It was an announcement that almost no one expected, but it drew an immediate standing ovation from the crowd of more than 300 partners, friends, students and employees of Conestoga gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the college’s newest campus in Waterloo in October 2018.
The John W. Tibbits campus in Waterloo provides capacity for the delivery of programming and services in culinary and hospitality management, applied computer science and information technology, and specialized programming for newcomers to Canada.
Maureen Cowan, Chair and CEO of Princeton Holdings Limited, a former member of Conestoga’s Board of Governors and widely recognized for her achievements as a community leader and builder, was speaking on behalf of The Cowan Foundation. Earlier, her organization had provided a $4 million leadership gift towards the development of the campus, the largest donation from a private donor in the college’s 50-year history.
“Conestoga has made this community better in so many ways,” Cowan said, “and I don’t think anyone would disagree that John Tibbits’ leadership has been the primary driver behind Conestoga’s development and success.”
“For this reason, I am pleased to announce the decision to have recognition of Waterloo’s campus in John Tibbits’ name as a lasting gesture of our sincere thanks for his profound contributions to Conestoga and to this community,” Cowan continued.
And so the John W. Tibbits campus was born, rising from the foundations of a 1960s-era secondary school acquired by the college in 2006. The $58 million transformation project added 150,000 square feet of learning space in a state-of-the-art environment to provide new capacity for the delivery of programming and services in culinary and hospitality management, applied computer science and information technology, and specialized programming for newcomers to Canada. Already recognized as a centre of excellence for construction trades education and training, thanks in part to the support of government and industry partners which resulted in the addition of new facilities in 2010, the expanded campus opened in September 2018 and now provides a full range of programs and services for learners.
Building capacity for enhanced programming
For Keith Müller, chair of Hospitality & Culinary Arts, the project provided a much-needed opportunity to create new facilities and expand programming to better serve both learners and the local community.
“With the growth in the region and the renewed interest in culinary and hospitality, it became necessary for us to be able to accept more students and build on our successes,” said Müller. “We were very fortunate to be able to design and build a new, state-of-the-art facility. We researched culinary labs at other colleges across Canada and in other countries to determine the best technology, equipment and layout.”
The new labs and classrooms are spacious, bright and fully equipped with the latest technology. The new Bloom restaurant has its own storefront and is attracting both attention and new customers. Visiting chefs to date have included Maxime Moïse, instructor with the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France as well Funmi Joe-Oka, food and beverage manager at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria.
The expansion has provided essential capacity for Conestoga to prepare more future culinary and hospitality professionals for successful careers. New programming in Baking & Pastry Arts is now in place, with Butchery & Charcuterie scheduled to launch shortly. A new institute for cheesemaking and industry certification courses for in-service professionals are on the horizon as well. Müller anticipates that more than 700 full-time students will be enrolled by January 2020, helping to address the tremendous shortage of skilled workers to service the industry both locally and across Canada.
For food enthusiasts, general interest courses in areas such as wine tasting and pasta, bread and pastry making, provide opportunities to hone new skills. Initial offerings have proven very popular, and additional courses are slated to be offered in the near future.
For Müller, whose background includes long service in industry as well as stints in similar roles at both George Brown College and Red River College, the new facilities help position Conestoga among Canada’s leading culinary schools, with available seats, a wide range of courses and a commitment to providing students with the skills and knowledge to launch successful careers.
As well as hosting the School of Hospitality & Culinary Arts, the John W. Tibbits campus is also home to much of Conestoga’s Applied Computer Science & Information Technology (ACSIT) programming. The full transition of ACSIT programs to Waterloo is expected to be complete by 2020.
Supporting transition for newcomers to Canada
In addition to post-secondary programming, the new campus also serves as one of Conestoga’s three delivery sites for Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) programming. Funded through Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, LINC provides free classes for newcomers who want to learn English or improve their language skills for life, work or further learning.
Over the last year, Conestoga’s three LINC locations served 1,100 learners, providing support to a wide range of clients, from individuals with little formal education to those who left professional careers in their home countries to come to Canada. Learners are grouped into classes based on their language ability and may represent a wide range of ages and backgrounds.
For Crystal Brown, chair of the Conestoga Language Institute, moving the Waterloo LINC site from its previous location on Lincoln Road into the main campus building at Waterloo has made a tremendous difference.
“The LINC students now feel like they’re more connected, and part of the college community,” Brown said. “They can go to different centres on-site and enjoy having direct access to resources such as the library. As the LINC students see first-hand what Conestoga has to offer, there seems to be more interest in continuing on in post-secondary once they’ve completed their language studies.”
“The on-campus location provides a really warm and welcoming environment for our newcomers,” Brown continued. “It also sends a very strong message to all of our faculty as well as our students that what we do matters, contributing to the college’s overall mission to support student success and the success of our community.”
Thanks to a partnership with Conestoga’s School of Community Services, newcomers with young children can access free, on-site childminding for their infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Through a play-based curriculum, the children develop important new skills that will help them in their new country, from exposure to the English language to interaction with people from different cultures. These skills will play an important role in their future success when they transition to the school system.
This article originally appeared in the fall 2019 edition of Conestoga’s Connections: Building Communities and Careers. The magazine includes profiles of new and expanded campus facilities and initiatives, while highlighting some of the outstanding students, employees and friends who contribute to the success of the college and the broader community.