Continuing Studies celebrates 10 years downtown

Continuing Studies at Western’s role in fostering a creative city can be traced back to the foresight 10 years ago in establishing the department in the downtown London core, says director Carolyn Young.

Continuing Studies has been a visible presence in the downtown for a decade – in fact it will be celebrating this milestone on Wednesday, Sept. 7. The event, held 4-5:30 p.m. at its offices on the upper level of the Citi Plaza building, 355 Wellington St., will include presentations by University of Western Ontario president Amit Chakma and London mayor Joe Fontana.

“It was a small, but mighty step for Western to take the initiative and come to this location, and give the downtown a chance at sustainability,” Young says.

Western was one of the first universities in Canada to move its continuing education to a downtown campus at what was then called Galleria London. While it may have been a bit of a gamble, proof of its success is the expansion from 87 courses in 2001 to more than 200 courses and about 2,500 adult learners enrolling annually.

Adding to the education boom in the city’s center, much buzz has been made about Fanshawe College’s possible expansion of a downtown campus. But Young isn’t worried about potential competition because the Western brand stands out among the crowd, she says.

“We try to ensure we are closely aligned with Western’s standard of excellence in the classroom and in experience,” she says, noting much value is gained from the association, including helping to recruit students.

All of this points to the fact Western’s leaders had the right idea 10 years ago when they decided to plant Continuing Studies at the heart of the city, Young says. The offices were formerly located in the Stevenson-Lawson Building.

Continuing Studies always held close relationships with local businesses, organizations and individuals, which made it a natural decision for former Western president Paul Davenport to move the fast-growing department downtown. The goal was to improve accessibility and support London by attracting people to the city’s core.

The decision was greatly supported by then-London Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco, who said the downtown campus not only strengthened the partnership between the city and the university, but also called it an “important piece to the downtown revitalization process.”

“Our mandate was to bridge the communities that we serve. We felt that it was important that we not only have the space, but that people could see that we are a strong and visible connection to the university,” says Sharon Collins-Williamson, former director of Continuing Studies, who played a role in the move.

“It was imperative for us to establish a presence in the community,” recalls Collins-Williamson.

Vibrant cities such as Boston or Vancouver, Young says, have a number of educational institutions downtown. This fosters a culture of learning that resonates throughout the communities.

“I believe London can be the same way, if it isn’t already,” she says. “The thirst for knowledge and curiosity, I think, are the key qualities to a creative city. It nurtures a creative city when you have an organization that is committed to lifelong learning.”

Since 2001, Continuing Studies offers professional development and post-degree programs; the courses are available face-to-face, online and in a blended option combining in-person and online classroom experience. The instructors, many of whom are currently working in the field of study they are teaching, offer first-hand experience and networks within the community.

To date, Continuing Studies has contributed more than $100 million in local economic impact.

Looking ahead, Continuing Studies plans to expand its online learning opportunities and build on its course offerings.

“This day and age … people need to think about learning from beginning to end (of life); the learning never stops,” Young says. “It’s something that can make your life not only better, but make your life enjoyable, stimulating and exciting.”

Western’s decision to relocate Continuing Studies off main campus 10 years ago contributed to a broader community effort to rejuvenate London’s downtown core, Chakma says.

“Ten years later, Continuing Studies has grown to support the personal and professional development of 2,500 adult learners each year, while generating over $10 million annually to the local economy,” he says. “I join the thousands of Londoners who have furthered their education at Western’s downtown campus in thanking and congratulating Continuing Studies staff and instructors for providing such a valuable resource to our community.”