Two years after its 50th anniversary, in 2015, Vancouver Community College unveiled a new mission statement—“VCC: The first choice for innovative, experiential learning for life”.
The dean of continuing studies, Gordon McIvor, clearly takes the aims and values encapsulated in this slogan very seriously. McIvor noted in a phone interview with the Straight that this hands-on approach is not only reflected in the 23 programs under his jurisdiction but is also embodied on the cover of the VCC continuing studies fall program guide. It features photos of students actively engaged in various pursuits.
Two programs, in particular, embody experiential learning: certificates in counselling skills and a diploma or certificate in fashion design and production.
The addiction counselling skills certificate is offered at VCC’s downtown campus, which is blocks away from Canada's first legal free-standing supervised-injection site.
“The reality of the Downtown Eastside and the fact that our program has a focus on addictions gives students an opportunity to really roll their sleeves up and work with high-risk populations,” McIvor explained.
It’s a self-paced part-time program offered in the evenings, which means students could take anywhere from a year to three years to complete it, though most finish in one-and-a-half to two years.
“Some students go many evenings a week,” he said. “Most of them are doing something else in the day and they might take one or two courses in the evening and they really go at their own pace.”
An intriguing aspect of the program is that students learn with the help of videos. This goes beyond simply listening to an instructor tell stories about their experience as counsellors.
"Students go into a private classroom with another student and actually videotape practice sessions," McIvor explained. "Students get a chance to think about what was said and view themselves with a potential client. It's really hands-on."
The community counselling skills certificate offers the same level of flexibility as the addiction-counselling program.
Claire Sauvé, a senior coordinator with VCC continuing studies, told the Straight by phone that this can prepare students for a wide variety of work, including working for homeless shelters, drop-in centres, immigrant-support agencies, and halfway houses.
“Some of the courses that are offered within the program are accepted as prerequisites in master’s-in-counselling programs at SFU, UBC, and Adler University,” Sauvé added.
The instructors all have active counselling practices, so they bring real-world experience into the classrooms. And according to Sauvé, some students who are in either the addiction-counselling or community-counselling stream end up completing the other stream because they have many classes in common.
So who is most likely to enroll in the certificate programs in counselling skills?
“We know, for example, the average age of a student in this program is 41 years old—predominantly female, definitely adult learners,” McIvor responded. “There may be a difference in addictions vis-à-vis the community counselling in terms of the gender makeup. Nevertheless, it is open to both groups of people.”
Meanwhile, the fashion and production diploma and certificate programs at VCC continuing studies have recently undergone a makeover to better reflect the school’s mission statement. “Students basically get five sales cycles during their diploma,” McIvor said.
They will make a bag, which is sold in a retail store, then they will design a T-shirt that is marketed online. Then they might create a whole fashion line for a nonprofit charity, and on it goes.
“It’s not just about designing clothes,” he said. “It’s the whole process of production, sales, and design together.”
It also enhances students’ understanding of e-commerce. Field trips to local clothing manufacturers help students understand what’s taking place on the factory floor.
The diploma program takes 18 months to complete and is offered full-time during weekdays. There’s an exit point midway for people who want to stop with a certificate, leaving them eligible to return to complete a diploma at a future date.
In addition to the diploma and certificate programs, VCC continuing studies also offers one-off courses for those interested in learning about everything from fashion illustration to corsetry to fashion-show production.