The Stinson Family

When Steven Stinson became one of 16,000 Northern British Columbians to sign a petition supporting what would become UNBC, he unknowingly helped his then three-year-old son Derick on the path to a rewarding life in his hometown.

Steven has lived in Kitimat for 54 years, minus a year to attend university in the south. Like many parents, Steven wanted something different for his two sons – the chance to study in the North.

“It’s such a culture change to go from here to the south,” says Steven. “There are just so many more distractions. It’s much easier for them in the North. We needed other education options in the province - it’s what everyone was talking about.”

Derick Stinson with his father Steven in Kitimat

During the campaign to create UNBC, some cast doubt on the appetite for a university in the North. In the fall of 1989 a provincial government minister told the Globe and Mail that “In the interior ... people don’t think of education beyond Grade 12. The questions they ask at the end of the day are ‘How many trees did you cut today?’ or ‘How were things down in the mine?’”

This generated 3,000 letters of protest to the government.

The pressure generated by the letters, a positive feasibility study, and the 16,000 petition signers, including Steven, prompted the BC government to pass the UNBC Act on June 22, 1990, with all-party support, officially creating UNBC.

Steven’s eldest son Derick went on to earn a Bachelor of Commerce degree at UNBC in 2007. Today he works as a plant manager for Pyrotek in Kitimat.

“Kitimat is front and center,” says Derick. “There’s a lot going on and with liquefied natural gas and energy in general. It’s very exciting times right now.”

Derick says his degree helped him get his present job because his studies were focused on the region. He says employers in Northern BC are looking for people with connections here, because they’re more likely to stay long term. He also enjoyed the small class sizes at UNBC and being able to return home on weekends.

“It was important to make that transition in post-secondary education in the North, closer to home,” he says. “I always had that idea and hope that I could stay in the North, and I think UNBC fit pretty well with that. The education that it provided me allowed me to stay in my hometown.”

Derick is now giving back to his community as chair of the local chamber of commerce. He works there with his brother Paul, another UNBC alumnus. Derick says it’s really rewarding that his family could all find work in Kitimat.

“It makes for a better, well-rounded community,” says Derick. “It’s a nice aspect for families, when people have kids and the grandparents are there."

“When you have a strong university in the North, and the ability of people to stay up here once they finish school, get decent jobs, and move forward in their careers, it’s a win-win situation for the individual and the community.”

Derick feels there is also a professional advantage to working in a smaller town like Kitimat. He’s had friends who have gone to bigger centres such as Vancouver and Calgary to work, and they don’t get as much responsibility as he does, or as quickly. Working in a smaller centre lets him gain skills and experience faster as more duties fall under his job description.

“You not only get more well-rounded positions, but you get a lot more access,” he says. “You get to do a little bit more. If you’re working in Vancouver or Calgary, you’re much more limited. I think for people coming out of school, the key is going to be to seek out those opportunities that are in the North.”

UNBC has changed a lot since Derick graduated. Back then the Teaching and Learning Centre and Northern Sports Centre were still under construction. But Derick says the culture of UNBC has remained the same; he says it’s an institution tailored to the North, with a warmth and humility not unlike the communities of Northern BC.

 “UNBC is a small university, but it seems like a little northern community in its own way,” he says. “Everybody is very protective and proud of the culture their community has, and I still see that at UNBC. People are very proud that they’re from UNBC.”

New economic activity in Northern BC is encouraging more young people to consider at future closer to home, and UNBC gives them the option to stay in the region for higher education, just as Derick’s father and 16,000 other people once envisioned.

“That’s the one thing missing in Kitimat and these Northern places,” says Steven. “We’ve lost whole generations of kids, because there was no work and everybody had to leave, but now they’re coming back. It’s really nice that way.”

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