BCCIE’s 25th year anniversary: Interview with Dawn Sutherland

The third and final interview in our 25th anniversary series is with Dawn Sutherland, former BCCIE Board Member and President of Maple Leaf Education North America. Maple Leaf Education is the largest operator of BC certified offshore schools, with nine schools alone in China.

BCCIE: What led you to pursue a career in International Education?

International Education is not something I set out to do, I more or less fell into it. I had worked at in a faculty position. At the time, in the college system, we separated domestic and international, but at Camosun College, where I was working, there was an opportunity for those things to come together. I was interested in project management, but the student component came with that. All of a sudden in 1995 found myself as the Director, International and Customized Training at Camosun. Eventually international became so big that we carved it out from domestic.

I travelled and had international exposure, so my role grew from there. I bought my first airline ticket to Europe when I was 21. It changed my life from that point forward.

BCCIE: What challenges has the IE sector faced the along the way?

International Education has faced a lot. It struggled to compete with other sectors, and other countries. It struggled with its own success. For a while, the sector had to work to establish its own identity and legitimacy, particularly in the public sector. We really had to prove the value of International Education other than as something that brought financial gain.

BCCIE: In your opinion, what are the top reasons students choose to study in BC?

The landscape has become pretty competitive. A lot of BC’s success does have to do with Vancouver – the fact there is a world-class, liveable and international city here that receives international press.

As well, Canada’s multiculturalism and especially BC’s multiculturalism and ethnic communities go back a long time, and many students and their parents know about BC.

BCCIE: What are simple things we can do to send more BC students abroad?

Creating more partnerships is important. And we should encourage the K-12 sector to get more involved. If you wait until university to take that first trip, it becomes harder to travel. Students have other commitments, families, and worries about taking time off. If you promote travel from a young age, it creates that initial impression and helps students get over that first hurdle. Early travel plants the seed.

BCCIE: What is BC doing well?

I almost cannot believe that BCCIE is 25. The organization is unique to BC and Canada. BC is doing a lot of things well. There is a real willingness in our province to work collaboratively. This has been a vision from the start. The sector has now gone on to mature and grow into itself.

In BC, colleges and universities have worked together since the early years. Part of this cooperation was provincially mandated, which helped. Now we have to focus on creating more connections between K-12 and post-secondary systems.

BCCIE: How have you seen BCCIE evolve as an organization?

I was on the board while BCCIE was at the “make it or break it” point. Everyone involved had to make the decision whether or not to stay in this or take our pennies and run back to our corners. We struggled to get this far, but we did. Our relationship with government has also evolved and is necessary.

BCCIE has become a real player on the world stage, similar to organizations such as the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) or NAFSA. We have received international coverage and have a remarkable legacy. BCCIE should take credit for increasing the numbers of international students to BC but also the reputation of our province, and its collegiality.

Finally, the Summer Seminar conference is a great example of continued growth and interest in the BC International Education sector.

BCCIE: Well, thank you for these kind words. To wrap up, where do you think the BC International Education sector is headed?

I believe there will be more opportunities for Chinese graduates to come to Canada, and additional schools in North America. However, there are suggestions that Vancouver is reaching its saturation point for Asian markets, and some students and parents are learning that it is hard to experience English language immersion in Vancouver – for this reason, more may head North or to rural areas where they can experience a traditional English environment and links to jobs. Campuses such as the the University of Northern British Columbia, the University of British Columbia Okanagan and Thompson Rivers University may gain even more traction with international students.