- Published: 10 May 2011
|Christopher Pieper has built a promising future for himself and his daughters that may not have been possible without the generosity of donors to the Okanagan College Foundation.|
Every year Okanagan College holds a competition to test the strength of the B.C. Interior’s engineering prowess.
By Jennifer Smith
Now world-famous, the Spaghetti Bridge Contest draws teams from as far as Europe to stack up against talented B.C. minds.
Competition is fierce and, as weight on the brittle pasta bridges builds, testing how much the structures can take before shattering often feels more like an exercise in snapping competitor’s nerves, not pieces of spaghetti.
Yet, as stiff as the competition is, when Okanagan College student Christopher Pieper’s team placed first in the post-secondary category, it seemed more like a given.
The 27-year-old engineering technology student has been testing the limits of his own strength for years as a single-father of two daughters, trying to build his family a future that bridges the gap between a hands-on parenting style and the financial reality of being a single father.
It means there are times when his civil engineering coursework has to be mixed with parenting courses and trips to community programs for guidance.
“I didn’t really know how to raise two daughters, so that’s what you do,” explained Pieper.
It’s a focused approach that’s kept him at the top of his class, despite the demands of ensuring five-year-old Jenna-Rae and six-year-old Annabelle’s days run smoothly enough to ensure they won’t notice how hard their dad is working.
“For the most part, if people know what I’m doing, they’re always willing to help,” said Pieper, whose been known to ask clients to meet him at McDonald’s so his kids can play nearby and he won’t need a sitter.
Life didn’t start out this way.
Originally working in the oil fields, when Pieper realized he would be raising two children on his own, he also surmised it was time to find a job that worked for his kids more than his pocketbook.
The engineering technology program at Okanagan College seemed a good bet and as his grades began to place him at the top of the class—he has been named top engineering student two years running—Pieper started considering other options.
The applications are now in for him to go on and finish a full degree en route to his designation as a professional engineer.
Unfortunately, big dreams take big money, though thankfully, the Okanagan College Foundation is playing a big role in bringing those goals to reality.
With scholarships and bursaries that can help anyone from students leaving high school to those returning to change careers, the foundation offers the support many students need to achieve a difficult goal.
Comprised of the generous gifts from donors from all walks of life, the foundation is a way the entire community can contribute to building a brighter future and offer students, like Pieper, a break to get through difficult times. Some simply give a one-time donation, but others choose to establish endowments and on-going scholarships and bursaries in their own name.
Ed and Del Fearns, for example, provided one of the many awards Pieper has earned in his years with the college.
The Ed and Del Fearns Memorial Scholarship awards students with big heart and determination $1500 to put toward their studies.
“I knew I was now in a position where I could give back”, said Ed, who remembers what it was like to live through those lean student years.
Attending the Manitoba Institute of Technology, where, like Pieper, he studied civil engineering, he remembers how difficult it can be to get through the day while trying to learn.
“Basically, I had nothing, but I realize what a difference my education made to my life and business,” he said.
Fearns went on to run Progressive Contracting, a successful excavating business in the Lower Mainland. After moving to the Shuswap area, he joined the regional advisory committee for Okanagan College, getting to know the school and some of the challenges facing its students. And in 2006, he and his wife set up a scholarship in their name.
Pieper has secured a string of such awards and stresses how incredibly grateful he is for people like the couple who have made it possible for him to entirely recreate his family’s future.
“If there wasn’t any help, it wouldn’t be happening,” he said.
Pieper’s accolades include major funding infusions, like the $4500 Edd Kyle Memorial Award, which have allowed him to escape financial stress for entire semesters at a time.
“By the end of the program I’ll be able to work close to home and take care of the kids,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going.”
The Okanagan College Foundation also needs help to keep going and offers a wide range of options to prospective donors who want to help students like Pieper build a brighter future for tomorrow.