The Shocking! The Strange! The Weirdest Courses at KPU

At least you can say we’re one-of-a-kind

Scott McLelland / The Runner

Kwantlen Polytechnic University is anything but an “ordinary university.” And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

KPU is known for its industry-ready programs—particularly for those meeting the demands of “niche” industries—in which the same level of training a student receives here is not likely to be found anywhere else in the province.

One of the programs that has received the most media attention, globally, is the professional management of marijuana for medical purposes in Canada program.

“The program has put KPU on the map both nationally as well as internationally,” says Deepak Anand, executive director of the Canadian National Medical Marijuana Associationand instructor of the Management of Marijuana program at KPU. “It has been extensively covered in both national and international media, such as CNN, Time Magazine, and BBC London.”

“What I saw was a real need in this nascent industry for training and education. The federal government has developed very complex, specific regulations from an industry perspective. We’re glad to see that KPU is the first university to take on the challenge of educating Canadians about this.”

The two courses that Anand teaches are solely offered online, with two modules each.

“The first [course] is plant production and facility management, [it’s] more about the growing aspect,” explains Anand. “There’s very specific requirements around the regulations for Marijuana in terms of how it’s grown and produced federally, so we educate students on that.”

“The second [module] talks about legalities and regulations on how to become a licensed producer in Canada. It talks a lot about the challenges and regulations that you need to be aware of. It also contains marketing, sales, and drug development. Given that this is a controlled drug, there is a lot of criteria that needs to be met from Health Canada’s perspective.”

“There’s a lot that, more importantly, you cannot say from a marketing perspective, so we teach students about that. We also tell [students] about medical conditions [that are treated with cannabis],” says Anand.

Besides venturing into the evident career path of working for/becoming a licensed producer, graduates work in a variety of other areas including the legal industry and the software industry.

With some online courses, it can be common for students to feel like they’re not being heard. Anand, however, provides a platform where student engagement is welcomed.

“Students engage in discussions. What we’ve done with this course is kept discussions open because a lot of students perhaps have experience in growing the product but not really complying with the regulations. We have them open up and discuss all their unique experiences and backgrounds and guide them through the regulations.”

Scott McLelland / The Runner

Anand’s program is unique to KPU, but it’s not this school’s only unique offering. Another one of the institution’s most esteemed programs, the farrier training program, is also the only program of its kind in B.C.

Gerard Laverty, instructor of the program, is originally from Ireland, and his international expertise has helped craft this program into its one-of-a-kind status today.

“It connects us to our past, as well as to our future,” Laverty says of the program. “ It’s still a niche market that most people are not aware of, if they’re not involved [with] horses.”

“One of the things that’s most attractive about it, is you’re going to be self-employed. If you have the right personality for it, it can be a wonderful way to make a living. You have a truck with your tools in the back and you’ll spend the day driving around, from one rural property to another, taking care of horses’ hoof and shoe needs,” says Laverty.

He explains that students spend anywhere between two to six hours per week in the classroom covering things such as anatomy, physiology, disease and lameness. The rest of the time is spent in the shop.

“The shop is run more as a functioning farrier business, but of course it’s not-for-profit, it’s for education,” says Laverty. “We have a steady clientele of horses that come to the shop Monday through Thursday. Typically, the horses will spend about six to seven hours in the shop with the students.”

According to Laverty, part of the students’ day working in the shop involves trimming hooves in preparation for shoes being put on the horse. The other part involves a forging station where students either are adapting a pair of shoes that are already made or making a pair of shoes straight from bar stock.

“Since I started [teaching the program], I recognized that one of the challenges students have today is that it’s a very physically demanding job. To help with that, I incorporated a fitness component into the program. For the past five years, I’ve been bringing a fitness instructor into the shop and we’ve turned the shop into a gym for two hours Tuesday and Thursday mornings and we work out.”

Many students choose, as Laverty did, to go abroad to further explore the farrier career.

“A graduate that came into the shop [recently] had just come back from a year in Australia working on stations and ranches there. The farrier community is small but it’s very well-connected.”

Scott McLelland / The Runner

While Laverty’s students get to work with majestic stallions, another one-of-a-kind program at KPU sees students working like, and alongside, busy bees. Just like the marijuana management and farrier programs, KPU’s commercial beekeeping program is the only one of its kind in North America.

“We need beekeepers badly because there’s a shortage of honeybees,” says instructor John Gibeau, who is also president of the Honeybee Centre in Cloverdale. “There’s not enough honey produced locally to satisfy the demands, so people shop at Safeway and Costco [and] buy their honey from [other parts of] the world because B.C. can’t produce enough of it.”

“The program is designed to teach a family to be a beekeeping family,” Gibeau explains. “It will support a family. The program is not designed to teach you to go and work for somebody else. It’s there to teach you to raise a family on the income from beekeeping.”

Gibeau has noticed a real gap in the B.C beekeeping industry over the years.

“My main business is renting bees, and I’m short every year by 1,000 to 1,500 colonies. We need local beekeepers and many of them—probably hundreds—to satisfy the demand for pollination.”

During the course of the program there are five months spent in the classroom and four months where students are placed in a paid-practicum.

“In the first three months they learn theory [which includes] biology, pest management, [identifying] poisoning, and how to deal with all the maladies that affect the hive,” explains Gibeau. “Then they go on for four months working with a commercial beekeeper in B.C., Alberta, or Saskatchewan.”

According to Gibeau, the most important part of the last two-and-a-half months of the program is for students to identify their business model.

“Once they refine their business model, they’re matched with a professional beekeeping mentor for the next three years, and they’re introduced to bankers [and] insurance companies, so all those professionals are there at their fingertips.”

While all of the above programs are unique in the sense that they teach a very specific subject to students, KPU’s interdisciplinary expressive arts, or IDEA, classes stand out because they don’t teach any one specific thing at all.

“It’s not easy to put into few words, cause it’s a very broad-ranging program,” says Zuzana Vasko, instructor for IDEA 1100. “There’s a great deal of emphasis on personal growth, on collaboration with others, [and] a lot of emphasis on empathy in terms of working with others.”

“Rather than the traditional method of the instructors lecturing and students sitting and absorbing information, there’s a lot of learning that goes on through creative means. We’ve done different things like drawing, creative writing, creative movement . . . just exploring through different creative modalities.”

“The actual content that I focus on in my class [involves] two projects,” explains Vasko. “One is based on self-awareness, so it’s looking inward and it’s very individualized. The other one is looking outward to a concern out in the world, and there’s more emphasis on a group project there. There’s a lot of collaborative work that goes on.”

Students from various faculties choose to take IDEA courses because, while they’re different from anything else, they also compliment the other courses.

“[The courses] offer a different avenue to students. I think it can compliment all the other courses in several ways. The learning that we’re looking at in IDEA [involves] emotions, the body, the spirit, the whole being, so it’s very holistic that way. [It’s] a nice break from the more traditional learning.”

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