Photos by Puii Duangtip @puiionsunnyside
There are endless opportunities at BCIT to gain hands-on skills and real-world experience, making it an easy choice for many on the path toward their careers. And as an institution that delivers over 300 programs to nearly 50,000 students through five different campuses—Annacis Island (AIC), Aerospace Technology (ATC), BCIT Marine (BMC), Burnaby, and Downtown—BCIT is also home to a diverse student base.
Yet, connecting a community so spread out can be difficult. It’s a challenge the BCIT Student Association (also known as the SA) constantly aims to tackle, developing ways to enhance the student experience by providing better support and ensuring that all voices are included in the conversation. The challenge is especially pronounced for students at BMC and AIC, two Specialty campuses that do not yet have a Chair to represent them on the SA council.
Getting better representation especially for BMC and AIC has been a concern at the SA for years now. While both campuses currently do have leaders—satellite or speciality counsellors—representing the students, securing these roles have been difficult due to smaller student bases and shorter programs. That’s why further concern about sufficient representation arises when current satellite counsellors graduate. Satellite counsellor positions also cannot yet be voted in by students, unlike the rest of the executive board.
Sitting across from them both, I could sense the excitement and passion reflecting brightly in Theo’s and Cody’s eyes and becoming animated through their words. Even as they weave through their introductions, I catch references to this initiative (or motion) that they’ve both been working on since being elected into their roles.
In brief, the motion is to redefine the constituencies of their positions to better represent students. One of the main proposed changes is expanding Theo’s role as Chair of ATC to include ATC, BMC, and AIC. Ultimately, this will ensure that students from these Specialty campuses receive the same amount of attention and support from the SA as do Burnaby students—and that a more inclusive, close-knit community is created.
“We definitely want voted representation for these Specialty campuses,” Cody says. “[And though] we already do have a strong representation through the form of specialty counsellors, there may be difficulty next year securing a counsellor for the Marine campus, which further proves urgency for [our] initiative because there might be a scenario where Marine campus is not represented at all.”
Theo also notes that implementing the motion will mean endless advantages such as increased opportunities to learn about the other BCIT schools and campuses, interact with the students studying there, and develop many more lasting connections. Their initiative is a move they hope will provide students with better support and allow for closer collaboration. After all, a community is stronger when together, and as Chairs who continuously strive to best represent the voices of students, they see this as just a starting step to ensure that goal is met.
Another proposed change in their motion is to narrow Cody’s role. Since, as the TCE Chair, Cody’s responsibilities extend further than just the students at Burnaby—he’s the voice for School of Transportation students at BMC, AIC, and ATC as well.
And it’s this odd divide of student bases that Cody notes could make students from certain campuses feel underrepresented; coming up with a solution has been at the forefront of his and Theo’s minds ever since. In fact, this overlap in their responsibilities was what initially pushed them to begin their motion of implementing a reformed Chair role, while clarifying the responsibilities of their own.
But introducing change isn’t easy. Shifting a system that’s been familiar can sometimes feel unsettling, like stepping into unknown territory. Theo and Cody understand this perfectly.
“It’s difficult to change something that has been [a certain way] for a while,” Theo says. “That’s what happens with change. [But] this is something that both of us believe in, and we feel strongly that this is a tangible change that we can accomplish. It can get complicated and it’s a lot of work. We are going to continue trying our absolute best to see that changes are made.”
Both Theo and Cody want to stress that the motion they’re proposing—apart from increased attention and support for students—is only a minor change.
“It does not shift the balance of power in any way,” Theo explains, referring to the executive board. “No positions are going to be dissolved or changed in any way. The only thing that is being changed is just the clarification of the responsibility of [AIC and BMC] to fall under the ATC [Chair] role.”
Despite all this work behind the scenes, the lack of change through the years may have given the impression that Specialty campuses aren’t the main priority when, in reality, a solution has just been tricky to implement. And there may even be a lingering sense of unease, or perhaps bitterness, from Specialty campus students, feeling as though they aren’t being treated as importantly as Burnaby students.
Even using the terms “satellite” or “specialty” when referring to non-Burnaby campuses also seems disparaging. “We may not call them satellite campuses anymore,” Cody says, “but they certainly are still being treated as such, and what we strive to do is to change that.”
Theo, a Specialty campus student himself, voices his agreement: “We are different from Burnaby students, certainly. But I think in our differences, there’s a lot of commonality and there should be commonality. That shouldn’t affect the way that our board is made up. Whether we’re [called] ‘satellite’ or ‘specialty,’ we’re still BCIT students.”
He adds that while the issues that students at these campuses face may differ from those that Burnaby students face, they shouldn’t be overlooked. Rather—again—they should be given the same level of representation and support.
Theo laughs. “I’m sure we’ve said the same thing about five times. I hope we’re not beating a dead horse with it.” And then, though using the idiom correctly, he immediately balks. “I don’t know why—I shouldn’t have said that.”
“We’re not beating any horses here,” Cody cuts in to say, ever so reassuring.
I laugh, promising I won’t quote them on that. (I’m kidding; they both agreed to include it in this article.)
All the work they’ve been doing has been incredible, but even more amazing is the fact that they’re both full-time students as well. Cody is a fourth-year Civil Engineering student, while Theo is a second-year Airport Operations student. Despite how demanding their programs and course loads are, they both reveal that they’ve been working on getting the specifics of their motion finalized, even during lectures.
Their dedication to their work and roles also stems from the years of experience they’ve had supporting the student community in other leadership positions. For Theo, he started out as a set rep in his program prior to becoming the Chair of ATC, and before BCIT, he was the vice president and then president of his student council in high school.
As for Cody, he was a set rep in all his years at BCIT and has also been involved with the Peak Leadership program, International Peer Mentoring, Student Life Ambassadors, and more. He is currently serving as the president of the BCIT Canadian Society for Civil Engineering club as well.
And during their time at BCIT and in the SA, their passion has only grown. Like Theo says, “The joy of [being a part of] the SA is that, year after year, [we] try to solve the challenge of, ‘How can we create a stronger community of students [when] there [are] so many different programs, campuses, types of programs, [and] everything?’ But we really do believe that it’s something that can be accomplished. At the end of the day, that is what we’re trying to do.”
Both he and Cody want to note that student “leadership” isn’t quite the best term to describe the roles they’ve been in, though. After all, it’s not so much leading but more so “just helping your fellow peers and the community you’re a part of,” Cody says.
As Theo puts it, the most rewarding thing they both agree on is how these roles can help them better reach out to students: “You get that chance to just talk, meet people, hear [their] stories, and interact with students. It’s so hard to make friends and meet people when you’re just a student going about your things. But if you’re in any student leader [role]…[when] you show that you care and you want to listen, the world opens up and we grow as people.”
Amazed by their dedication and involvement, I ask them how they’re able to balance all their responsibilities as Chairs on top of their busy schedules as BCIT students and their personal lives.
“It’s not balanced,” Cody admits, explaining that their roles and this motion have been their main priorities due to their importance, even with how challenging it is to juggle their time among all these responsibilities. “It’s a big feat. But at the end of the day, we feel that [what we’re doing] is really important and it’s more important to also go to these [campuses] and see them. So, you just make it happen.”
Theo, who has been making frequent efforts to visit all five BCIT campuses despite long commutes, agrees. “I think this is the joy of taking on a position like this—you grow so much as a person. I have a tendency to almost connect myself to ideas and projects and, of course, put in a lot of work because you’re excited about it and care about it. [Certainly,] you transit an awful lot. [But] you put in those hours [because you want] to see it through.”
Still, it can be dangerous to pour so much energy into these roles while studying full-time, especially without finding proper balance. But, as Cody says, they do make sure to pull back to avoid overworking: “We understand the dangers of what could happen if we take [it] too far, and we recognize that. We’re watching it.”
The results of their efforts have also come through wonderfully because of their teamwork. In Theo’s words, they have a “true partnership.” It’s why their progress has been going so smoothly: they listen and respect each other, and they both value the work that they do. And even with all their efforts poured into their devotion to student advocacy, they both never fail to keep their humorous sides as well (as you could probably tell).
“For students reading this article, if you have any problems, thoughts, ideas, anything—we want you to talk to us,” Theo says. “The privilege that we have in these roles is to meet students and to develop these connections. And of course, it’s not just me and Cody, but all of the executives, all of the SA staff, they care. [If] you’re a student that’s just needing someone, this is why we’re here. There is nothing more that we want to do than to fight for you and to make the changes that you want to see happen, happen.”
“We are voted by you,” Cody adds. “We want you to know that we care about you. We are fighting for you. And though these changes might seem nominal, we are confident that these will plant the seed to much larger development.” Then, after a pause, he continues: “And, like, you—you voted for us. So, like, if you don’t like this, vote against us. But just—just vote.”
When asked what their post-BCIT plans are, Theo reveals that he will be continuing his education at UBC to earn a bachelor’s in psychology, and perhaps follow up with a master’s, before tying that knowledge back to his love for aviation. He also has dreams of following in his aunt’s footsteps—becoming a professor in environmental psychology but specialized in aviation.
For Cody, he’s excited to start his career in civil engineering and be a part of building great things where every detail, every element that goes into a structure is intricately planned. He’ll stay involved in advocacy roles as well because he’s always been passionate about that. But most importantly?
“Finally get eight hours of sleep,” he says. Relatable.
Even as our chat draws to a close, their voices are still filled with excitement and passion; it’s clear that all the work they’ve been putting into their motion of getting an ATC-BMC-AIC Chair at the table—the title of this article, by the way, was thought of by Theo—is a true testament of their dedication to students. They love what they do, and they care a lot about bringing the community together.
I ask if there’s anything else they’d both like to mention before we finish.
“No horses were harmed in this interview,” Cody says. A wonderful reminder.
Beside him, Theo just laughs.