It was 10 years ago last fall that Nipissing University made its move into southwestern Ontario by setting up a satellite campus in Brantford.
To mark the occasion, as well as the North Bay-based school’s 20th anniversary as an independent university, the school is hosting a birthday party at the Brantford campus on Feb. 12 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
“Our students are great ambassadors, and great community members,” said associate dean Maria Cantalini-Williams.
Alumni, staff, visitors and community members can tour the campus and learn about Nipissing’s past successes and current programs while enjoying entertainment from student and staff musicians.
At 2:30 p.m. in the theatre, dignitaries including Nipissing University’s new president, Dr. Mike DeGagne and Laurier president Max Blouw will reflect on the school’s contribution to the city.
Colleen Miller, the chair of the Grand Valley Education Society and one of the drivers behind bringing Laurier to Brantford, will be named an honourary alumna.
Far from being an isolated downtown bubble, Cantalini-Williams said Nipissing staff and students make a point of getting to know their neighbours.
“Because the campus is situated in the core of the city, (the students) interact with the citizens and do a lot of volunteer work,” she said.
In fact, each concurrent education student must complete 120 hours of volunteer community service with social agencies like St. Leonard’s and Big Brothers Big Sisters Grand Erie and at events such as the Santa Claus Parade.
Laurier and Nipissing joined forces to offer the very popular concurrent education program, where students receive a Bachelor of Education degree from Nipissing and a Bachelor of Arts in contemporary studies from Laurier.
“Our students are highly respected (in education circles),” Cantalini-Williams said.
First-year student Matt Treichel called the joint concurrent education program “the best by far” of those he researched. He said he appreciates the convenience of living, studying and shopping downtown.
Innovations in early childhood education and mobile learning, plus the chance to complete five practicums before graduation, attract undergrads, Cantalini-Williams said. She made special mention of the school’s international mentorship program, which provides teaching experience for 30 students each year in classrooms in China, Italy and Kenya.
“At Nipissing, every professor knows your name,” said second-year student Amanda Simmons.
Simmons said it helps that professors are former educators, many of whom were involved in hiring at their respective boards and can give useful advice.
The campus is currently home to 995 students, quite a jump from the inaugural class of 29. Nipissing also offers a masters program and advanced qualification courses for licensed teachers.
“Our retention rate is very good,” said Cantalini-Williams.
Looking ahead, Cantalini-Williams would like to see Nipissing expand its technological services, offer more joint programming in early childhood education with Mohawk College and expand the existing Aboriginal education program.
Cantalini-Williams said the arrival of Nipissing in 2002 under then-director Sandra Reid was “a catalyst for growth” in Brantford.
Bringing postsecondary institutions to downtown Brantford has paid off, agreed Downtown Brantford Business Improvement Area chair David Prang.
“(Nipissing) has exposed hundreds of local educators to the downtown each summer through additional qualifications courses and their openness to community meetings and engagement with local schools has been exemplary,” Prang said.
“The DBBIA recognizes the additional ‘feet on the street’ the partnerships bring, as well as the spending by students, staff and faculty in our businesses.”
Chamber of Commerce Brantford Brant board president Gerry Rudnick said residents are recognizing the value Nipissing adds to the area.
“According to the most recent economic impact study on postsecondary education, a strong majority of Brantford residents know that Nipissing Brantford enhances the reputation of our community and significantly contributes to our economic base,” Rudnick said.
Simmons, a Mississauga native, used to play baseball in Brantford and saw the dilapidated state of downtown before the schools moved in.
“I remember driving through when I was little and saying, this is scary,” she said. “Now, it seems more of a community than it was before. It’s definitely improved.”