As leaders of the two public post-secondary institutions serving the Okanagan region, we want to express how inspired we are to be part of a community that has responded so well to such a challenging shift in our way of life.

As key contributors to the economic, cultural and social health of the region, we feel it incumbent upon each of our institutions to uphold our commitments to education, training and service. Our faculty, instructors and staff have been instrumental in ensuring our ability to follow through, and we are grateful to the more than 20,000 students who have been attending Okanagan College and UBC’s Okanagan campus through these past weeks while making the temporary switch to online and other forms of teaching and learning.

Community, student and employee willingness to take on challenges constructively and with patience and understanding has been vital to the success of these transitions.

With the full support of the province, our institutions are committed to providing education of the highest quality that will meet student, employer and community interests and needs.

Collectively, we have an annual economic impact that approaches $2 billion, and are mindful of just how important our academic and research missions are in our region as we emerge from the current challenges.

What the coming year will bring is not entirely clear right now. We know our 15 years of growth and focus on development of outstanding programs that meet the needs of students from the Okanagan and around the world provides a firm footing in these challenging times.

We will continue as vital contributors to this region’s growth, diversification and recovery. Students, alumni and ongoing community support give us every reason to be confident.

We’re particularly encouraged by the students and employees of our institutions who are stepping up to make a difference in our community. Examples of this are happening in innovative and unexpected ways.

Our campuses have come together recently to help design and manufacture 3D printed protective face shields for health-care workers on the front lines in the Okanagan.

Students in nursing, medicine and other health-care fields have volunteered their time to support nurses, physicians and other workers at home so that they can better focus on keeping the rest of us safe and healthy at the hospital.

Our academic community is sharing expertise to benefit students and those in need beyond our campuses —such as OC’s Katie Maryschuk, whose Postcard Project seeks to ease the quarantine blues while raising funds for community mental health resources. And at UBCO, professor Lesley Lutes is leading a provincewide initiative with the BC Psychological Association to provide free telephone-based support to any BC resident experiencing stress, anxiety or uncertainty at this time.

Our alumni have also demonstrated how much they care about supporting and bringing people together in our communities. OC alum Drew Vincent is one of many shining examples of this. His project, the Stay @ Home Gala, grew from a regional fundraiser in March to a national phenomenon on May 5, when nearly 2,000 households across 22 cities tuned in to raise more than $560,000 for Canadian charities.

Growing alignment between our institutions on research and initiatives that support the area’s homeless, the vital aerospace and construction industries, and sustainability distinguish this region internationally and provide the extraordinary experiences that attract and retain students while responding to the skills needs of a vibrant employer community.

From engineers to engineering technologists, nurses to doctors, plumbers to philosophers, auto service techs and health care assistants, business leaders to data analysts, animators to artists, the list is long of those we educate and train and who have helped and will help us through this time and whatever is next.

We are proud of our employees, students and the communities we serve and the way they have responded to a global challenge in our own region. We are stronger and more resilient together — in our institutions and our community. To the people of the Okanagan, thank you for your ongoing support and partnership.

Jim Hamilton is the president of Okanagan College. Deborah Buszard is the deputy vice-chancellor and principal of UBC Okanagan.