In its heyday, Vancouver’s Chinatown was a vibrant, bustling neighbourhood. On Saturday and Sunday, merchants lined every sidewalk competitively hawking everything from the freshest produce to sweet-charred BBQ meats. For many Chinese immigrant families back then, Chinatown was a community built on reconnecting friends and family and a way to return to your roots.
“Roots are important,” says Carol Lee, whose grandfather immigrated from China to Canada in the early 1900s. “In so many ways they ground us and they allow us to know who we are. Because as the saying goes, you really don’t know what’s ahead if you don’t know where you’ve been.”
Her connection to her roots and passion for building community are why she is strongly committed to the revitalization of Vancouver’s Chinatown. She is the Chair of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation, Chair of the Vancouver Chinatown Revitalization Committee, and Honorary Patron of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum. She also serves on several other boards and organizations.
A better life through education
Her family, like so many Chinese immigrant families, experienced tremendous hardship as newcomers to Canada. For them, education was the key to a better life.
“It was always embedded [in me] that education is the game changer… [I was taught that] if you want to do better, you need an education,” she says.
Seeing older family members go to university, Carol says she witnessed firsthand how education—and determination—can change your path trajectory and help you accomplish whatever you set your mind to.
She emphasizes that being able to translate education to the workplace is an essential component of learning.
“I think that’s one of the things that BCIT does well,” she says. “It makes you very job ready.”
The next generation of problem solvers
As someone with a roll-up-your-sleeves approach to tackling challenges, Carol looks for a can-do attitude when hiring. “I’ve hired a lot of students who have graduated from BCIT and I think that that was one of the things I was most impressed by,” she relates. ”Not only by their job readiness, but their ability to be resourceful and get the job done. And I think it’s a real testament to BCIT.”
Reflecting on her own career, Carol says, “the best place to start is on the ground, [so you can] really understand how things work—because that gives you the capacity to continue to grow. You can’t manage people if you don’t know actually know what is going on every level.”
This approach extends to problems big and small. “If we don’t do it, then who is going to do it?” she muses. “It’s incumbent on all of us to try.”
As always, community—and connectedness—comes through as vital: “The more that we can be connected, the more we talk about the issues, the more that we tackle them collectively, the better our society will be,” says Carol.
Carol has a Bachelor of Commerce from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She is the recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and an Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from the University of British Columbia.
BCIT is proud to recognize Carol Lee with a 2020 Honorary Doctorate of Technology at the BCIT Distinguished Awards gala on October 22, 2019.