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Improving local economies aim of new college program (7/03)

By ANDREW WAREING With a growing emphasis on community-based economic development initiatives, a new program on community and economic development seemed a natural addition at Northern College, says Mike Studd.


With a growing emphasis on community-based economic development initiatives, a new program on community and economic development seemed a natural addition at Northern College, says Mike Studd.

Studd, professor and co-ordinator of business studies at Northern College’s Kirkland Lake campus.

The college received final approvals by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (OMTCU) to offer a new community, economic and social development course for the upcoming academic year.

The course will be offered at Northern College’s Kirkland Lake and Haileybury campuses and through the Contact North network. Studd says the course is fairly unique among colleges in Ontario, especially since it is geared toward training new economic development professionals.

“There is a growing movement among practitioners and communities where they’re realizing a different approach is needed to help struggling communities. That movement is called community and social economic development,” he says. “What it entails is communities taking charge of their own development and not necessarily relying on getting a big manufacturing development or on government money.”

That new approach looks at the resources and assets that already exist in the community, and provides services to assist entrepreneurial ventures and new community organizations, says Studd.

“It occurred to us that there is an entire body of skills and knowledge there that could form the basis of an educational package,” says Studd.

He says the course is a mixture of many of the college’s existing programs in business and social services, as well as the addition of some courses specifically designed for this program. On the business side, the college offers programs in human resource management, accounting, marketing and economics. On the social development side, there are courses in sociology, social psychology, and contemporary social issues.

Students will be learning the concepts behind social and economic development and the skills they will need to assess the assets and needs of a community. They will also learn where to find the resources needed to address those needs and build on the assets of the community. They will also learn the intricacies of funding.

“In order to have successful community economic development, in the long run, you also have to develop the whole sense of community, the idea of quality of life and how people interact with each other,” says Studd. “In that area, we will look at things like group processes and how people can be made to work together better. We’ll be looking at the role of social organizations out there. In the sequence of material, that will lead us to specific

things like new generation cooperatives and new business support.”

Students can obtain either a two-year diploma, which offers students a general understanding or a three-year program with students specializing in particular fields. There will also be opportunities to put some of that knowledge to use as students will be required to take part in placements, seminars and fieldwork.

Once people graduate, then students are going to be looking for opportunities, not just to put what they have learned to use, but to be gainfully employed in the field. For that reason, Studd says there will be an emphasis on teaching the students entrepreneurial skills.

“There is a possibility that our graduates will be able to go out and create their own opportunities,” he says. “On the other side, municipalities and other organizations that we contacted when we were preparing this proposal were very enthusiastic and excited about this. They said these are exactly the kind of people that they need to help them out.

“We’re quite confident there is a need for these graduates and that need will be provided for,” he adds.

Because of the design of the program, current Northern College staff will teach many of the courses. However, plans are in the works to hire a full-time faculty member who specializes in this area. The college also hired people to assist in the development of the program’s curriculum.

Studd says college officials have been looking at their business program and looking for ways to structure the program to meet the needs of the northern rural communities in which the college resides.

He says developing the program has come, not just as a response to the college’s mandate to help improve the local economies, but as a result of shifts in approach both nationally and internationally that are proving successful economic development comes from the community and its people.

“What is being found is the old approach of throwing money at a problem or trying to get in a big manufacturing facility does not work as well as getting down to the community level and working with the people there,” he says. “What works best is working from the bottom up. I think that this approach has some applicability among many of the struggling communities of northern Ontario.”