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Van Horne Institute pioneers unique transportation education program

CALGARY, Alta. - When William Cornelius Van Horne was building Canada's first rail line to the West Coast, there were undoubtedly times when he threw his arms up in despair while trying to push the ra...

CALGARY, Alta. – When William Cornelius Van Horne was building Canada’s first rail line to the West Coast, there were undoubtedly times when he threw his arms up in despair while trying to push the railway through the Rocky Mountains. However, through relentless grit and determination, Van Horne changed the face of Canada when he completed the rail line that many thought was impossible to build.

Calgary’s Van Horne Institute (VHI) has been just as determined as its namesake in getting a unique transportation education program approved for funding in Alberta.

VHI formed 11 years ago to address the impending lack of skilled transportation workers and has since developed the blueprint for a program to offer students the opportunity to achieve a degree in transportation studies. The proposed program is the first of its kind in Canada, and is part of a partnership with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT).

Under the plan, students taking two years of supply chain and logistics courses at SAIT would then be able to ladder that education into an additional two-year program at the VHI. The two-plus-two program is hanging in the balance, however, as the institute is forced to wait out the funding freeze currently in place for new educational access programs in Alberta.

Peter Wallis has been the VHI’s president and chief executive officer for the past five years, and he says if the program is accepted by Alberta Learning, it will be a major step forward for the transportation industry.

“A number of Van Horne company members have written to (Learning Minister) Lyle Oberg saying they feel it’s an important initiative and as soon as there’s funding available for access programs we think this program will really warrant contention for funding,” says Wallis. The freeze will last about one more year, but the VHI is still moving forward with the vision and is currently working on ways to create more interest among high school students to pursue a career in transportation.

“We’ve been working with a group called the Joint Learning Initiative and that initiative is a group of like-minded companies who see that there has to be a program in place at the secondary school level to start interesting a student in a career in transportation,” explains Wallis. A result of that initiative is a pilot project in two Calgary high schools and two in Edmonton, which will immediately start providing supply chain modules to interested students in their final two years of high school.

“The hope is that, in turn, that will generate enough interest for the so-called two-plus-two,” says Wallis.

Should the program be a success and students emerge from Edmonton-based high schools eager to pursue a transportation career, they may not have to travel to Calgary to do so. If the program receives funding, the VHI is already looking at ways of providing a similar initiative in the Oil City through the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and the University of Alberta.

“There’s no reason why a similar type of course couldn’t be considered in Edmonton,” says Wallis. “But I think we’ve got to crawl before we walk.”

The VHI, which has been affiliated with the University of Calgary since shortly after its inception, is comprised of three different components: the Centre for Transportation, the Centre for Regulatory Affairs and the most recent addition, the Centre for Information and Communications. Each of these intertwines with the transportation industry in one form or another.

“Each of the centers were designed to reflect a very nice marriage of the academic with the needs of industry,” says Wallis.

The Institute is perhaps best known for its in-depth research on transportation issues ranging from inter-provincial trade barriers to the effect of an aging driver population.

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