What were you doing on June 22, 1990?
If you were an MLA, 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.
The North is retaining about three-quarters of the northerners who go to UNBC and nearly 40% of the non-northerners who attend and graduate from UNBC. 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, and at each one, it was easy to see how UNBC has changed the fortunes of communities and families; not just for the person who earned the degree.
It is because of this that we want to make sure our 25th anniversary is about more than examining the present and recalling the past; it has to also be about charting a course for the future. Our 25th 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 B.C. 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. The next 25 years won’t be easy, with declining populations of young people and a challenging fiscal environment, but UNBC is a tremendous resource for the region and we’ll need your continued support and engagement to be even better.
Dr. Daniel Weeks is the president and vice-chancellor of UNBC.