THE YEAR 2020 will be many things. But here in Kamloops, as well as ripples far and wide, there will be a celebration of Thompson Rivers University (TRU). In 2020, TRU turns 50 years old. Fifty years that has helped define what Kamloops has become, and more and more, 50 years that has helped change the world.
Thompson Rivers University had humble beginnings as Cariboo College in 1970. For the first few years, classes were given at the old Kamloops Indian Residential School (now administrative offices of Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc). First and second year transfer courses to Simon Fraser University and University of British Columbia were on offer to 367 full-time and 200 part-time students. By 1972, the college had moved to its current location, and trades programs were added.
In 1990-91, Cariboo College became University College of the College. The 4th year of the Bachelor of Education and the 3rd year of the Bachelor of Social work were offered for the first time.
The Science Building (now named the Ken Lepin Building) and Main Library were expanded, and construction on the Arts and Education Building had begun. The first Co-op programs in the Business, Computing Mathematics Division were launched in 1990-91. There were just under 250 on-going and temporary faculty members and about 2,500 students. There were a total of 360 international students enrolled in short-term and longer-term programs.
In 2005, Thompson Rivers University was formed, with the merging of University College of the Cariboo and BC Open Learning Agency.
Fast forward to 2020, and TRU has over 30,500 unique students. In 2018-19, there were 15,622 on-campus students, and 16,637 open-learning students, of which only 1,810 are studying both on-campus and open-learning. Over 4,500 are international students studied at TRU in 2018-19, with 3,405 international students studying on-campus, and 1,652 students by distance through TRU Open Learning.
TRU offers a plethora of credentials from upgrading, to certificates, to diplomas, to apprenticeships, to post-baccalaureate diplomas. Degrees at the bachelor and masters level are offered in a range of disciplines ranging from education, law, social work, sciences, nursing, business and tourism. Last year, 2,185 people earned a TRU credential.
Which is to say that over the last 50 years, what was Cariboo College, and then University College of the Cariboo, and is now Thompson Rivers University, grew from nothing to become what is now, even just counting on-campus students, a university of size comparable to Brock University in Ontario, Dalhousie University in Halifax, and University of Regina in Saskatchewan.
It’s a unique university in that it has both a traditional academic program offering, and a poly-technical offering such as the trades programs and culinary arts program.
So, as TRU enters its 50th year, it’s time that the City of Kamloops rethinks its relationship with TRU. Many cities explicitly welcome students to their city. Both Prince George, with University of Northern B.C., and St John’s NL, with Memorial University, host welcoming receptions for new students.
St John’s has specific pages on their city’s website to provide information and a welcome to new students. The City of Kingston, ON, home of Queen’s University, has a specific web page where they welcome students with the statement “Meet Kingston, it’s your home.” Nothing of the sort is on the City of Kamloops website. No special events are hosted by the City for TRU students either.
Whether a TRU student grew up in Kamloops, came from another place in Canada, or is an international student, it is time that the City of Kamloops is more explicit in its welcome to TRU students and to the help they feel that Kamloops is home.
Students study for only a few years. Then they start a long career. Making them feel welcome makes sense for some many reasons, not least of which is we all benefit when a TRU grad stays in Kamloops to build their career.
Fifty years on, humble beginnings have brought forth great things. Well worth celebration. Now it’s time for the City of Kamloops to celebrate the 50 years by explicitly welcoming TRU students as well.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.