.

The college’s inaugural intake in the Wind Turbine Maintenance Technician program, the only one of its kind in B.C., had just graduated in January, and the second intake, was underway. NLC also offers unique Solar Thermal Installer training, where learners are trained to install solar thermal systems in residential or commercial settings. Included amongst its clean energy industry partnerships, NLC is a member of BZEE, an international conglomerate of training institutions that develop training curriculum for wind turbine maintenance technicians, as well as Canadian Solar Industries Association.

The Energy College

NLC’s big foray into the field of clean energy technologies came in August 2009, when a $7.8 million federal and provincial investment through the Knowledge Infrastructure Program was made to build Energy House, the centrepiece of CECET at the Dawson Creek Campus. “Through this new facility, NLC will embrace the future in energy management and ensure our students are provided with the best technology to achieve their goals,” Blair Lekstrom, MLA for Peace River South, said at the time.

Energy House is an 807 square metre multi-use facility that combines classrooms, labs and other training facilities with demonstrations of energy saving and renewable-energy technology and a community meeting hall. The building will produce its energy needs—electricity and heating—through various clean energy technologies, including solar panels, biomass, and geo-exchange systems. The facility, which will be available for use by students in September, will be home to the Wind Turbine Maintenance program, as well as other clean energy courses and certificate programs that are currently being developed.

The project is targeting LEED platinum standard—the highest in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building rating system.

“Energy House is going to be a key piece as we move forward with our clean energy initiatives,” says Rancourt. “It will have a demonstration program that will allow us to simultaneously train students, demonstrate new technology, and allow access by community members and industry to experience clean energy technologies first-hand.”

Student and community-minded

NLC offers students highly tailored programs “which fit the unique needs of the people of Northern British Columbia,” and aims to guide students toward a rewarding career and contribution to whichever field they choose, ranging from trades to technology and to Career and College Preparation to university transfer courses. Programming is designed with real world applications, and with input from industry and College partners.

“Industry has always been very supportive of our programming either through equipment donations, student placement, or participation on advisory committees, and that is something we will continue to focus on, to make sure we are aligned with the needs, and aligned with the economic development within the community,” says Rancourt.

This commitment to meeting the needs of residents in northern B.C. is also reflected in the cooperative relationships that exist between NLC, local school districts and Northern Opportunities to offer Dual Credit programming. Dual Credit allows high school students to earn post-secondary credits at NLC while they are still in secondary school.

NLC’s involvement in Dual Credit programs dates back to 2002, and the goal of Dual Credit is to engage prospective students at a time when they are considering their educational and career options. Dual Credit originally had a focus on trades and technology program areas. However, since 2009, Dual Credit opportunities have expanded into University Arts and Sciences subjects including Biology, Business Management, Criminology, Early Childhood Education and Care, English, Math, and Psychology.

“This year, at our Fort St. John Campus, we have 95 students taking university transfer courses. We also have approximately 20 students taking courses in Fort Nelson, through in-person, videoconference and online delivery methods,” says Rancourt. “This is taking us into new and exciting areas.”

Programs such as Dual Credit help students get a head start on their education and training, with an overall plan of strengthening individuals and communities in the northeast by enhancing opportunities for local students to succeed in high school, pursue post-secondary education, and build rewarding careers.

Shining lights

Having just celebrated its 35th anniversary, NLC is looking forward, working to ensure its students have all the advantages needed for success. And that involves progressive thinking and utilizing new and exciting technologies and methods of program delivery.

“One of main challenges of NLC is that it is a small college that serves a very large geographic area. The challenge that colleges face in rural and remote places is making sure we are able to meet the needs of these communities within the resources that are available. We need to focus on alternative methods of delivering, partnership and collaboration, especially with respect to student support and services,” says Rancourt. “My vision is increased capacity in distance learning, increased use of technology that is available to help deliver programming, and working with communities to make that happen.”

Northern Lights College serves the northern third of B.C., offering postsecondary programs from campus locations in Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson, Fort St. John, and Tumbler Ridge. As well, NLC currently maintains access sites in Atlin, Dease Lake and Hudson’s Hope. Program areas include Trades, Apprenticeship and Technology, Business, Health Care, International Education, Career and College Preparation, Workforce Training/Continuing Education, University Arts and Sciences, Vocational and Career Programs, and Clean Energy programs.