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Indigenous students receive award in support of their studies
Okanagan College Media Release


Sophie Wilson knows the path to her further education and future has just been made easier.Sophie Wilson Dec 2019

She is one of 16 students from Okanagan College who received an Indigenous Student Award from the Irving K. Barber BC Scholarship Society in December.

Wilson is a Bachelor of Arts student at the Penticton campus who is transferring into the Bachelor of Business Administration program in the new year, majoring in Management.

“This award validates and recognizes all my hard work,” says Wilson. “It means I can support myself and my daughter while I continue to pursue my dreams at Okanagan College. One of the biggest things being a single mother is I always need something for my daughter, and I don’t ever want to worry about not having what she needs.”

The Society offers $1,000 – $2,500 awards to Indigenous students pursuing post-secondary education in B.C. Wilson received $2,500.

“In the past I have worked anytime I could to help with expenses but I got sidetracked with work and couldn’t focus fully on my studies to give 100 per cent,” she adds.

“My overall goal is to be an active, successful student at school. I can’t do that effectively while working and being a single parent. This award means I don’t have to worry about working right now.”

The 16 OC students are among 612 Indigenous students in B.C. to receive more than $1.8 million in awards from the Society.

“Ike Barber, and the Society that lives on in his name, have had an immense impact on our students over the years, through awards such as these,” says OC President Jim Hamilton, who is also a former director of the society. “Support such as this not only inspires our students in their studies but hopefully also to contribute to their communities through their knowledge and skills.”

The Society’s Indigenous Student Awards program was created to assist in removing barriers to higher education for Indigenous peoples.

“Many Aboriginal students feel it is very overwhelming to be at a higher education institution as there has been racism and discrimination,” says Wilson. “My grandmother and mother suffered this at the universities they attended. I appreciate the work done by Okanagan College that has made it more comfortable and safer for Aboriginal students. I am proud that I can work to my abilities and have a fair chance at success at what I choose to do with my life.”

“I also appreciate that as an Okanagan person, I can go to school in my home community on my own Territory. This means I don’t have to leave my support system which means my daughter and I have help and encouragement when we need it. This is something that others suffer from when they must go away to school. I have also been able to be a role model to others in my community by supporting others who wish to pursue their education.”

Wilson is one of more than 1,800 Indigenous students who attend Okanagan College.

A full list of the 2019 Indigenous Student Award recipients can be found here.


OC alumna sets up full tuition nursing scholarship
Okanagan College Media Release


An Okanagan College alumna is offering a student entering the Practical Nursing Diploma program at Okanagan College an opportunity to have their education costs paid for.

Sharon McKenna Dec 2019Sharon McKenna is setting up an annual scholarship that will pay the full, two-year tuition costs to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). The total value of the award is more than $12,000.

As a retired Registered Nurse, McKenna knows becoming a nurse can be a life-changing experience. The career is not only meaningful it also offers a good salary and benefits.

“If tuition and student fees are taken care of, a student's chances of success are so much greater,” says McKenna, adding she hopes the award will benefit single parents.

“If we can get people who are struggling financially into this program where they can get a good job and benefits, that not only changes their future and their family's future but it benefits our society too.”

McKenna’s gift is in support of the Okanagan College Foundation Our Students, Your Health campaign, which aims to raise $5 million to build a modern Health Sciences Centre in Kelowna and support health care students.

“Sharon’s generosity is going to make an incredible impact,” says Helen Jackman, Okanagan College Foundation Executive Director.

“An investment in a nursing student is an investment not only in their future, but in the future health and well-being of our community. For those of us thinking of giving at this time of year, giving to health care students creates a ripple effect across our region.”

McKenna is naming the scholarship in honour of Marcia Aitkens, a founding member of the Okanagan Vocational School, a precursor to Okanagan College. Aitkens was instrumental in starting the Practical Nursing program, paving the way for other health programs to be established.

McKenna describes herself as one of the many beneficiaries of Aitkens’ vision, having been accepted into the first class of Diploma Nursing (RN) students at Okanagan College in 1976. She later went on to get her Masters and PhD and work locally as well as in the United States.


“Everything I learned in nursing started with the foundation taught at Okanagan College,” says McKenna.

“Those were the best days of my life, I loved every minute of my time at OC.”

McKenna’s fond memories have also inspired her to leave a gift to the College in her estate.

McKenna says she hopes her gift will ensure Okanagan College continues to foster a sense of excellence in its students while meeting community needs.

“You can’t expand or keep good ideas going unless you have funding,” she says. “There are so many people in this community who have been shaped by OC, I hope my gift honours this legacy.”

To learn more or donate to the Our Students, Your Health campaign, click here.


College Culinary students prep for charity

Okanagan College Media

Mona Liza SablayFirst year Okanagan College Culinary Arts students are spending their last week of school giving back to the community.

OC Culinary Instructor Mike Barillaro and Culinary Arts students were busy prepping turkeys, stuffing and gravy this week that will feed over 450 people at an upcoming holiday dinner at Parkinson Rec Centre in Kelowna.

This year marks the 16th annual Christmas Day dinner hosted by Victory Life Fellowship at the Rec Centre.

“We’ve been cooking for this event for about five years now,” says Barillaro. “It’s a great opportunity for the students to give back to the community. It’s a fun way to close out the year and it’s nice knowing that we are bringing this holiday meal to those who might not have had one otherwise.”

The students were eager to participate and proud to be a part of a giving back initiative.

“I’ve never cooked a turkey dinner before this so I’m definitely learning something new,” says Mona Liza Sablay. “It’s very nice to help people when you’re able to. It can be something very simple and it will mean a lot to them. Something as simple as putting a smile on someone’s face, or food in their belly, can be more meaningful than something materialistic.”

The dinner is open to everyone with the belief that no one should be alone on Christmas. Those attending will be treated to a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings, dessert, gift bags, door prizes, games and live entertainment. The event starts at 5 p.m. on Dec. 25.

Prepping the turkey dinner marked the last time these students will be in the kitchen before the holidays.

The next intake of future chefs is in February 2020. There are still a few spots left and prospective students are invited to an Open House on Wed, Jan. 15 from 5 – 7 p.m. in the Lab Kitchen of the Culinary Arts building (F) at the Kelowna campus to learn more. 

You can view more photos of the students prepping for the dinner here.

For more information about Culinary Arts, visit and for more information on the Christmas Day dinner, visit


Communications student reaches for the moon with first self-published book
Okanagan College Media Release


Juliana Troll Trujillo Dec 2019A sacred appreciation for the exchange of knowledge, whether between friends or strangers, is a central theme in Juliana Troll Trujillo’s life. So, after moving to Canada from Brazil last Christmas, it was only natural for her to acknowledge the moments that led her to write her first book, Helio meets Luna – Luna meets Helio.

Troll Trujillo is a first-year student studying Advanced Communications at Okanagan College’s Kelowna campus, and she is no stranger to education. With a bachelor’s degree from Brazil in medical physics and years of working in the Waldorf school system, she knows the value of learning.

Her decision to write Helio meets Luna – Luna meets Helio came from a moment of inspiration, driving her two daughters home after a long day.

“They were tired and started to scream in the car and I knew I had to do something to calm them down,” she says. “I saw the sun setting, so I thought I’d tell a story about the sun and the moon. After that, I had the whole story written down within a week and started on the illustrations.”

Then, in her Advanced Communication Issues class this fall, she was tasked with completing a coaching project. Designed for two people to coach each other in something they desire to change in their lives, whether that be writing a book or learning a new workout regime, Troll Trujillo knew this was her chance to take her idea from dream to reality.

Her book focuses on the meeting of two characters, Helio representing the sun and Luna representing the moon. Through an interactive and colourful display of art and poetry, it’s an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Troll Trujillo describes the moment her family first touched down in Canada, on Christmas Day of 2018:

“We arrived and it was magical. My daughters were filled with so much wonder, especially with the snow.”

Troll Trujillo has always been a consistent creative, participating in hand-craft instruction in community centres in Brazil, and now an active participant in her children’s own education. After completing her first bachelor’s degree, she had a curiosity for physical processes and how they tied into creativity. Fast forward through part of a music production diploma, time spent in video production and Troll Trujillo found herself as an administrative assistant in a Waldorf school.

“I discovered myself there, and realized it was the kind of education I wanted for my kids,” she says.

The book then created an opportunity for her to connect her personal mosaic of education, motherhood and creativity. Having lived through a variety of careers, and moving countries, Troll Trujillo says it’s worth the time to notice the moments that build to something greater.Juliana Troll Trujillo 2 Dec 2019

“If we hadn’t moved to Canada, I wouldn’t have taken this course and wouldn’t have published my book.”

The colour-filled pages give subtle nods to her educational values, with characters and scenes drawn with soft watercolours. The landscape and characters without facial expressions encourage readers to insert their own emotion into the story, following along as the characters meet in the middle of the book.

Her professor, Marc Arellano notes that the end goal of the class project wasn’t necessarily even to finish the project but instead to learn practices of coaching and mentoring. For Juliana, the finished book came as an added bonus.

“By working on coaching competencies and best practices, the students learn to communicate openly and honestly, which is no easy task,” he says. “In Juliana’s case, she treated the course material with respect and integrity. She was quite ambitious in producing all the content, narrative and illustrations.”

Troll Trujillo dreams of hosting read-aloud story times at local libraries, and also hopes to sell copies of her book so others can read the meaningful story of Helio and Luna.

“This project has shown me what is possible to do as a student, and is something that the College has allowed me to do,” she says, “I hope other students can go out for their dreams and do what they wish to do. It’s possible when we decide simply to start.”

You can purchase Helio meets Luna – Luna meets Helio here.


21,000 steps for Rumi: a father’s love for his son, and a run for a cure
Okanagan College Media Release


Okanagan College professor and community raising awareness and support for children battling a rare genetic disorder

“He’s just a little boy with a big, beautiful soul. Curly. Joyful. The easiest kid you could possibly imagine. He loves the colour blue, and his hotdogs. Light as a feather. Braver than me.”

Gill Green and Rumi Dec 2019These are the words Gill Green uses to describe his two-year old son, Rumi, who was recently diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).

Green is a professor of Geography at Okanagan College in Kelowna. On Friday, Sept. 13, after months of mysterious symptoms and scores of tests, Rumi was diagnosed with the rare genetic disorder at B.C. Children’s Hospital.

“The diagnosis brought a combination of shock and grief,” says Green. “It began with us not knowing what the disease was, to hours and hours of research late at night, to wondering if he would live and for how long, and ultimately what his quality of life would be like.”

The symptoms and progression of SMA can be devastating.

“We learned quickly that SMA leads to progressive loss of ability to move and breathe and often to the end of life. It is the number one genetic cause of death for infants and yet it is rare. There are less than 30 people diagnosed with it in British Columbia, in a population of five million.”

Rumi, who was named for the 13th-century Persian poet, seemed perfectly healthy at birth. It wasn’t until about six months ago, when he reached 18 months old, that Green and his wife Claire first became aware something was amiss.

“We had friends over for dinner,” explains Green. “One was a fellow OC Geography professor and the other a child development specialist. She noticed Rumi wasn’t walking quite right. Not long after, we saw a pediatrician, followed by a number of specialists and eventually a neurologist and the entire neuromuscular team at BC Children’s Hospital. Eventually, via genetic testing, we found out it was Spinal Muscular Atrophy.”

SMA is a motor neuron disease. The motor neurons affect the voluntary muscles that are used for activities such as crawling, walking, head and neck control, swallowing, and breathing.

There are four types, which range in symptoms and severity. Rumi was diagnosed with Type II. 

“Many who receive this diagnosis may never walk,” says Green. “They may not live past their early 20s. They may lose the ability to breathe in early adulthood.”

May being the key word, he notes. Hope exists for Rumi and other SMA sufferers in the form of new gene therapy drugs.Rumi Green Dec 2019

Thanks to quick work by the family’s neurologist Dr. Kathryn Selby, the Greens have already attained special coverage from the province and Biogen for Rumi to receive for a year a drug called Spinraza (nusinersen), one of the first gene therapies approved for SMA. Without the coverage, the drug costs about $120,000 per injection.

“Spinraza is delivered through a lumbar puncture (spinal tap),” explains Green. “When SMA children start Spinraza treatment, they have to do four loading doses – one spinal tap every two weeks. By January, Rumi’s frequency of dosing will go to once every four months.”

Recently, Green launched a Facebook page to track his son’s treatment journey and to help raise funds for SMA research. The page, like the boy who inspired it, is a story of lightness, joy and bravery.

A video posted on Nov. 18, just a few days after Rumi received his second spinal tap, shows a happy little boy singing to the birds while his father pushes him in his stroller down a quiet street.

Now, Green is taking more steps to help Rumi and others in the fight against SMA. 21,000 steps, to be precise.

He signed up to run the New York City Half Marathon next March and set a fundraising goal of $2,100 USD, or roughly a dime per step. To his surprise, support from family and friends, and his colleagues at Okanagan College, helped him surpass that goal within a few days of posting it here. He’s now raised more than $4,400.

“We were blown away by the outpouring of generosity,” says Green. “People at the College and so many others in our lives have been incredibly supportive. It’s given us a lot of hope and positivity.”

One of the people lending support in a powerful way is Green’s friend, OC colleague and former officemate Dr. Shelly Ikebuchi, a professor in the Sociology department.

Ikebuchi does pottery in her spare time and recently took to making ring dishes emblazoned with quotes by a particular poet – Rumi.

Shelley Ikebuchi Dec 2019

“It was one of those weird coincidences,” says Ikebuchi. “I’ve used quotes by Rumi for a while. When I learned what Gill’s Rumi was facing, I knew I wanted to make a gift. After I donated, I thought, ‘What can I do to raise more awareness, if not a little more money?’”

Ikebuchi continues to sell her Rumi-inspired ring dishes for $5 each, donating all proceeds to Green’s run fundraiser.

“I hope the community will support what Gill is doing to raise awareness and funds to find a cure for SMA, and help other families who are going through what they are going through.”

After meeting his original fundraising total, Green is now hoping others will be inspired to give.

“Anyone wanting to support what I’m doing, to support families in our situation, can donate directly to CureSMA Canada so that BC families directly benefit,” says Green.

And while he hopes Rumi’s story will inspire others to support SMA research, Green is also hoping his run and the Facebook page will spark greater awareness.

“My goal is to make sure that people know that this genetic disease exists,” he says. “And from then on, hopefully we can build momentum so that access to medicine and prenatal and newborn screening in B.C. will match other regions across Canada and North America. Anyone looking for more information about what our journey has been like, and the struggles facing SMA families in B.C., can check out the Facebook page and follow along.

“I want to thank everyone who has given or sent us their messages of hope, especially the College as an institution and community – it means the world to us.”


Education Assistant training supports diverse learners
Okanagan College Media Release


Every day she walks into the classroom at Columbia Park Elementary, Åsa Kenyon is looking for ways to support students with diverse learning needs.Asa Kenyon Dec 2019

“My job is to find the strength in each individual I work with. I work as a key part of a team to strive towards success for all students in the classroom,” says Kenyon.

Kenyon is a graduate of the Education Assistant Certificate program at Okanagan College. “I took the program because I enjoy working with children and youth. The training offered me an opportunity for work I find both meaningful and rewarding,” says Kenyon.

Education assistants have an important role in the successful education and inclusion of students with diverse learning needs. They work in elementary and secondary school systems, as well as other community organizations.

It is an in-demand skill with job opportunities across the province. Recent labour market data predicts there will be need for nearly 6,000 new education assistants and early childhood educators in B.C. over the next eight years.

Graduates of the education assistant program at Okanagan College have high levels of employment in their field, with 97-per-cent working in the labour force according to the statistics from the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training. 

“We know that providing education for children and youth with diverse learning needs is integral to the overall wellbeing of the community,” says Dennis Silvestrone, Director of Continuing Studies and Corporate Training at Okanagan College. “This program will offer training opportunities for education assistants at the Revelstoke campus. It is a key step in building this critical skill within the community.”

The program is offered in a part-time format and is eligible for student grants. “The part-time nature of the training worked for my schedule as a working parent, as did the practicum component,” says Kenyon.

The Education Assistant certificate training program will be offered at the Revelstoke Centre of Okanagan College and begins in January.


DeHart joins College fundraising campaign
Okanagan College Media Release


Kelowna City Councillor Maxine DeHart is adding her name to new campaign to improve health care in the Okanagan.

DeHart is the Campaign Ambassador for the Okanagan College Foundation’s Our Students, Your Health Campaign, which aims to raise $5 million to build a modern Health Sciences Centre that will educate future health care professionals for the Okanagan and beyond.

Maxine Dehart Dec 2019DeHart will be featured in a 30-second commercial and radio ads talking about the campaign.

“Our health is the most important thing, it’s all we have. I joined this campaign to raise awareness of the amazing impact Okanagan College grads have on our health-care system,” says DeHart.

“I can't express enough that these people coming out of that Centre will be helping you for the rest of your life nor matter who you are and what age you are. We should all open our hearts and give what we can.”

The College has graduated more than 11,000 health-care professionals since its current building opened in 1963. While the College stands by the quality of its education, it needs a new building to reflect advances in health care, ensuring students are educated on the latest technology and in spaces that match typical health-care settings.

“Maxine is a champion for community, and we’re delighted she’s helping us raise awareness of this important campaign,” says Helen Jackman, Okanagan College Foundation Executive Director.

“Our graduates have an immense impact on the local health-care system. We entrust them with the quality of life, the recovery, the wellness of our community, and that doesn’t just refer to our neighbours or our co-workers or people we don’t know. They care for our loved ones, our families, the people nearest and dearest to us. So we hope people will hear the messages that Max and others are sharing, and will be inspired to give and help us make this project a reality.”

The B.C. government is funding $15.4 million of the $18.9 million Centre. The Okanagan College Foundation is fundraising $3.5 million to complete the building and $1.5 million for scholarships and bursaries for students entering high-demand health care careers.

To learn more or to donate, visit


Roche uncorks Rosé course at OC
Okanagan College Media Release

Looking to give the gift of wine tasting, or brush up on your wine knowledge before the holidays? A renowned Okanagan wine maker and educator will be delivering an educational tasting session all about Rosé at the College’s Penticton campus next month.Penelope Roche Dec 2019

Penelope Roche, co-owner and proprietor of Roche Wines, will present the course Rosé Styles: BC & Around the World on Thursday, Dec. 12. The tasting session runs from 7 – 9 p.m. in the B.C. Wine Information Society Sensory Centre in the Centre of Excellence.

“This is a chance to explore how incredibly different one Rosé can be from the next. We might contrast an Okanagan Rosé with a French Rosé for example, and how climate and many other factors produce such profound differences in the taste of the wines,” says Roche. “We’ll taste seven or eight wines over the course of the night, comparing the styles and learning a little bit about the winemaking processes.”

Roche and her husband Dylan, along with a dedicated team at Roche Wines, are staunchly committed to an all-natural approach in their vineyards on the southern edge of the Naramata Bench.

“We are focused on hands-on organic farming, with traditional French ‘savoir-faire’, to make exceptional wines which express unique Okanagan terroirs. We are also committed to environmental stewardship, as it’s important to us for the health of our family and ecosystem, and for the contribution it makes to the quality of our wines.”

“We have always worked with small lots, in direct contact with the vineyard, and we are acutely aware of the details that make the difference between good and exceptional wine,” notes Roche.

Winemaking runs deep in Roche’s family. She counts six generations of viticulture and winemaking at Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion in the Bordeaux region of France.

From oenology and viticulture studies in Bordeaux to winemaking in Spain, New Zealand and Australia, she brings to the Okanagan a profound and holistic understanding of the grapevine’s relationship with its environment, from a winemaker’s perspective.

Roche is also a winegrowing consultant, and teaches viticulture at Okanagan College.

The tasting session costs $78.75. Seating is limited. Register online at