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In recognition of outstanding contributions to the College and its surrounding communities, two Okanagan College alumni have earned the top honours awarded by the Okanagan College Alumni Association (OCAA).
Kelowna’s Heather Stewart is this year’s recipient of the OCAA Distinguished Alumni Award that recognizes excellence in the areas of leadership, the environment, business or industry, public or community service, the arts, and/or support for Okanagan College. Sarah Comba, also from Kelowna, will receive the OCAA Young Alumni Award, which recognizes extraordinary contributions of an alumnus who is under the age of 35.
Stewart, a sought-after organizational development consultant and founder of Sage Transitions, was involved in facilitating development of the College's first strategic plan. Since then, she has remained engaged in the College’s ongoing strategic planning and has also helped to guide planning for the OC Foundation and the OCAA.
“Okanagan College has made such significant progress in the past decade, and it’s been a fabulous opportunity to be involved, in a small way, in that progress,” notes Stewart, who was a student at the Vernon campus in the early 1970s when classes were still held in the old army barracks.
After pursuing general studies at the College, Stewart went on to earn a Masters Degree in Distance Education and an Advanced Graduate Diploma in Distance Education Technology from Athabasca University. She taught in Okanagan College’s School of Business in the mid 2000s and continues to volunteer her time with the College in numerous ways. In 2013, when the College was celebrating 50 years of transforming lives and communities, Stewart was named one of the 50 People Who Made a Difference.
“I’m very honoured to be recognized,” says Stewart. “I believe strongly in supporting organizations where I can contribute to them and to our community. I feel we all need to find ways to give back to those groups and causes that are important to us.”
Stewart’s latest contribution to the College will make a difference in students’ lives for years to come. Last year, she launched a scholarship fund to assist automotive technician trades students.
Young Alumni Award recipient Sarah Comba, who earned her Business Administration Diploma in 2007, is another difference maker.
While in her second year of studies at the College, Comba partnered with the Alumni Association to launch the Pay it Forward campaign, which invited the College community to contribute useful items – clothing, food, toiletries – for the Kelowna Gospel Mission, Inn from the Cold, and other local organizations serving those in need in the community. More than a decade later, the campaign she founded is still going strong and Comba remains as inspired as ever by the people it brings her in touch with.
“I’ve learned that through simple, small acts of kindness we can have an impact on the lives of others,” says Comba. “That’s all there is to it. It’s such a simple idea: it’s not money, or time, it’s just a few small items, like a pair of socks, that can make all the difference in the world to someone.”
Comba admits her drive to give back pervades all elements of her life. She is also a member of the fundraising team at The City of West Kelowna Parks and Operations Department where she has worked as an Operator for six years.
“I suppose I’ve always been a nurturer in life. I always want to be taking care of people.”
Despite her already impressive track record of giving back in the community, Comba admits she was surprised to learn she’d been selected to receive the award.
“I was honestly shocked when I found out,” says Comba. “To me, this is such a simple act of kindness that I was surprised anyone would take note. But I am truly honoured and humbled by it.”
“Heather and Sarah have each focused a great deal of their time, expertise and energy into making Okanagan College and their community an even better place,” says Kara Kazimer, President of the Board, Okanagan College Alumni Association. “On behalf of my fellow OCAA board members, I commend both of this year’s award recipients on their accomplishments and the high bar they have set for our future OC alumni.”
Comba and Stewart’s achievements will be celebrated at the OCAA awards ceremony and reception at the College’s Kelowna campus on September 13, 2016. For more information about the awards and previous recipients, please visit www.okanagan.bc.ca/alumni.