In Langscape Magazine Articles

Towards an Ecology of Diversity: Fostering Intercultural & Environmental Diversity in a Post-secondary Education Environment

September 15, 2015

by Derik Joseph and Shannon Kelly

Fostering diversity in a post-secondary education environment is, we believe, the most essential impetus for creating truly “enlightened” learning. Diversity is a major, growing, significant catalyst demanding changes to post-secondary education. The notion of diversity has many meanings and implications, but here we profile two interconnected examples of diversity at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT): intercultural and environmental diversity. Both are linked to the central theme of enhancing students’ notions of citizenship as realized amidst a lived connection to community and planet.

Diversity is a major, growing, significant catalyst demanding changes to post-secondary education.

The two examples are:

  • creating an integrated community of support — establishing a face-to-face peer mentoring system for Aboriginal students at BCIT, to generate a sense of community and interconnectedness (Derik)
  • teaching global and environmental “citizenship” to BCIT students — by providing faculty with resources such as face-to-face, online, local, and global case studies and activities to be integrated into the learning outcomes of existing courses (Shannon)

As educators, we believe that a diverse learning environment should mirror our diverse society and world, where every person contributes to and every person helps sustain the life of the wider community through their actions and relationships.

Two related threads on this theme at BCIT are the continuing evolution of the Aboriginal Services Department, with a look at the mentoring program in particular, and the development and integration of citizenship and sustainability curriculum and cases for both diploma and degree courses at BCIT.


Derik: Building connections with the mentorship program for students at Aboriginal Services

The BCIT Aboriginal Services Peer 2 Peer Mentorship program applies a framework built on Indigenous perspectives. “Putting on” an Indigenous student lens in our large post-secondary environment (47,320 full- and part-time BCIT students) allows the BCIT Aboriginal Services staff to respect cultural “retention” barriers that a large percentage of Indigenous students (1,438 being of Aboriginal descent) attending BCIT face: financial, cultural, and mobility stressors, moving from a small reserve or town to the Lower Mainland of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Following Cree researcher Shawn Wilson, the term Indigenous is used here as the knowledge system that is inclusive of Indigenous Peoples worldwide. The indigenous perspective framework is based on culture, identity, work ethic, and family history. When adhering to these four factors, and respecting the culturally diverse First Nations, Aboriginal, and Indigenous peoples in North America, who frequent BCIT Aboriginal Services, the presence of role models emerges as a fifth factor and is applied to guide and develop successful Indigenous leaders at BCIT, in a peer-to-peer support and retention model.

For incoming/new students at BCIT (first year/level), retention and personal success, self-esteem, and cultural awareness support through team- and relationship-building are crucial to assist students. Unfortunately, mass media do not depict Indigenous people in Canada as having a lot of role models. By providing such models in an academic environment, with Indigenous knowledge and sense of inclusion, and a place to go where staff and other students understand this/their perspective, a circle of support is formed — a medicine wheel — mental, physical, spiritual, emotional. The Peer 2 Peer Mentorship program at BCIT uses elements of structure and cultural wellbeing from the SMILE program at SENECA College, as well as University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus programs.


BCIT_Peer 2 Peer

Recruiting materials for the Peer 2 Peer Program. Image: BCIT, 2012


Our initial goal was to integrate a peer-to-peer mentorship program through BCIT Aboriginal Services and create a resource that is known to be available for incoming and current students to use. A peer mentee (first-year student) will be able to apply for a peer mentor position once successfully completing the first year of studies in their program. This applies to Trades, Technology, and Apprenticeship students on all five BCIT campuses. Trades, Apprenticeship, and Part-Time Studies students at BCIT do not follow the semester format, so challenges have arisen when applying the peer-to-peer model. Aboriginal Services has adjusted to these students by allowing more of a drop-in model, where they can make themselves available at certain times within the BCIT Aboriginal Services Gathering Place.


BCIT_Aboriginal Services logo

Aboriginal Services logo, Gathering Place, and students. Image: BCIT, 2012


Between these two models — the more formalized schedule and the drop-in model — the Peer 2 Peer Mentorship program has supported 109 Aboriginal students since 2011, 59 BCIT Aboriginal Peer Mentors, and 50 first-year Aboriginal Mentees. The mentees have had a seventy-four percent success rate at BCIT. Both statistical and anecdotal data demonstrate the value of the Peer 2 Peer Program in supporting Aboriginal student success at BCIT.


Shannon: Giving faculty the resources to integrate citizenship and sustainability themes and materials into their courses

For the past several years, numerous faculty members at BCIT have been creating cases and projects within their courses that engage students in learning about sustainability and global stewardship while they are practicing and demonstrating specific course learning objectives. BCIT provides overarching support of notions such as sustainability, citizenship, and stewardship. Within this framework, we see many amazing individual projects underway, as well as some program-wide initiatives.

One drawback of these activities, however, is that such individual efforts could be viewed as isolated, as there is no systematic “sharing” methodology across the institute. In general, projects are still driven by the passion, subject-matter expertise, and extra time and effort of individual instructors and champions at BCIT. These projects are inspiring and have a ripple effect on others, but still come down to an individual putting in the extra time and research for that value-added curriculum in his or her course. Many instructors simply don’t have the time, despite their best intentions.

In 2014–2015, an Instructional Enhancement Grant (IEG) allowed me to consult on best practices and success stories around the institute and then create teaching modules about sustainability and global stewardship and citizenship that are designed to apply across disciplines at BCIT and that can be implemented in many different subject areas across many different programs throughout the institute. My work involved:

  • partnering with fellow faculty in the BCIT Communication Department to help develop and offer two Intercultural Communication courses;
  • showcasing the work of Librarians who have created LibGuides for sustainability and citizenship and collaborating on new LibGuides;
  • co-authoring an “Open source” Sustainability Appendix about BCIT’s local sustainability projects, which any instructor can include in course materials;
  • authoring stand-alone modules about culture, sustainability, and citizenship that any instructor can add to, embed within their courses, adapt, and freely distribute; and
  • introducing the use of UNESCO case studies to teach students about these topics within existing BCIT courses’ curriculum.
BCIT_Sustainability Appendix

Sustainability Appendix. Image: BCIT, 2013


The IEG project aims to make it possible for instructors to implement applied projects and modules on these topics without needing to spend excessive time and effort. More importantly, the project seeks to alleviate “re-inventing the wheel,” whereby every instructor feels that he or she needs to create materials and projects for these topics from the ground up. The project provides resources for busy instructors who have every intention, but not the time, of addressing these important topics as part of their courses and broadens the overall discussion of stewardship and global citizenship at the institute.

Instructors can choose modules from four “framing themes”:

  1. What is global citizenship? Amidst “globalization,” what does it mean to be a global citizen?
  2. What is global stewardship? What is sustainability and why does it matter?
  3. What is diversity awareness? How can I communicate and succeed within intercultural teams, organizations, and societies?
  4. What are some best practices for facing the economic, social, and global challenges of this century? What can we learn from the past and from different cultures and groups around the globe? What can we learn from the Indigenous perspective?

The project also makes use of UNESCO cases from the “open” UNESCO educational resource Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future:

  • Citizenship Education
  • Culture and Religion for a Sustainable Future
  • Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainability

For each framing theme, teaching materials include a PowerPoint introduction to the concepts, an introduction and link to the corresponding UNESCO case study for that theme, sample student discussion topics (for classroom or online discussion activities), and sample assignments.

Instructors are referred to core research resources, as well as examples of discipline-specific resources:

  • Within degree and diploma programs, faculty and program heads are encouraged to consider including the two Intercultural Communication courses as electives.
  • Faculty are pointed to the relevant research Librarians who create and update the LibGuides for sustainability and citizenship topics, as well as related discipline-specific LibGuides on these themes (see for example the LibGuides “Aboriginal,” “Architecture,” “Pacific Spirit,” “Sustainability,” at the BCIT Library URL noted in For Further Reading).
  • Instructors are also pointed to the “Open source” Sustainability Appendix about BCIT’s local sustainability projects, which any instructor can include in course materials (see For Further Reading).


Derik and Shannon: What are we achieving? What are we hoping to achieve?

We are successfully putting BCIT’s stated commitments to sustainability and diversity into practice to serve the faculty and student community directly.


BCIT’s stated Sustainability mandate:

“Our commitment to sustainability encompasses everything from advancing the state of practice
through education and research, to improving the efficiency of campus operations, to engaging the community across the institute.”

BCIT’s stated Diversity mandate:

“The BCIT community is made up of individuals from every ability, background, experience and identity, each contributing uniquely to the richness and diversity of the BCIT community as a whole. In recognition of this, and the intrinsic value of our diversity, BCIT seeks to foster a climate of collaboration, understanding and mutual respect between all members of the community and ensure an inclusive accessible working and learning environment where everyone can succeed.”


But how are these stated principles realized in action? We believe the two models presented in this article represent the grassroots action needed to support faculty and students. We are embarking on a new project to create semi-formal faculty and staff peer communities to share lessons learned, expertise on these themes, and a support network.

At its core, ‘citizenship’ is principled community action. Thus, generating understanding of the collective nature of ‘citizenship’ is an important educational dimension.

At its core, “citizenship” is principled community action. Thus, generating understanding of the collective nature of “citizenship” is an important educational dimension. If we are going to discuss collective action with our students, we need to present expanding circles of community like concentric circles, which radiate from the immediate, local to the wider, global communities.

The sense of responsible citizenship is built on the cognitive knowledge of the consequences of our actions, but at the same time is equally about the deepest sense of caring — not only for the health, beauty, and sustainability of our communities, but also for our relationships with the planet, Nature, and our fellow humans.


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Zaa Derik Gammel Joseph is Advisor, Aboriginal Services, at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). He was born in Victoria and raised in the Tl’azt’– Nation Territory and Vancouver. His motivation as an educator comes from his upbringing around the value of life-long learning. As a father recently completing his master’s, he can easily relate to the challenges of balancing work, school, and family for students of diverse backgrounds and needs. His role as an Advisor is to provide a safe and productive environment for students, make on and off-campus resources available, and provide opportunities to give back through initiatives such as the Peer Mentoring program, which he piloted.

Shannon Kelly is Program Head, Communication Dept., British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). Her research posits that it is less important to ask, “Why isn’t a particular group or population represented? and more important to ask, “How can our systems—the systems we operate in and the systems we teach—be more inviting to diversity?” With her current research project on paradigms of sustainability and citizenship, Shannon continues along the decade-long path since completing her doctorate at Waterloo in 2002 and arriving at BCIT—a journey to encourage diversity in our student and professional demographics.

Further Reading

BCIT Library. (2015). LibGuides at BCIT. Retrieved from (see the LibGuides “Aboriginal,” “Architecture,” “Pacific Spirit,” “Sustainability”)

UNESCO. (2010). Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future. Retrieved from

  • Citizenship Education. 
  • Culture and Religion for a Sustainable Future
  • Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainability.

Wilson, Shawn (2008). Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Black Point, NS: Fernwood Publications.

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