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HWW: Renee Jackson-Harper

Building communities, allies, and partnerships is an important part of post-secondary and life generally. We welcome you to get to know the members of our Selkirk College community!

What drove you to become a professor?

I guess the quick answer is that I love the conversations about ideas that happen within classrooms.

I got my educational start at a community college and remember vividly how exciting it was to be in those classrooms for the first time discussing everything from world history, to psychology, to cultural anthropology and creative writing. 

From KSA and Okanagan College, I wound up at the University of Toronto and eventually York University, where I continued to rejoice in the learning and conversations that happened in and around classrooms. I treasure the time I spent these spaces, the knowledge that my professors imparted, and the time to they took to guide me on my way as I sought to answer my own questions.

For me, becoming a teacher was about giving some of that back, about opening doors for new scholars who are just starting to find their feet, and about creating spaces where students can to start to ask and answer their own informed questions about the world we live in. 

What inspires you to continue being a professor?

That’s easy: the students. Every semester I’m met with a sea of new faces, which can be overwhelming (for me and them), but, by the end of the semester, I always feel like we’ve been on a journey together. I leave every term grateful for all of the conversations we’ve had and for all that the brilliant people who share my classrooms have taught me. 

If there is one thing you could change about academia, what would it be?

I would love for post-secondary learning to be financially accessible for everyone. 

As a student, I survived on student loans and part time jobs. I remember too well how hard it was to concentrate on my studies when I was worrying about how to pay for rent, food and transit. I remember sitting down at the end of every year of study and wondering how I would afford to keep going another year, wondering if my student loans would be approved and if my part time jobs would carry me.

I see a lot of students having to decide between continuing to pursue their educational goals and putting a roof over their heads. I hate to think of what we’re losing as society when we foreclose on a student’s educational aspirations because they can’t afford tuition and housing.

What do you see as the values of education in society today?

I think education is more important than ever. The challenges we’re facing as a society are acute at every level, whether it be climate change, the rise of hate speech, or the myriad of other vexing issues we contend with at a local, national and global levels. We need people from across our fields of study to continue to bring informed thinking and fresh ideas to bear on the problems that we face. 

When I feel a bit down on the state of world, I look to my colleagues and students at Selkirk who are doing amazing work in the community and beyond, who are sharing their research and passion for learning, and I have renewed hope.  

What is your favourite thing about the Kootenay region?

There’s not much I don’t love about this place. I love the warm, creative community that thrives in these valleys; I love this geographic space and spending as much time as I can on or by the lakes. I also love working here and with the people I get to work with. After nearly a decade as a poor student, living in a run-down and under-insulated apartment in Toronto (that may or may not have been infested by fleas and visited by rats), I’m grateful for where I’ve landed and for the journey that took me here. 

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HWW: Santanna Hernandez

Building communities, allies, and partnerships is an important part of post-secondary and life generally. We welcome you to get to know the members of our Selkirk College community!

Santanna Hernandez, Chairperson of Selkirk College Students’ Union, Student of Social Work with an Indigenous Specialization

Why did you decide to join the students’ union?

Back in 2014 the Liberal government cut funding to adult basic education. For me this was so frustrating because I know I wouldn’t be here today without free access to adult basic education. At the time I did not know what to do about that frustration. Shortly after I started classes on the castlegar campus where the SCSU was running the campaign “Dont close the doors”, from then I was hooked. I found the place I was meant to be.

Why is a post-secondary education important to you?

Growing up as an Indigenous student, I was never really told post secondary was where I should be, or could be. Once I had my own children I knew I never wanted them to feel that way. I also knew that I wanted to provide them with ever opportunity to succeed. In order to be more secure financially I needed a better career path, which meant I needed that post secondary education. I always was fascinated with the medical industry so I knew post secondary would be a long journey and that I needed to learn to love the gifts it could give me.

If there is one thing you could change about academia, what would it be?

To me there is two changes that would need to happen together. The first being that post secondary should be free so it is accessible to all, but with that being said some huge systemic changes need to happen for marginalized groups to feel safe in this environment. As someone who was often the only Indigenous student in the room, there has always been a different expectation of me as a student. Either my sole purpose felt as though I was there to help educate non-indigenous people, or it seemed as though I was graded differently because a certain level of vulnerability was expected for me to seem genuine. This could be true of all minority groups in post secondary. Systemic change is a hard thing to achieve but is very necessary to allow academia to be accessible for anyone who wishes to strive for it.

What is your favourite thing about the Kootenay region?

My favourite thing about the Kootenay Region is the quality family life I have here. I’m minutes away from amazing camping and boating. My kids are able to grow up near their grandparents. We have a beautiful community who cares about one another in the best ways possible. 


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HWW: Muditha Heenkenda

Building communities, allies, and partnerships is an important part of post-secondary and life generally. We welcome you to get to know the members of our Selkirk College community!

Muditha Heenkenda, Instructor,  Environment and Geomatics

What drove you to become a professor?

I would say I grew up with books – seeing my parents teaching mathematics, science, and arts because my both parents were teachers. As a little girl, I used to imitate them and tried to teach my younger brother. I think that is where I started my interest to be a teacher. After completing my Master of Geoinformation Science degree at the Wageningen University, the Netherlands, I was hired at the University of Twente, the Netherlands as a lecturer in Surveying and Photogrammetry. I loved it and found myself as a strong and successful teacher there. However, I decided to upgrade my knowledge and moved to Charles Darwin University, Australia to do a PhD. Once I have completed my studies, we moved to Canada. I was hired at Selkirk College shortly after landing to Canada and this is my first job in Canada. It turned out I must have been good at it as I am receiving lot of appreciation and I have received the SCOPE award last year. 

What inspires you to continue being a professor?

Students and the ever changing technology I am dealing with! I am learning from students every day, when they understand concepts and making nice maps – I am delighted and inspired. Then I don’t think about the time and effort put together to get updated with the new technology and incorporating them to the classroom. That is how I ended up developing two new courses addressing cutting edge remote sensing technology last year.     

If there is one thing you could change about academia, what would it be?

More scholarship opportunities & no cell phones in the classroom. Those two were the first thing came to my mind. I benefited from scholarships for higher education, if not, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I have seen and of course experienced student’s financial struggles. Financial burdens should not serve as a limiting force for potential students. Therefore an increasing number of scholarships would be one of the solutions. I also benefitted not having a smart phone for 24/7 when I was studying. Introducing new technology to the classroom is something I agree more than 100%, but non-stop texting, chatting or blinking screens every now and then with new messages are not my favorites. I believe that the phone takes more attention than subject matters discussed in the class – I don’t need to be a mean teacher but I hope everyone teaching in the education system recently, no matter what the level is, agrees with me.

What do you see as the values of education in society today?

No matter the program of study, education improves personal lives and helps societies run smoothly – people are mindful, live longer and happier. Apart from the subject matters, education will develop soft skills of a person like critical thinking, decision making, team work, public speaking, attention to details etc. These are valuable skills for the life as well as for the workforce. As many economists agree today, the education is directly correlates with the economic growth and the stability of the society. 

What is your favourite thing about the Kootenay region?

As a skilled migrant, moving here from Calgary, I have definitely got used to slower, rural shape of life. I appreciate the fresh air, less traffic and the beautiful environment. I am not sure whether we are included to the community but we are surviving and trying to maintain good relationships with everyone. 

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HWW: Kim Pham

Building communities, allies, and partnerships is an important part of post-secondary and life generally. We welcome you to get to know the members of our Selkirk College community!

Kim Pham, Secretary, Selkirk College Students’ Union

Why did you decide to join the students’ union?

I decided to join Students Union primarily out of curiosity. After the Skills training in Kelowna, I felt that I belong to a dedicated group of people fighting for students’ rights. I love that idea because I have to fund my own education. This feeling motivates me and inspires me to be part of the students movement, as I know we are helping many students and their families.

Why is a post-secondary education important to you?

A post-secondary education is important to me because I want to have a better job. I am currently working in a fast food restaurant. The job is physically hard and precarious. It means I can be easily replaced. I believe everyone wants a job security where we can work at our best potential, rather than a job that we have to always worry about being replaced. In order to have a better job, I need knowledge and skills provided through education.

If there is one thing you could change about academia, what would it be?

 I would like to have a fairness for international students. As an international student myself, I want to have a capped tuition fee increase like domestic students have or at least to be able to budget for the fee. Similar to my workplace, not knowing how much my tuition will increase leaves me feeling precarious in something that is very important.

What is your favourite thing about the Kootenay region?

I like fresh air, beautiful landscapes and friendly people in the Kootenay regions. I have made many friends, so I feel included and close to my community. 

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HWW: Lori Barkley

Building communities, allies, and partnerships is an important part of post-secondary and life generally. We welcome you to get to know the members of our Selkirk College community!

Lori Barkley, Instructor, Anthropology, Peace and Justice Studies

What drove you to become a professor?

A friend at the time suggested I apply to be a teaching assistant at SFU after I finished my undergrad. At the time, seminar sizes were smaller & the Sociology and Anthropology department at SFU didn’t have enough graduate students for all of the positions. I started as a seminar instructor the fall after I finished by degree from the University of Calgary (I was a visiting student @ SFU so have some idea of the challenges of transferring courses between provinces). I loved it & it turned out I must have been good at it, as they kept hiring me back. I taught seminars in both sociology and anthropology, and was a marker for ethnic relations as well. So I sort of fell into teaching. After my experiences teaching, I decided to apply to grad school so I could teach on a more regular basis, rather than the contract treadmill. I was hired at Selkirk shortly after finishing my graduate degree.

What inspires you to continue being a professor?

Students! I learn from my students each & every day. I also love seeing when things “click” for them & they become inspired. Without the meaningful interactions with students I would have been out of this profession long ago!

If there is one thing you could change about academia, what would it be?

Smaller class sizes & free tuition. Sorry I can’t pick just one. If my tuition was as expensive as it is now, I wouldn’t be where I am. My tuition tripled over the course of my degrees & it was a struggle. I’ve seen the student demographic change as a result & students have so many financial barriers to overcome that it makes obtaining an education more and more difficult. 

I benefitted from small class sizes & I have seen dramatic changes in that regard since my first university class in 1988. When class sizes increase the quality of education goes down, it is inevitable. There is only so much an instructor can do in terms of establishing connections, providing extensive feedback, & just being there for students. I think everyone teaching in the education system right now, no matter what the level, struggles with this.

What do you see as the values of education in society today?

No matter the program of study, education provides several things: the ability to think critically and process large amounts of information, multi-task, work for various people with just as varied expectations, meet deadlines, etc., these are all valuable skills for the workforce and life in general. I greatly value my education as it opened my eyes to seeing the world in a much more complex and nuanced way. I’m a better person in the world because of the outstanding education I received at my alma maters (University of Calgary & Simon Fraser University). My motto is the more I learn, the less I know. Education creates a thirst for knowledge that is never satiated, there is always more to question, experience, know, leading to another set of questions. It is a fantastic journey to become a better member of society.

What is your favourite thing about the Kootenay region?

As an anthropologist, of course I will say the people! Coming here from Vancouver, I have certainly gotten used to the slower pace of life, and the ability to spark conversations with strangers without being suspected of wanting something. When I first got here, the friendliness was what struck me the most. I also appreciate the fresh air & sheer beauty of this place. There are just so many interesting people here that all have these amazing stories.