North Island College psychology prof changes lives for four decades

Dr. Michael Catchpole led charge to distance education

North Island College psychology instructor Dr. Michael Catchpole celebrates 41 years at NIC this year. The pioneering instructor has taught more than 6,000 students. SUBMITTED PHOTO

North Island College instructor Dr. Michael Catchpole marked an unprecedented milestone this year — 41 years of inspiring students. Catchpole is based out of Port Alberni but has taught classes throughout B.C.

The award-winning psychologist and educator joined NIC in 1978 – two years after the college opened its doors.

“I often say to my students that the great thing about a career in psychology is that one can teach, do research and engage in private practice and I have certainly enjoyed doing all three,” said Catchpole. “Though teaching is a particular favourite.”

Doctor Tanja Mani says taking Dr. Catchpole’s psychology class changed the direction of her life. Mani sold real estate for a few years in Port Alberni in the 1990s but was looking for a career change.

“I knew that I wanted to attend university, but I wasn’t sure of my career path,” said Mani. “After taking a class with Dr. Catchpole, I started looking into clinical psychology and decided that’s what I wanted to pursue.”

She is now a clinical neuropsychologist at Lee Health in south Florida, after earning her PhD in clinical psychology.

“Dr. Catchpole was a huge inspiration for me. He has had such a positive impact on so many people’s lives,” she said.

Catchpole’s work contributed to NIC’s reputation as a world leader in the field of distance education and distributed learning.

“Michael’s joyful engagement with students while pioneering distance education has been key to NIC’s commitment to providing accessible education to students where they live,” said Lisa Domae, NIC’s executive vice president, academic and chief operating officer.

“His passion for teaching guides his work and has supported more than 6,000 post-secondary students across the region.”

Catchpole was a pilot professor for three of NIC’s educational television initiatives, teaching psychology to students via satellite, TV’s Knowledge Network and NIC’s Interactive Television (ITV) system, which is still in use today.

Taking courses via videoconferencing made a lasting impact on NIC graduate, Greg Jensen.

“I remember being able to interact with students from different communities right in my Port Alberni ITV class,” he said. “It was a lot of fun to participate in that.”

A former mill worker, Jensen went back to school after the mill he was working at went into curtailment in the late 1990s.

“I was taking some upgrading classes and Tanja recommended I take Dr. Catchpole’s class and I loved it,” he said.

“It was Dr. Catchpole who mentioned to me that I’d make a good health care administrator – which is what I ended up doing. It was his suggestion that put the idea in my head.”

Both Mani and Jensen say they couldn’t imagine what their lives would have been like, had they not been inspired by Catchpole. His instruction, plus the opportunity NIC provided to transition to a new career right in their home community, were essential to the exciting lives they now live.

“I can still see him sitting up at the front of the class instructing,” said Jensen. “He explained to us that where he was now is a far cry from where he started. He told us you can make a difference for yourself by being hard working and focused.”

Mani added: “He was key in showing us what was possible and encouraging us. NIC and Dr. Catchpole changed our lives.”

For Catchpole, teaching is about the relationship between an educator and their student just as psychotherapy is about a relationship between a psychologist and their client.

“It’s a special privilege to be an instructor,” Catchpole said. “Students allow you to present material they find uncomfortable, to challenge their ideas and grade their work. My goal has always been to have my students finish my course feeling better about themselves, regardless of their grade.”

Along with his work at NIC, Catchpole also practiced part time for 25 years, working with members of the RCMP, WorkSafeBC accident victims, ICBC crash victims and others. He is the recipient of two lifetime achievement awards for his work as a psychologist and as a distance educator and he is currently writing a 30,000-word book, Anxiety: Debug It, Don’t Drug It, to be published this spring.

Looking back at his time at NIC, Catchpole shows no signs of slowing down. He prefers to focus on his achievements, rather than his years of service, a philosophy he hopes he has passed on to the many students who have taken his classes.

“As they say, time flies when you’re having fun and I very much continue to enjoy my work here at NIC,” said Catchpole.

Read more about Dr. Catchpole, in his faculty profile at www.nic.bc.ca/about-us/nic-faculty/faculty/catchpole/.

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