What were you doing on June 22, 1990? If you were a Member of the Legislative Assembly in Victoria, you were raising your hand in support of a motion to create a northern university. It was a simple act that came after an unprecedented social movement in northern British Columbia that changed the course of this region forever.
The University of Northern B.C. (UNBC) is 25 years old and our first generation is loaded with stories that describe the successes of our students, faculty, and alumni.
We have nearly 12,000 graduates and the majority of them are living and working in northern B.C., contributing their skills and creativity to make our communities better.
In fact, the North is retaining about three-quarters of the northerners who go to UNBC and nearly 40 per cent of the non-northerners who attend and graduate from UNBC.
And we’re seeing that retention in the north is increasing over time.
The story of UNBC is personified by the story of the Unger family of Burns Lake. In the late 1980s, Wendell Unger was working in construction and decided to join the campaign for a northern university, paying $5 to join the Interior University Society.
Some 16,000 other northerners did as well, and today, all of Wendell’s three children are benefitting from UNBC. The two oldest are recent graduates of the Northern Medical Program and the youngest just completed her first year of studies.
UNBC has changed their family, just as it has for countless other families around Northern B.C. Samantha Unger participated in our 25th anniversary community celebration by unveiling a display of all 16,000 names that has been installed on campus.
Earlier this month we held graduation ceremonies in five northern BC communities, including Terrace. It’s at convocation where you hear stories that you might not otherwise.
The graduates have a sense of anticipation at having completed their studies and earning their degrees. They’re very confident in their future, and that confidence is inspiring for the rest of us.
I recall the story of a Terrace graduate from a couple of years ago, Janis Donald, that really jumps out for me and illustrates how individuals benefit from the credentials they earn while at UNBC, but entire communities in the north are benefitting as well.
Janis is from the Lower Mainland, Langley, and chose to relocate to Terrace to complete her nursing degree.
As she stood on the bank of the Skeena River, waiting to have her grad photo taken, she told us that Terrace “is beautiful. The people have been wonderful up here, and actually I’m staying – that’s how much I loved it.”
This is just one type of community connection that will be pivotal for UNBC’s future success.
Another will be our connections with First Nations across the North. As the conversation across Canada evolves on First Nations issues, I’m keen to foster that conversation and raise our profile and engagement with First Nations communities.
We’re already an education partner with, for example, Wilp Wilxo’oskwhl Nisga’a, the post secondary institution in the Nass Valley.
As exciting as an anniversary is, we want to ensure that ours is about more than examining the present and recalling the past; it must also be about charting a course for the future.
Our anniversary is serving as a platform to imagine the future of UNBC, based around integrated academic and budget plans that will be rooted in our mission and grounded by sustainability.
The planning process will certainly involve our campus community but it’s natural for UNBC to move beyond our campuses and involve the citizens and communities of Northern BC and beyond.
Take the opportunity to be involved in the future of UNBC, just as 16,000 northerners were actively involved in creating it in the first place.
UNBC is a tremendous resource for the region, and after 25 years, we’re only getting started.
Dr. Daniel Weeks is the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Northern British Columbia.