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NW-ACE program earns prestigious honours

Ten students are celebrating after their recent graduation from the Northwest Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs (NW-ACE) program in July.
The sixth cohort of the NW-ACE program show off their graduate diplomas in late July. The six-month program focused on trades training and mentorship in the northwest.

Not only are 10 students celebrating after recently graduating from the Northwest Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs (NW-ACE) program this past July, but program officials themselves are raising a glass to a couple honourable distinctions.

The NW-ACE program, a partnership between the Tribal Resources Investment Corporation (TRICORP), the University of Victoria’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business and Northwest Community College, was named a 2016 recipient of the Alan Blizzard Award from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE).

The award, given out once every two years, recognizes significant collaboration in teaching and student learning. The NW-ACE program brings together First Nations entrepreneurs, high profile mentors, teachers and professors for six weeks of interactive, in-class learning, followed by 12 weeks of mentorship and coaching in the trade or discipline of the student’s choice.

“When we got that award, I thought it was pretty cool,” said Cory Stephens, TRICORP learning enhancement officer last week.

“I did a little bit of research on it and usually groups that win this award are very prestigious in engineering and all kinds of more high-profile fields of study ... We’re extremely proud of that award.”

The NW-ACE program faculty and administration were recognized in an STLHE annual conference in late June at London, Ontario’s Western University.

At the same time, the program has been awarded by the International education business Partnership Network and the Conference Board of Canada with the Gold Global Best Award, a distinction given to excellency in the category of entrepreneurship and enterprise skills for the North America region. The award recipients of TRICORP, the Peter Gustavson School of Business and Service Canada also have the chance, in a September awards ceremony in Oslo, Norway, to win the Global Best Overall Award.

Jacquie Ridley, TRICORP chief operating officer, will travel to Norway to accept the award at the ceremony.

“Our people are gaining high-quality university level skills in our communities and immediately applying those skills to start successful businesses. I am proud to see our clients become self-reliant and serve as role models for other Aboriginal people in the communities that TRICORP serves,” said Frank Parnell, TRICORP chief executive officer.

This past July, the 10 entrepreneurs graduating as the sixth cohort in Prince Rupert were made up of an electrician, a glazier, carpenters, an industrial crane operator and heavy equipment operators, all coming from Prince Rupert, Terrace, the Gitxsan territory, Bella Bella and Atlin.

“We’ve got a really strong list of reputable mentors, and what they do during the mentor process, is they’re testing their assumptions of the business plan,” said Stephens.

“Now, what was different about this last group of students compared to other ones is we also incorporated quite a lot of content related to trades specifically, so they received instruction on bidding on contracts and very specialized trades-specific types of material and it was very well-received.”

An additional 16 students graduated in Terrace in June, and the program is also being run under different names in Vernon and Haida Gwaii, with University of Victoria faculty members leading the classrooms.

“For the next cohort, I’ll probably begin recruiting in September for a start date of October and it’s going to be mainstream. It’s not going to be trade-specific – so that’s open to students who are just looking to start their own ventures,” Stephens said.

“We look to try and attract about 20 students and on average we’ve been getting between 60 and 70 students apply for each cohort all over the region. So the demonstrated ongoing demand for the program is pretty significant.”