Ever since Arctica Cunningham stepped foot onto the University of Northern British Columbia’s campus in the Fall of 2013 as a first-year undergraduate student, she honed her leadership, student government and community service skills and made an impact on UNBC’s community.
“When I saw that UNBC offered a joint major in environmental studies and political science, I felt like all my interests were coming together, and I knew I that I had found the perfect school,” she said.
For Sukhpreet Buttar, UNBC was the only university she wanted to attend in the Fall of 2013 since it was in her hometown of Prince George and close to her family and loved ones.
“There was a sense of unity amongst all of the citizens situated in the North which further drew me to attend UNBC,” she said. “The staff-student ratio was another reason why I attended UNBC as this fostered interaction and connectedness with professors, all of which was appealing to me.”
It also provided her with opportunities to thrive in and outside the classroom.
Cunningham and Buttar have both been selected as the 2018 valedictorians at UNBC.
They will each give a brief speech during the Prince George convocation celebrations on May 25 at the Charles Jago Northern Sport Centre. Their presentations are intended to signify a moment of celebration and respect to all those who have made the journey through classes, papers, projects and exams to the culmination of that hard work, their degree.
Cunningham is graduating with her Bachelor of Arts degree with a joint major in environmental studies and political science and a minor in global studies.
Cunningham grew up in Telkwa, B.C., near Smithers. At UNBC, she volunteered with various student clubs and societies (Debate, Political Science, Students for a Green University) and organizations (Prince George Public Interest Research Group) and causes and connected with undergraduate students from across all disciplines.
Cunningham first served as the Academic Representative on the Northern Undergraduate Student Society representing student interests at UNBC meetings and then in April 2016 was elected President.
She was responsible for all internal and external relations, financial management and budgeting processes and navigated the student union through some challenging times.
In her fifth year, she sat on UNBC’s Board of Governors as an elected undergraduate student representative.
Cunningham chose to study at UNBC because it is known as Canada’s Green University and she wanted to get into the environmental field. She was also impressed by all the student initiatives at the University, including the University Farmers’ Market, the compost program and saw many opportunities to get involved.
“It is impossible to pick just one thing that I enjoyed the most, but I would say the campus culture in general is incredible, with so many events and activities happening all the time,” she said. “Students have so many opportunities to share their passions and it is easy to get involved with new things.”
Cunningham believes that most of her fellow graduates agree that university has been hard and they have all grown immensely in the process.
“But at the end what I’m sure I’ll remember most are all of the moments I have shared with the people I have spent my time with. I will especially miss the student organizations I was involved with such as the Debate Society, and I learned so much from my experiences in roles with student government.”
Cunningham will give her valedictorian speech at the College of Arts, Social and Health Sciences Convocation ceremony at 9:30 a.m.
“It is an incredible honour to be chosen as UNBC’s valedictorian,” she said. “During my time here I have had the opportunity to interact with so many other amazing students so I’m truly grateful that they have selected me to represent the graduating class.”
Cunningham is currently working as the executive director for PGPIRG, an environmental non-profit group. It’s a position that allows her to apply a lot of knowledge she learned as an undergraduate student.
Under the supervision of Associate Geography Professor Dr. Zoë Meletis, Cunningham completed an undergraduate thesis in her fifth year that focused on food security issues in communities along Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert and explored how those issues relate to larger patterns of safety issues, inadequate transportation and marginalization.
She plans on continuing her education, pursuing a Master’s degree.
Buttar is graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry and molecular biology and a minor in psychology.
She was born in Prince George but grew up in Mackenzie. She moved to Prince George in Grade 6 and completed her last year at Prince George Secondary School. Right after, she enrolled in UNBC in the Fall of 2013.
While at UNBC, Buttar thrived academically, gaining hands-on research experience under her supervisor, Biochemistry Professor Dr. Chow Lee. The primary focus of her undergraduate honours thesis centred around the anti-cancer healing properties of mushrooms collected from Northern B.C.
Buttar earned a pair of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada undergraduate research awards and an Undergraduate Research Experience Award for her work and progressed from a lab volunteer to a senior lab assistant to educate others in the lab on biochemical properties.
She said the research experience not only improved her professional skills, but taught her perseverance in achieving career goals.
Buttar honed her community service and leadership skills beyond the classroom in the UNBC and Prince George communities. She recently received the City of Prince George volunteer award, for her outstanding contributions within the community.
On campus, she was a UNBC Jack.org mental health campaign committee member and was one of 200 students selected to attend the national Jack.org summit in Toronto this year. She was also an orientation cohort leader and a Peer Support Network Mentor, dedicating her time to actively listen and emotionally support other students.
She was an active member of the Table Tennis Club as secretary and vice-president.
Prior to her role as a Teaching Assistant in her final year, Buttar was a Peer Lead Teaching Leader for Introductory Biology 102, where she collaborated with other leaders in brainstorming innovative study techniques, resources and activities that enhanced learning outcomes.
“I enjoyed the sense of community I had from attending UNBC,” she said. “I enjoyed meeting new people and building friendships that would last a life time.
“Apart from that, the greatest experience I had at UNBC was doing research with Dr. Chow Lee. I learned how to apply the skills I acquired in a classroom setting to discovering novel compounds from mushrooms that could be used against cancer.”
Off-campus, Buttar volunteered for the Prince George Crisis Centre, Canadian Blood Services, Prince George Rotary Hospice Society, the University Hospital of Northern B.C., Heart and Stroke and the Canadian Cancer Society.
As a health promotions officer at the cancer society, she educated youth about the dangers of tobacco use at local schools. She also evaluated the smoke and tobacco free policy during the 2015 Canada Winter Games. She attended events and collected data about the public’s perception of smoking. The results of her work culminated in Northern Health, the City of Prince George and the public working in conjunction to produce a bylaw that bans smoking in parks.
As a care worker at Eagle Nest Community and Aboriginal Services, she makes a real difference in the lives of youth coming from troubled backgrounds by assisting them in educational opportunities, recreational activities and emotional and spiritual support.
Buttar will give her valedictorian speech at the College of Science and Management Convocation Ceremony at 2:30 p.m.
“I am both humbled and thankful that I will be able to be a small part of everyone’s big day!,” she said. “To know that I was chosen to be 2018 CSAM class valedictorian and represent all of my peers and our collective efforts from the countless hours spent studying to balancing extracurricular activities and being a part of student-led organizations is an honour and a very humbling experience.
“I will remember how welcoming and friendly everyone, including my fellow colleagues to the staff at UNBC were. The compassionate, supportive and kind-hearted nature of my professors will not be forgotten as not only were they available for course-related conversations, but, they even helped with discussing other hardships outside of the classroom.”
After she graduates on May 25, Buttar plans on pursuing a career in medicine, specifically in the North.
“In addition to the invaluable knowledge I’ve gained, my education has demonstrated the sense of community and collaboration here in the North,” she said. “This life-changing university experience will mold me for the next chapter of my career.”