The Vantage

The vision for UBC Vantage College is bold.

After carefully exploring traditional avenues to create a preparatory pathway for international students entering undergraduate degree programs at UBC (off campus, taught by private companies or administered by agencies), a decision was made to design a new model created by UBC faculty and staff on the UBC Vancouver campus. In other words, it would be a distinctly UBC model. 

Ambitious, entrepreneurial, ground-breaking: The decision reflects a deeply held value of the university whose entrepreneurial roots date back to its first years as an academic institution when it boldly defined what it would be and where it would learn. Tuum Est, inscribed on the 1915 Coat of Arms — translated means ‘it is yours’— was born out of the fledgling university’s determined sense of freedom that the future was wide open to everyone at UBC.

At UBC, the philosophy remains today: If you can dream it, you can create it. In keeping with this tradition, the vision for a new model of delivering curriculum to international students will be the first of its kind, with curriculum taught by Faculty at UBC with English language instruction embedded directly into the eleven-month program. Students will then transition into the second year of their chosen degree program.

Just over a year ago, the Vantage dream was emerging. Today it is a fully realized vision entirely devoted to welcoming first-year international students to learn and live in the heart of its Vancouver campus.

Before students could be admitted or architectural plans set in motion, the Vantage vision needed someone to lead it. That someone became James Ridge, Principal of Vantage College.

A self-professed developer, Ridge isn’t afraid to take complex ideas on paper and build them from the ground up. A recent meeting with the Canadian Ambassador to Tunisia reveals his conviction that the college will have a diverse, international student body. Clearly, Ridge is determined to break ground on new pathways for international students coming to UBC Vantage College so they may enter a community that fosters, as stated in their Vision and Values, true learning without borders.

James Ridge, Principal of Vantage College

We’ve had applications from about 75 countries so far. I think there is an expectation that we will be a laboratory for intercultural understanding and we want to celebrate that. We’ll have students with tremendously varied backgrounds, all outside of Canada, with different religions, cultures and traditions. We want to celebrate every national holiday, important historical and cultural events in the students’ lives and encourage them to bring their cultural perspectives to life at UBC. I think this diversity will benefit the entire community including staff, faculty and existing students.

— James Ridge, Principal of UBC Vantage College
James Ridge, Principal of Vantage College


The vision for the curriculum at Vantage College is currently percolating in the minds of two UBC professors who, along with several of their UBC faculty colleagues, have the unique opportunity to act as academic leads in designing and defining what the learning experience will be for the first students coming to Vantage in September 2014.

Joanne Fox, academic lead for the Science stream and Steven Barnes, senior instructor for the Arts stream, are building a learning model that integrates experiential and project-based learning with English language instruction in a multidisciplinary approach inherently suited to the small class sizes at the college. Fox says students will have the opportunity to learn and live as a cohort and this creates some unique opportunities for synergies in the delivery of the curriculum: “They’ll feel the connectedness between each other and their instructors. The hope is to set up a highly connected learning community.”

The holistic nature of the program is exemplified in the 11-month, project-based course that is not content specific to a particular stream but is chosen by the student based on what really engages her or him. Fox explains: “The nature of the project is about tying all the academic disciplines together.”

The challenges of designing an ambitious curriculum from the ground up, is not lost on either Fox or Barnes. Even so, both see it as the rare chance to create an integrated model they might not otherwise have the opportunity to tackle in their day-to-day academic life.

UBC Vantage College is defining a new way of teaching English language skills that has the potential to be modeled elsewhere in the university. The integrated, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach supports what Principal James Ridge says is fundamental to the college: “Our mandate is to be a laboratory for innovative pedagogy curriculum.”

Principal Ridge encourages his faculty to take risks, be creative and experiment in the development phase in order to create a meaningful feedback-loop throughout the first year with the students.

Or in the spirit of Tuum Est: We know they will make it theirs.

Video description: This stop-motion animation of chalkboard drawings was created to illustrate an innovative way to teach Epigenetic mechanisms. The animations, done by Steven J. Barnes, Instructor I in Vantage College and the Department of Psychology at UBC, provides a sneak peek into his innovative approach to teaching methodology and will be used in his development of course content for UBC Vantage College. The video was by produced by Steven J. Barnes and Chandra Jade.

Vantage College Southeast

I am most excited about our metasyllabus, says Barnes. The metasyllabus for the Arts streams in Vantage college is a multidisciplinary curriculum that exists over-and-above the curriculum for the individual courses. It ensures that there are topical themes that resonate through the content courses and through all of our non-course activities (e.g. guest speakers, field trips, etc.). It is sure to lead to new insights and creative juxtapositions on the part of both the instructors and the students.”

— Steven J. Barnes, PhD, Senior Instructor for the Arts Stream

Video description: Joanne Fox, PhD, discusses the development of the curriculum for UBC Vantage College and her role as academic lead for the Science stream. Having taught for a decade at UBC, Joanne is excited to develop a new model for learning at Vantage that integrates multiple disciplines, English language instruction and experiential education to provide a rewarding first-year experience for international students.

Vantage College social space - left image
Vantage College social space - right image


Here's what our undergraduates think Vantage students should do when they arrive:

  • Take advantage of every opportunity to get involved on campus even if you don't think it's for you because you won't know until you try it out, right?

    — Rachel
  • Say hi to the person sitting beside you in your classes. Everyone is new to UBC, and is probably looking for some friends and study buddies!

    — Angela
  • Get involved in your school. University is not all about the grades you leave with.

    — Malcolm
  • Explore! Take a little time each week to explore our campus. There are so many buildings and locations that are waiting to be discovered.

    — Kelly
  • Find something you are passionate about and make it yours — Tuum Est!

    — Katrina
Building on one of the core values of the college, the plans for the 435,282-square-foot college are indeed transformational. Even as it is open, warm, modern with a decidedly West Coast feel to it, the future Orchard Commons is anything but laid back. Soaring into the sky with student living spaces perched like eagles on the edge of the Pacific, the future college will be an inspiring place of promise for students to launch their academic careers at UBC.
Vantage College walkway drawing

A West Coast Invitation

The future vision for Orchard Commons, home and academic space for UBC Vantage College students, is one that is intentionally designed to engage the students, staff, faculty and local community at the UBC Vancouver campus on a daily basis.

“We are deliberately designing Orchard Commons to be welcoming,” says Principal James Ridge. “There are seventeen hundred students living in the Totem residences who walk across the parking lot every day on their way to class so we preserved that travel line in the design.”

In the future, students will travel that same route via a walkway located beside the main dining hall; Ridge says this will provide a natural social flow between students.

Gerry McGeough, Director, Planning and Design at UBC, along with architects at Perkins+Will, the firm chosen to design Orchard Commons, worked closely with key university stakeholders and the team at Vantage College to create a space that would celebrate diversity, support first-year international students far from home and offer relationship to the broader campus community.

“Core to the design is the notion of a large commons, where the space can fulfill the goal of well-being and sense of inclusion and act as a hub of social interaction,” says McGeough, added that the design “honours the existing university community.” McGeough believes that the willingness to be “pioneering” is reflected in the built environment and responds to UBC’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Generous, engaging, inspiring are just some of the words that come to mind when looking at the plans for the future college site, but the through-line in the design is clearly the student experience that is served in every possible way by the architecture. Derek Newby, architect with Perkins+Will, thinks the informal spaces, such as the lounges and dining hall, will provide points of interaction for the UBC community: “Our goal has been to create a generous, inviting setting that encourages and enables interaction. The building will act as an inspiring home for UBC Vantage College students, and as an invitation to the campus and community at large.”


Being an international student, this is a very exciting opportunity for me to prepare for a new culture and courses. I am looking forward to joining a diverse community here at Vantage, with professional academic support designed for my learning needs, and meeting other international students. I will be able to attend the existing courses UBC offers to everyone else with full English support.”

— Honghao Chen, First UBC Vantage College Student