UNBC Senate supports civil engineering program

Albert Koehler still has the proposal he wrote up 20 years ago to bring a civil engineering program to Prince George’s university.

He was in Senate chambers Wednesday night when the University of Northern B.C. approved the program.

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“It’s one step. It’s not the final step … because the Ministry (of Advanced Education) still has to approve it and it has to come up with funds but I’m quite confident that there are some negotiations going on about this,” said the city councillor.

The Board of Governors would still have to approve it in the upcoming budget, but Koehler said it was a move years in the making. It will still be several more years before the degree is finalized, however, as UNBC gets down to the business of getting the on-the-ground details in order. 

"Now we have the high level picture of what the program going to look like, what the courses are, the time frames for graduation,” said Dan Ryan Interim Vice President Academic and Provost. “But there’s still a number of elements … with respect to developing the co-op program, fleshing out the new courses we have to develop and putting all those process in place. And of course any infrastructure that we need.”

There are too many elements in play to nail down a certain timeframe, he said.

“The earliest we could do it is 2017 but that’s a very aggressive timeframe, which I’d be happy if we hit it but I’m not sure we would.”

Funding is key, Ryan said, but the plans are still too preliminary to make an estimated amount public.

“It’s always great when we put a lot of work into something and you. Actually see it starting to come to fruition but that being said it is one step closer. There’s a lot of other steps before we can offer the program.”

The push for the program has been ongoing the six years Ryan has been at the university. Much of that has been from the industry.

“It’s been a challenge I think from the industry in order to get the expertise they need to come to the north and stay in the north,” Ryan said.

Koehler, of course, was one of those voices. In 1996 Koehler, who runs his own consulting engineering company called Tribotec International Ltd, first drafted a proposal for a industrial engineering program. Then again in 1998.

“Nothing happened then, those were the first years of the university and obviously a lot of other things had to be done.”

He compared the need for skilled engineers in the north to the Northern Medical Program’s work keeping physicians in the north, which Ryan echoed.

“This is a great opportunity for students to come to UNBC to learn about engineering and develop their roots in the north and ultimately when they graduate, set up shop in the north,” said Ryan.

And, if the north is to diversify its economy and grow it, it needs this program, Koehler argued.

“I think it’s important for our community and for the north in general because there's a tremendous gap between supply and demand. Corporations cannot find the people they need,” said Koehler, who also chairs the city’s education committee.

“Technology is driving the economy here and elsewhere and we cannot neglect it here in Prince George. How can we have a university and college in the midst of an industrial area and not have an engineering program?”

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