Doncaster joined NIC in 1989 in the Comox Valley. With a background in physical education and educational psychology, she was only planning on staying at NIC for six months, but instead found a calling that would impact thousands of students over her 28 years of full-time service.
“As a first-generation high school, university, and grad school graduate I sometimes felt like an imposter at a post-secondary school,” she said. “Over time, I realized I had a part to play that could make a difference in the lives of students who similarly may not have dreamed of being at post-secondary.”
Together with her team, Doncaster built what is now the Department of Accessible Learning Services and Accessible Learning Programs – literally from the ground up.
“When they were building the Ryan Road campus they came to us and asked what we needed – and then they built it,” she said. “We were the first department to move to the campus.”
Doncaster’s work including building collaborative relationships with her NIC colleagues, working to create a culture which honoured multiple ways of learning, diversity and inclusion, creating student-driven programs and individualized services to meet the needs of NIC students.
“The commitment of students who often had multiple challenges was both humbling and inspiring,” Doncaster said.
To be eligible for an Emeritus designation, recipients must have worked at NIC for at least 10 years, demonstrated teaching, service or research excellence and contributed significantly to student success or the educational community.
“It is impossible to put into words the impact Sheila has had on NIC, both in helping students with the supports they need, but also in building a culture – from the ground up – of prioritizing accessibility and inclusion,” said Tony Bellavia, NIC Vice President, Academic. “We have had countless students over the years successfully graduate from their post-secondary programs because of our accessible learning department – that’s thanks to Sheila.”
Her work also influenced organizations across BC and the country, representing NIC at provincial articulation meetings. She also worked on provincial articulation, working with a team from SFU, UBC and Camosun College to create the Orientation Manual for New Disability Services Providers in BC (2007) – which was presented nationally and shared with other provinces as a model to follow.
Reflecting on her career, Doncaster says it was the little moments that meant the most to her.
“Working at NIC, collaborating with students and colleagues, was a privilege,” she said. “I’m honoured to receive the Emeritus designation and continue to help support students at NIC.”