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Markin twins challenge College alumni to support next generation of learners

Allison and Quentin Markin have launched a donation-matching challenge to alumni of Okanagan College to help raise $20,000 towards the College’s new child care centre.  

markin family - web

Both attended the College for the first year of their post-secondary education and are appealing to Okanagan College and Okanagan University College alumni to raise funds for the new child care centre, which is currently under construction at the Penticton campus.

The siblings were inspired to donate to the child care campaign in honour of the family’s long-standing ties to the College, and for their parents Allan and Evelyn, on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary.

“We wanted to recognize our parents and their connection to the College,” says Allison Markin. “Our parents gave us an appreciation for the transformative power of education and we wanted to pay it forward to the next generation of learners.” 

The siblings are prepared to match donations from alumni who contribute before the centre opens this fall, up to a collective total of $10,000. The matched gifts go towards the College’s “Bright from the Start: Building for the Future” campaign goal of $700,000.

“It takes alumni to support College students and the next generation of learners,” adds Markin, who also volunteers on the campaign committee. “By doubling the donations, we hope to raise $20,000 to give the child care centre a boost and our future students a bright start." 

The new child care centre will serve families in the South Okanagan, including Okanagan College students and employees. It will be operated through a partnership with the Penticton and District Community Resources Society.

The siblings originally moved to Penticton with parents Allan and Evelyn in 1988 when Allan took on the role of Campus Director for the College. Both parents are well known for championing many educational, fundraising and community-based initiatives in the Penticton area, including the Mad Hatter’s Ball, a fundraising event for the College.

Due to their parents’ involvement at the College, when it came time to consider their post-secondary options, both siblings chose to get their start at the Penticton campus, before going on to complete degrees elsewhere.

Allison Markin is an in-demand marketing expert with her own consulting business and has previously utilized her expertise at the College as an instructor and a communications specialist. Twin brother Quentin is a highly-regarded international lawyer.

“It’s wonderful to see our alumni taking active roles to make a positive impact for our students and the broader community,” says Kara Kazimer, President of the Okanagan College Alumni Association.

“We hope Allison and Quentin’s generosity will initiate a momentum among the 3,000 alumni in the South Okanagan and they will rise to the challenge by maximizing the funds raised to benefit families in the region.”

Alumni can donate at and share their support online using the hashtag #BrightStartChallenge.

Non-alumni can make a donation or learn more about the innovative project by visiting the Okanagan College Foundation website at

New apocalyptic lit course comes to College’s Penticton campus

A new English course is sure to bring much-wanted doom and gloom to students at Okanagan College’s Penticton campus this Fall.

jeremy beaulne fall 2017 lit class webWhen English Professor Jeremy Beaulne discovered he was teaching English 231: Studies in Popular Narrative this September, he immediately set out to create a unique course that has never before been offered at the College. 

After scanning a wide array of first-year English courses at the College and across the country, he decided to focus the course on a topic popular from highbrow literature to Netflix – the apocalypse.

“Recently, I’ve seen many first year English classes talk about technology and the thought of technology potentially surpassing humans,” explains Beaulne. “I was interested to see how this cataclysmic thought manifested in popular media and quickly saw it’s something people are obsessed with. There are constantly new movies, TV series and literary works about apocalyptic scenarios.”

Beaulne’s course will provide an in-depth study on apocalypse through a series of classic texts, contemporary works and modern films. Students can expect to delve into materials spanning over two centuries, from 19th century poetry to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which has recently seen new life and a surge in popularity thanks to a 2017 TV series adaptation on Bravo.

“I have always loved to imagine end-of-the-world scenarios, especially zombies,” says Beaulne. “This course will look into different types of apocalypses including alien and technological invasions, zombies, ecological decimation, and other doomsday scenarios.”

Another unique feature of the course sure to delight students: Beaulne’s end-of-the-world reading list is open-ended.

“Students will have the chance to bring their favourite—or new—apocalyptic literature and complete an assignment based on their chosen text,” says Beaulne. 

Beaulne has been a member of the Okanagan College English Department since 2008. When he is not teaching, Beaulne is active in amateur theatre and can often be found in the director’s chair helping to craft the next production for Okanagan College’s Red Dot Players.


A better way to build: College grad constructs net-zero family home

In search of an innovative building solution, David Sawatzky discovered much more than a new perspective when he enrolled in Okanagan College’s Sustainable Construction Management Technology diploma (SCMT): he adopted sustainability as a way of life. 

“I had worked in the building industry for years and was dissatisfied,” says 38-year-old Sawatzky. “I knew there had to be a better way to build.

Sawatzky David“The SCMT program was exactly what I was looking for,” explains the recent graduate who was part of the program’s first graduating class last month. “It was unique in Canada, a first of its kind. Right away I knew it could give me the leg-up on the industry competition.”

Inspired by the skills and theories learned in the classroom, he set out to build his own net-zero energy house.

“My wife and I wanted to go beyond the need of a house, it had to be sustainable,” explains the father of three. “We had to be pragmatic but also visionaries. We said let’s make it a size we need, but not more, we don’t want excess nor wasted space.”

The family moved into the custom 1,700 square foot house in Lumby earlier this month. It boasts the most sustainable and industry innovative features including: LED lighting throughout, a super insulated concrete form foundation (as opposed to the conventional uninsulated concrete), Energy Star compliant fixtures and appliances, low flow plumbing fixtures, and a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) and mini-split ductless heat pump. The latter two are essential for heating and cooling in energy efficient ways using existing airflow, especially for the seasonal temperature range experienced in the Okanagan. 

“The icing on the cake though is the solar panels on the roof,” says Sawatzky of the 7.4 kW photovoltaic array (28 panels that generate 265 watts each). “We needed a new car, but we preferred the house to be energy zero, so in they went.”

The ultimate goal is to be energy net-positive, meaning the house would create energy that the Sawatzkys would sell back to the power grid, but they will have to wait a year to measure their success.

“If it all works out, hydro will actually write me a cheque every year,” adding that the only utility bill they will have is a small water bill. “It pays to be green.”

Sawatzky is confident his College education will also help him succeed as an entrepreneur in his new sustainable construction business.

“I learned that it’s not just the solution that matters – the process to the solution is equally important,” he says. “We need to build in eco-conscious ways and find a balanced triple bottom line approach: people, planet and profit.”

This type of thinking is one way the SCMT program proves it’s in-line with Okanagan College’s recognition as a leader in post-secondary sustainability. 

“It enriches the students’ experience to study in buildings that represent the exact sustainable features we teach in the classroom,” says Dr. Amy Vaillancourt, Chair of the SCMT program at Okanagan College. “The College is committed to building green, as exemplified in buildings on multiple campuses, and continues to approach future construction with this in mind.”

The Jim Pattison Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Technologies and Renewable Energy Conservation at the Penticton campus (where the SCMT program is taught) achieved LEED Platinum status, was built with the intention to meet petals of the Living Building Challenge, was named the greenest post-secondary building in Canada in 2016 by Corporate Knights Magazine, and has the largest solar panel array on a non-utility building in Western Canada. 

At its Kelowna campus, the Centre for Learning is certified LEED Gold and the recently completed trades building is targeting LEED Platinum. Meanwhile a new trades building under construction at the Vernon campus aims to achieve LEED Gold standard.

The College is now accepting applications for the next student intake in the two-year SCMT diploma program. Classes start in the fall of 2017. For more information, visit


College appoints new Regional Dean for South Okanagan-Similkameen
Okanagan College Media Release

Okanagan College will welcome a new Regional Dean for the South Okanagan-Similkameen later this summer. Eric Corneau, a college administrator with a significant and diverse background in the sector will step into the role on August 28, 2017.

Eric Corneau July 2017Corneau comes to Okanagan College from Nunavut Arctic College (NAC) in Iqaluit where he has worked for the last nine years, most recently as Vice President. In that role, Corneau supervised a team of 44 across three divisions: Academic Affairs, Student Services, and Corporate Services. He was instrumental in the development of new partnerships and the delivery of new programs, involving extensive consultation with Indigenous peoples, community, industry and various levels of government. Before becoming Vice President, he served as Dean of the College’s Nunatta Campus and prior to that as Manager of Policy and Planning.

He holds a Master of Arts in Public Administration and a Graduate Certificate in Public Management and Governance from the University of Ottawa, and a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Political Science with a Major in Community and Public Affairs from Concordia University.

“As a newcomer to the South Okanagan, I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the College and the region,” says Corneau. “I’m eager to work with and be a resource to our students, faculty and employees. I’m also very excited to build on the strong relations with community, local First Nations, industry, donors, government, alumni and other groups that enrich and empower the College’s mission and contribute to the overall vibrancy of the region.”

“We are confident that Eric’s depth of experience and proven track record for supporting learner success and empowering staff to excellence will enable him to thrive in his new role,” says Okanagan College’s Vice President Students, Charlotte Kushner.

“With his aptitude for innovative partnership and program development, and strong community focus, he is well suited to continue the outstanding work done by his predecessors to provide world-class learning opportunities for learners in the South Okanagan.”

Corneau also brings a strong track record of community involvement. He was President of the Association des francophones du Nunavut for more than eight years during his time with NAC.

Donna Lomas, the previous Regional Dean, retired in December 2016 from the role she occupied since September 2005.


Applied research project investigates injuries in tree planters

A chance meeting with a physiotherapist in Northern B.C. has led an Okanagan College instructor to a collaborative research project that examines common injuries in a distinct industry: tree planting. 

darrell skinner release 2017 web“There are thousands of tree planters in the province, and while we may think of repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, or tennis elbow, imagine planting up to 2,500 trees each day for a number of months,” says Darrell Skinner, an instructor in Okanagan College’s Therapist Assistant program. “Injury is unfortunately sometimes expected with such physical work, but we wanted to examine possible preventative strategies.”

Bringing together a team of students, and with the support and expertise of the owner and staff of Total Physiotherapy in Houston, BC, Skinner is leading research into taping hands and wrists to prevent tendonitis in tree planters.

“More than 30 per cent of tree planters have tendonitis,” says Mike McAlonan, owner of Total Physio. “And it’s likely under-reported as planters don’t wish to take days off and lose income. Tree planters are like athletes. They have a short season to work, so we manage them like athletes to keep them going until the season comes to an end.”

Rather than treating tendonitis post-injury, Skinner and McAlonan’s research focusses on prevention. Control and test groups of planters are being closely monitored to determine if a specific form of taping can help prevent injury. 

“This is the first time I’ve been part of an applied research project,” says McAlonan. “It’s been exciting working with Okanagan College on a project that will hopefully have a positive impact in the industry.”

According to the B.C. Council of Forest Industries, in 2015-16, the forest industry in B.C. generated $833 million in direct public revenue, $12.9 billion in product exports, and trees planted in B.C. captured two billion tonnes of carbon. 

tree planting release“This is an important component to our economy and also supports the environment,” notes Skinner.

Windfirm Resources, based in Smithers, conducts tree planting in two camps. Each season, around 150 workers plant 12 million trees. Operations manager and field supervisor Ryan Zapisocki became involved in the preventive injury research through Total Physio, Windfirm’s physiotherapy provider.

“Mike has trained our first aid and crew members to do the taping, and the planters are now learning how to recognize the symptoms and prevent injury. Our veterans (those who have returned for several seasons), are almost injury free now. Everyone loves it,” says Zapisocki. “It’s made a big difference, and it’ll be great for the province once word gets out.”

Skinner and McAlonan has visited several tree planting camps this spring, and so far the research is showing great potential to help reduce tendonitis in planters in B.C. and beyond. Many tree planters have thanked them for coming up with the project. 

“It’s a great feeling when a crew member comes up to me and says thank you,” says Skinner. “They tell me that they feel their work and health are both valued.”

The project is funded by an Engage Grant from NSERC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Student involvement, in addition to working with industry partners, is a key component of applied research at the College. Two students from the College’s Therapist Assistant program are lending a hand with the project. 

Alisha Lemke, who graduated from the program last month, has been assisting with literature research and compiling prior related research. 

“I was interested in the practical training at Okanagan College, and became interested in this project as part of my education. It’s helping me prepare for the real world,” says Lemke. “The idea of preventive taping has not been well researched. Most of it is sports-related, not worker-related.” 

Riley Orchard, another Therapist Assistant student will be helping with further analysis of the research results this fall.

Support from College and community helping Salmon Arm students chase their dreams

A year and a half ago, Syrian-born Mustafa Zakreet was in a refugee camp in Lebanon waiting to come to Canada. While there, he learned a valuable lesson about the power of education – one that has stayed with him as he and his family have built a new life in Salmon Arm.

Although trained as a railroad engineer, Zakreet – then only 23 – immediately put his university education to work teaching English to young children in the camp.mustafa zakreet web

“I was inspired at how, despite their circumstances, these Kindergartners were so genuinely excited about learning,” explains Zakreet. “I saw how learning gave them hope for the future, just as it did for me."

Eighteen months and a great deal of hard work later, Zakreet is one of nearly 40 students who were recognized at Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm campus awards ceremony on June 21. 

It was a big night for students at the Salmon Arm campus. All told, more than $65,000 in scholarships and bursaries was awarded to 38 individuals that evening.

“This event is truly one of the highlights of the year for all of us at the Salmon Arm campus,” says Regional Dean Joan Ragsdale, who emceed the ceremony. “It is a chance to witness first-hand the impact that community support has on our students. I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the many donors who make these awards possible and congratulations to each of the award recipients.”

This year’s recipients spanned a vast array of programs – Arts, Science, Business, Health, Trades, Technologies, Continuing Studies, Adult Special Education and others. Equally diverse were their backgrounds, with some students living steps away from campus and diving straight into their first year of College fresh out of high school, while others – like Zakreet – took a longer route to reach OC.

After fleeing his war-torn birthplace of Homs in central Syria, Zakreet landed as a refugee in Salmon Arm with his family in 2015. Over the past year and a half, he has voraciously pursued upgrading at the College in pursuit of his lifelong goal of becoming an engineer.

SA awards group 2017 web

All that hard work has paid off for Zakreet. This fall, he’ll make another journey – a much shorter one this time – when he moves from Salmon Arm to begin the Civil Engineering Technology program at the College’s Kelowna campus.

“Being part of Okanagan College has been an amazing experience,” says Zakreet. “I have made so many friends here and have felt so welcomed. I feel connected to the community and feel at home here.”

Zakreet was one of six students who received an Al Neale Bursary this year. The warm welcome he has received in Salmon Arm was evidenced again in the eruption of cheers in the room when he was called up to the stage to receive the award.

A donor for more than a decade, Neale personally handed out his awards and spoke about his pride at being able to grow the award fund over the years from two bursaries in 2008 to six bursaries this year. He singled out Zakreet during his address, praising the newcomer to Canada for his hard work and dedication.

“I wish all of this year’s recipients the very best for their future,” said Neale. “And I would especially like to commend Mustafa on all his success and his goals for the future. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I greatly look forward to hearing about what he accomplishes next as he chases his dream of becoming an engineer.”

It’s safe to say those words of encouragement have further motivated Zakreet in chasing that dream.

“To have someone like Mr. Neale support me in my studies feels wonderful,” notes Zakreet. “There are no words for how grateful I am.”

“I’m also incredibly excited for the next chapter. Getting the call and finding out I was accepted into the Civil program in Kelowna was an incredible feeling. I can’t wait to start.”