A responsive educator in Toronto since 1966




Pictured: Prachi Shah and Sabrina Shaheen, who are enrolled in the International Development Program at Centennial College, flank their professor Natalie Chinsam.

Ontario’s public colleges launched in the 1960s as a learning destination for the demographic tsunami of Baby Boomers that wanted a new kind of education to fulfill their career aspirations in the emerging service economy. 

Education Minister – and future Premier – Bill Davis recognized the need for innovative institutions that could nimbly respond to industry needs and deliver relevant, immersive education to teach the next generation to be employed as businesspeople, technologists, journalists and social service workers, among other disciplines.

Centennial College was the first to open, having renovated a modest building in the east end of Toronto to house its inaugural classes in 1966. It was fittingly named for Canada’s upcoming 100th birthday.

Centennial grew rapidly thanks to its ability to change with the times and shrug off the trappings of academia. Rather than tie professors to tenure, it sought industry and business practitioners to recruit as educators to keep the curriculum career-focused.

The mission continues to this day. Here are a few examples of how Centennial strives to keep its programs contemporary, pertinent and responsive to the changes that ripple through our economy and society.

Addressing world hunger. Students of Centennial’s International Development graduate certificate program collected funds this past fall to help stop children from dying of hunger, raising $8,500 to deliver a nutrient-rich food product to some of the poorest regions in the world.

After constructive action by developed nations to address global hunger between 1990 and 2015 – when the proportion of undernourished people fell by half – the number of hungry is rising again due to armed conflicts and very real climate change that have decimated crop production. Some 815 million people went hungry in 2016, according to UN data.

Recognizing that hunger is especially acute for children, students partnered with Action Against Hunger Canada, a France-based global humanitarian organization that seeks to bring about progress on malnutrition. On the ground in more than 50 countries, the non-profit feeds 20 million people annually.

Through the agency, Centennial students chose to provide children in Guatemala, Bangladesh and South Sudan with therapeutic food, known as “Plumpy Nuts,” that acts as a meal replacement to help malnourished children return to a healthy weight. It takes 45 days (and $45) to get one child back on track when they consume the calorie-rich paste three times a day.

Professor Natalie Chinsam, who teaches international business and development, had her class break into groups to manage fundraising initiatives for Action Against Hunger. The students appealed to other students, knowing that they could not give much money, the small donations bolstered by high participation promoted through social media and a GoFundMe online campaign.

“It was a good experience for us. We learned how to connect with people and tell the story about the need for help,” says Sabrina Shaheen, who had previously studied English and history in university. Even if a donation was not forthcoming, the students got a sense of accomplishment for their efforts.

“We taught people to be aware of the issue,” says Prachi Shah, who has a degree in social work. “It was amazing to see students helping each other with the fundraising activity.”

The one-year International Development program is designed for learners interested in creating innovative solutions to tackle global development challenges. It emphasizes a human rights-based approach to development through which students examine the multiple dimensions of poverty, universal education, environmental protection, gender mainstreaming and corporate responsibility.

Telling our Indigenous stories. Five years ago Centennial led the development of the Indigenous Studies: First Peoples in Canada stackable credential program, which gives students an opportunity to earn an additional credential in Indigenous studies simultaneously with their diploma.

As a component of this programming, the college developed an Indigenous studies e-textbook entitled Our Stories: First Peoples in Canada. The text endeavours to tell the truth about the time before European settlers, the truth about the experiences of Indigenous communities, clans and Nations, and the truth about the impacts of colonization and the journey of reconciliation on Turtle Island – the name many Indigenous peoples ascribe to North America.

This online textbook required tremendous sensitivity and respect for Indigenous culture. The stories that informed the e-textbook were gifted to Centennial by citizens of various Nations and members of Indigenous communities. 

The text assembled more than 30 interviews from Indigenous community members, who shared their personal stories. The generous contributions of Centennial faculty, staff, students and the many Indigenous community members provided a strong collaborative foundation for the project.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Ambassador Len Fortune edited the content. The college’s own students worked on video editing, photography and graphics for the online text. Renowned Indigenous artists Chief Lady Bird and Aura designed the colourful cover art. 

Being an open educational resource, it is freely available to anyone who is interested in hearing truth through storytelling. The e-textbook can be accessed electronically through iBooks on Apple devices, ePub on PC and Android devices, and in PDF format. 

Preparing for the worst. Are Ontario’s hospitals prepared for a large-scale disaster that could disrupt a major city and overwhelm the health-care system? On the morning of February 26, a simulation exercise at Centennial’s Morningside Campus tested the ability of healthcare and emergency medical service (EMS) workers to deal with a hypothetical, but realistic, threat to hospital resources.

The exercise is intended to show healthcare and EMS professionals how to manage the effects of a disaster, as well as demonstrate how college students can be utilized to staff clinics for non-urgent patients. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre field-tested their Code Orange and Surge response while other healthcare workers participated in clinical practice scenarios.

The simulation, co-directed by Dr. Laurie Mazurik of Sunnybrook and Centennial faculty, consisted of a fire in an apartment block involving a nursing home, mental health unit and daycare. Participating volunteers included actual physicians, nurses, respiratory technologists, pharmacists and social work staff from Sunnybrook, Scarborough General, Lakeridge Health, Michael Garron Hospital, St. Michael’s Hospital and University Health Network.

With its dedicated nursing labs, Morningside Campus stood in as a live hospital. More than 300 students role-played and contributed as non-urgent clinic personnel from a variety of programs, including paramedic, nursing, pharmacy technician and police foundations, along with University of Toronto medicine students. 

By working alongside healthcare professionals in this chilling simulation, students are contributing to disaster preparedness by Ontario’s emergency service providers. 

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