The Neilson Family

From his office on the second floor of Charles J. McCaffray Hall at the University of Northern BC, Tyler Neilson looks out of the window  every day and feels a special connection to the place.

“I did my undergrad here, I did some graduate studies here, I got married in this building, and I work here now,” he says. “The university has been a huge part of my life.”

Tyler is not only an alumnus and current employee of UNBC; he’s also the son of one of the original petition signers who helped generate the momentum required to move the university from an idea to reality more than 25 years ago.

Tyler and Jamie Neilson

Tyler’s father Jamie Neilson was a guidance counsellor in Fraser Lake when the Interior University Society was campaigning to bring a new post-secondary institution to the north.  After years of telling graduating high school students about their post-secondary opportunities in other parts of the province and the country, and seeing the results of young people moving away to pursue their academic endeavours, Jamie knew the value of having a university close to home.

It was an easy decision for Jamie to add his name to the chorus of people who felt a University in Northern BC could make a big difference.

“We had kids from Fraser Lake who were successful, but we also had kids who were overwhelmed by the cultural shock,” he says. “A university in the north made so much sense, just to give our kids as much opportunity as kids in other parts of the province.”

Although he was a child at the time, Tyler remembers Jamie’s passion for the idea of UNBC and what it could mean for the region. He said his father had a “genuine, true excitement” for the proposed University and despite his young age, Tyler could sense how important the project was the region.

Once UNBC was up and running, Jamie was able to point high school students in Fraser Lake to UNBC and explain the benefits of studying closer to home.

“We had a primary example of what you could do after high school, right here,” Jamie says. “We didn’t have some mythical place, it wasn’t that scary. You could go to university and get your bachelor’s degree right here.”

That’s exactly what Tyler did.

After beginning his post-secondary studies at the College of New Caledonia, Tyler transferred to UNBC to complete a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. He graduated in 2003 and began graduate studies soon after. Tyler said staying close to Fraser Lake meant he could stay in touch with his family and friends back home.

“For so many kids from Fraser Lake, coming to Prince George is such an easy transition compared with going straight to Vancouver,” he says. “Once you’re in Prince George you get the idea of what a medium-sized city is like and you can ask yourself, ‘Do I need bigger and do I go to Vancouver next or do I prefer smaller and go back to Fraser Lake, Vanderhoof or Burns Lake?’ ”

Being close enough to home also meant Tyler was able to get those care packages that every undergraduate student loves to receive. He said the distance between Fraser Lake and Prince George is perfect for a university student - enough space to prevent the spontaneous parental drop-in but close enough to have family support nearby.

When Tyler was studying at UNBC, it gave Jamie a great opportunity to see first-hand what his signature, and the signatures of thousands of other people helped create.

“It’s quite an awe-inspiring campus,” Jamie says. “The architecture is so spectacular, and the environment is so amazing. I really enjoy the concept of it being a green university, how they’ve moved so dramatically in that direction.”

Tyler eventually left UNBC for a job in the private sector, but has now returned to the University as a programmer analyst.

“I really do think that UNBC is a great institution, it’s fantastic that it’s here and I’m very fortunate that my dad and so many people pushed for it, and that so much work was done to make this a reality.”

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