It’s been a decade in the making but the Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health Sciences (PCU-WHS) started its degree program this fall.
“it’s been quite an interesting journey so far,” said Wolfgang Zimmerman, president at PCU-WHS.
It’s a journey that really started 37 years ago, when Zimmerman broke his back working for MacMillan Bloedel. He was able to rejoin the workforce with help from his union after his accident but seeing how grim the statistics for returning to the workforce after becoming disabled were inspired him to help others who weren’t as fortunate as he was.
“When I got hurt 37 years ago, there was no such thing as return to work,” Zimmerman said.
Since that time, legislation meant to get injured and disabled employees back to work has improved, which has created a demand for professionals specifically educated to both prevent accidents in the first place and to get people back into the workforce post-recovery. Zimmerman that the university will be able to fill that demand by providing “competant case managers, competant return to work coordinators and disability managers.”
PCU-WHS received degree approval back in 2007, but finding a suitable location was harder.
“It really came down to an opportunity,” said Zimmerman.
On March 11, 2009, Zimmerman received a call from James, Lunney, the Nanaimo-Alberni Member of Parliament, who told him that federal funding had been announced for the program.
“For the first time in Canadian history, as part of the stimulus package, there were $2 billion allocated for capital funding for universities and colleges across the country,” said Zimmerman.
This wasn’t the only first for the university.
Back in 2007, it was created by statutory authority, making it the first of its kind.
“Never in Canadian history has a university been created by a private legislation that received unanimous consent.”
It needed that unanimous consent because in 2007, then Premier Gordon Campbell told Zimmerman that he was prepared to give the university statuatory authority “only if every member of the legislative assembly in British Columbia supports it. And they did.”
As the university was created by statuatory authority, it qualified for the funding.
Zimmerman didn’t have much time to get his proposal ready if he wanted to take advantage of the funding. The funding was announced on March 9, 2009, Zimmerman received the call from James Lunney two days later and had to have his completed proposal ready into Ottawa by March 31, just 20 days later.
Fortunately, via funding that the university had gotten in 2006 from Western Diversification, they had developed some rudimentary architectural, business and academic plans.
“So what happened is we dusted all of that off,” Zimmerman said.
The only delay then was the location.
“City council stepped up to the plate and said that if this goes through, Port Alberni will become a university town.”
The city offered up four properties and Zimmerman chose their current location at southern end of Cherry Creek Road.
The city committed to donating 3.5 acres of land and rezoning it for the development of the university.
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for Zimmerman and he’s taken full advantage.
Within hours of their website going live, they’ve had hits from Canada, the United States, Pakistan, India, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany all due to the new Bachelor of Disabillity Management.
The institution has offered workplace safety education before, through modules that were first delivered through North Island College in collaboration with University of British Columbia Continuing Studies. Students who completed the modules would receive certificates from both UBC and the National Institute of Disability Management and Resources (NIDMAR).
In 2001, the program was licenced for use by other universities. Currently, 16 different countries use the curriculum developed by NIDMAR. It also began to be offered online, where 2,200 students signed up for it. 80 per cent of those were in Canada with the rest spread out all over the world.
With the launch of the degree program, the university will run on a two track model like a standard university. The online modules will become the continuning education arm of PCU-WHS’s curriculum.
The university currently runs two courses but will launch more in time for the January intake.
“We are developing brand new curriculum that’s on the cutting edge.”