Distance education pioneer Colin Simpson, Dean of George Brown College's Centre for Continuous Learning, will receive Nipissing University's highest distinction at its upcoming 2015 convocation ceremonies.
Simpson is being recognized for his extraordinary contributions to electronics, industrial automation and robotics education and will receive an honorary doctorate of letters at the ceremony in North Bay on June 12.
"It's wonderful and the fact that it's from my hometown makes it extra special for me," he said.
Simpson, who has a doctoral degree in electrical engineering from the University of Hawaii, has written six textbooks, including the best-seller Principles of Electronics, and has developed simulation software that enables students to study electronics, electro-mechanics, robotics and automation through distance education programs. There are approximately 250,000 registered users of his simulation software worldwide.
Breaking down barriers to education
Simpson has been recognized before for breaking down barriers when it comes to access to education, with the TVOntario Lifelong Learning Challenge Award among his honours. He was inspired to launch the distance education offerings at George Brown in 1997 when, as a teacher, he saw students dropping out of college because "they couldn't afford it, or because they had some kind of family issues."
He knew some students needed greater flexibility in their learning options in order to complete their studies.
His distance education electronics program at George Brown has attracted a relatively high number of female students and provides easier access to training for students facing economic challenges.
"Typically, it's a very low percentage of females that enrol in an electronics program—it's usually in the range of two per cent. Our programs typically average around 20 per cent," Simpson said.
The self-directed and pay-per-course design of the electronics program also provides more flexibility for students to gain new skills to either get into the workforce or adapt to changes in their current work environment.
"For people who have really busy lives—they may have family commitments or they may do shift work…[the online program] provides them with a means of being able to improve their lives by being able to take these courses because they are employment-based," he said.
George Brown is one of the largest distance education providers in North America, with approximately 21,000 students currently enrolled.
Simpson started at George Brown as a teacher, eventually moved into an administrative role and has been dean of the Centre of Continuous Learning for a decade. Under his watch enrolment in George Brown's Continuing Education programs has jumped to 65,000 from approximately 35,000.