The newest addition to the senior administration of Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm Campus has big plans for the future and plenty of community college experience to draw on.
Joan Ragsdale, the new dean of the Salmon Arm campus, brings more than 20 years of experience in post-secondary education to administering the campus.
Ragsdale said small community colleges often have to contend with the potential of students moving away to seek education because the college is unable to offer their desired program at the right time.
“I think that trend is changing,” she said.
Ragsdale is no stranger to working with small community colleges. She held various positions, most recently regional director with the College of New Caledonia (CNC) in Burns Lake for 20 years. The new dean also held a school district community liaison position, organizing opportunities for applied learning and dual credits.
“It’s a nice background, because a significant number of the students coming here to the Salmon Arm campus are high school students either graduated and coming into first-year programs or dual-credit students in a variety of different areas,” Ragsdale said. “There’s lots of opportunity at the campus and a lot of great people working here. I’ve just been here a month, I’m still in a big learning curve, but I see a lot of strength in the entrepreneurial spirit being generated.”
Ragsdale said her time in Burns Lake gave her lots of experience in developing programs directly with industry, school districts and indigenous communities.
Funding is another common problem for community colleges that Ragsdale has experience in dealing with.
“There wasn’t a lot of core funding at CNC and the same is true here, so you have to really look creatively to find ways to bring those new opportunities to students,” she said.
Forming partnerships with the businesses and applying for grants through the ministries of Advanced Education and Social Development are two solutions to the funding issue that Ragsdale mentioned.
Ragsdale also expressed interest in bringing Okanagan College programs to outlying communities such as Sicamous and Revelstoke to help potential students overcome geographic barriers.
“It’s kind of based on the needs that we hear. I think that colleges are in that unique position to be responsive and relevant. I think those two things are really key. We’re in a good position to tweak programs to really meet those needs,” Ragsdale said.
Adapting programming to fill the needs for skilled workers in the Salmon Arm Industrial Park, assisting with economic development for First Nations and Métis communities and the forestry industry in the area is another one of Ragsdale’s goals for the future.
“I really love the environmental studies diploma with a geographic information system (GIS) focus,” said the new dean when asked if there are any programs offered in Salmon Arm that she is particularly excited about. “That’s a really great fit for that program area. Anything to do with land use or land management, that’s a really useful skill-set.”
Ragsdale said that at her former position in Burns Lake, some programs were removed from the curriculum for as long as three years once a class had graduated.
Salmon Arm’s larger population would reduce the need to rotate programs in this way, she noted, but courses offered in outlying areas like Revelstoke might still require rotation.
Decisions concerning what courses will be offered are made jointly by Ragsdale and the overall administration of Okanagan College. As well, suggestions on programming from the community are welcomed and may be directed to her.
Ragsdale lauded the community for its collective interest in the college and for providing scholarships and bursaries for students.
“It’s exciting to be here, I really like the feel of the college and there’s really strong support from the overall college structure and from the community. It’s a really great foundation for what has happened here and what will happen in the future,” she said.