HANNA PETERSEN PHOTO Kwakwaka’wakw dancers perform in celebration of the new NIC campus in Port Hardy.

VIDEO: NIC officially opens new Thunderbird Mall Campus

“The community is really eager to see our new space.”

Modern, state-of-the-art, and inspired by traditional Kwakwaka’wakw aesthetic, North Island College’s brand new Port Hardy campus is now ready to serve students from all over the North Island.

With a special grand opening ceremony that was well attended by members of communities throughout the region, North Island College officially opened their $1.4 million campus at the Thunderbird Mall in Port Hardy on Jan. 18.

NIC Campus and Community Coordinator, Caitlin Hartnett, said she was excited to see the great turnout.

“I think it shows that the community is really eager to see our new space and it also speaks to our accessibility now that we are down in this new location right next to a lot of other services,” said Hartnett.

The new 6,000 square foot campus is highly accessible to students and community members as it centrally located in the district’s main service and shopping areas.

Students in Port Hardy could easily walk to the class, and students traveling from Port McNeill, Sointula or Alert Bay will be able to take public transportation directly to campus.

The campus is also now neighbours with community partners like Sacred Wolf Friendship Centre, North Island Aboriginal Training Society, and North Island Employment Foundation Society.

“The closeness to our partners means students can get support not just from us but in other aspects of their lives,” said Hartnett, adding, “It creates a more holistic space for a person so that in one place they can access all of these services that support them.”

The new state-of-the-art campus includes four classrooms, an open study area and computer lab, offices and assessment areas, a well-equipped lunchroom, and a welcoming student lounge with wooden beams and cedar siding designed to emulate a Kwakwaka’wakw Big House.

The biggest classroom, which is the community/healthcare room, is designed to deliver health programs and first aid training.

The campus also incorporates Skype capabilities and features an entire interactive Tv room that connects students, instructors, and courses at other NIC campuses with the Port Hardy campus in real time.

“Right when we first opened there were already students who gravitated towards the student lounge space and were studying there,” said Hartnett. “I think that is what we are aiming for – a space that is geared towards learning but also has that aspect of being really comfortable and a place that people feel they belong.”

Hartnett said facilities staff and architects drew on student, faculty and Indigenous perspectives when designing the space.

“That central space with the four posts came out of our Indigenous faculty’s vision for the space and it reflects the Kwakwaka’wakw artistic tradition and world view,” she added.

The grand opening of the new campus began with a blessing by Kwakiutl Chief George Hunt Sr. and featured traditional singing and dancing to celebrate the new space.

Internationally renowned artist Calvin Hunt also gifted the new campus with an original artwork.

“We have witnessed North Island College in recent years expand many learning opportunities in areas of Kwak’wala language learning, cultural expression and the willingness to do things differently, in a good way, with our traditions and protocols,” said Hunt during a speech he delivered at the ceremony. “Today we mark the time to celebrate this new space and commit to many exciting opportunities for all North Islanders.”

The new campus offers an opportunity to build on existing programming, which includes a full range of programs from tuition-free upgrading to first and second-year university transfer courses.

The campus also includes a library and learning commons which has a quiet study, meeting spaces, writing, math, research, technical support, peer tutoring, and several electronic collections, including 24/7 access to approximately 166,000 e-books, 25,500 streaming videos and almost 80 research databases.

“I’m really proud of all the work that is being done here,” said NIC Vice-President Randall Heidt, adding, “Lifelong learning is so important and this place will hopefully help people do that.”

NIC President John Bowman also gave a speech where he thanked all staff, students, the relocation committee and community partners who provided input into the campus’ design and development.

“Students can start their university degree or earn a credential without ever having to leave the North Island,” said Bowman.

“That’s an enormous saving that puts education within reach for many students.”

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