The first graduating classes of BCIT’s Environmental Health program reunite after 50 years

Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon. The child-size electric oven was the popular toy. Tie-dye fashion was the rage. 1969 had many distinctions. For a certain group of people, it marked the year they became the first graduating class of BCIT’s Public Health Inspection (now Environmental Health Public Inspection) program. On May 4, the Environmental Health department, with support from the BCIT Alumni Association, brought the graduating classes of 1969 and 1970 together for a very special 50-year reunion (50 years since they studied at BCIT in 1968).

“The highlight of the event was watching the original classmates meet each other again and just start chatting,” says Martin McLeod, program head of BCIT’s Environmental Health program. “Some of them hadn’t seen each other since they graduated.”

Eight alumni (out of a total of 18 graduates), now in their 70s, attended the lively event at BCIT’s Burnaby Campus. One of them was Rita Manuel, who has the distinction of being the first woman and first First Nations graduate of the program. She still works today as a public health inspector for the First Nations Health Authority and was a guest speaker at the reunion.

“[BCIT] taught us everything we need to know to be a field officer,” Rita said in her speech, adding words of inspiration, “Be persistent. There’s always a way.”

The event also gave these graduates the opportunity to meet current and past program heads. They were also treated to a guided tour led by first-year Environmental Health students, who volunteered at the reunion.

“The student volunteers showed the alumni the labs that we use today,” says Martin. “They are the same labs that were used back in the day, but now have been renovated. The grads actually remember walking down the halls and going to these labs.”

What else has changed since these alumni were at BCIT in 1969 and 1970? Back in those days, Martin says, BCIT students were required to adhere to a strict dress code that saw them going to class in ties. And what was once offered only as a two-year diploma program is now also offered as a four-year bachelor’s degree program including new courses in health promotion and healthy communities.

“Special thanks go to Tim Roark, the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspection historian,” says Martin. “He is a fountain of information and he helped me get in touch with these graduates. Also Jennifer Cheng, who works in the Environmental Health department, went above and beyond making all the historical posters and organizing the students. Julie Ali and Erin Ruggeri from the School of Health Sciences were amazing, helping with all the event planning and just taking this idea of a reunion and running with it.”

Learn more about the BCIT’s School of Health Sciences and Environmental Health Public Inspection Bachelor of Technology program.

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