Year in review 2020

December 21, 2020
Fresh snow on the Prince George campus
Snow blankets the Prince George campus as an unprecedented year comes to a close.


UNBC places first in its category for corporate research income growth in the latest edition of Canada’s Top 50 Research Universities ranking produced by Research Infosource Inc.
The University’s corporate research income grew an astounding 177.3 per cent in fiscal year 2018 to $452,000. It’s the largest increase of any university in the undergraduate tier. 

Dr. Lianne Tripp, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, is a co-author of a new book, Monkey Tales, that explores the history of the iconic Barbary macaques that live in Gibraltar. 
“The key finding is that the presence of the Barbary macaque is completely dependent on the goodwill of humans,” she explains.

Dr. Jianbing Li, an Environmental Engineering Professor is leading part of a national project to investigate improved methods to separate oil from water to make it more efficient and less costly to clean up marine oil spills. He received $1.9 million from Fisheries and Oceans Canada to fund the next stage of his research.


Nak’azdli Whut’en Elders know the power inherent in their stories and a new research partnership between the First Nation and UNBC is facilitating intergenerational story-telling and helping to preserve the stories for years to come. UNBC Assistant Professor of Nursing Dr. Shannon Freeman and Nak’azdli Health Director Jenny Martin co-led the program to bring Elders and children in Grades 6 and 7 together to share stories and learn from each other.

Sports Information Officer Rich Abney wins the grand gold award at the Council of Advancement and Support of Education for the story he wrote chronicling Timberwolves men's soccer player Michael Henman's mental health journey. The story helps advance the discussion around mental wellness and mental health on the UNBC campus and in the broader community.

UNBC student Briana Greer along TELUS Student Street
UNBC student Briana Greer

UNBC Global and International Studies major Briana Greer has her Japanese poem selected for publication in the Shortest Letter in Japan contest. Out of more than 32,000 entries submitted, Greer is the only non-Japanese resident selected to have her work published. Japanese is Greer’s second language.

UNBC’s Board of Governors announces that Dr. Daniel Weeks has decided to end his second term as President earlier than anticipated. Dr. Geoff Payne, Vice-President Research, is appointed by the Board as Interim President and Vice-Chancellor. Dr. Payne’s term as Interim President is extended for another two years in October. 


UNBC Political Science Professor Dr. Gary Wilson is the lead author of a new book that traces the political development of three Inuit regions in northern Canada over the past 40 years. Titled Nested Federalism and Inuit Governance in the Canadian Arctic, the book follows the development trajectories of the three northern regions: Nunavik in northern Quebec, the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the western Northwest Territories, and Nunatsiavut in northern Labrador.  He and his co-authors Dr. Christopher Alcantara (Western University), and Thierry Rodon (Université Laval) investigate their internal dynamics and their relationships with other levels of government in key policy areas such as housing, education and resource management.

Former Vice-President Research Dr. Max Blouw, now president of the Research Universities' Council of British Columbia (RUCBC), returns to UNBC in early March to deliver the opening Research Week 2020 keynote address. Blouw’s keynote address focused on the changes in the Canadian academic research landscape throughout his career. In November, Blouw was named a member of the Order of Canada. 

The Coronavirus pandemic garners a major response from the University as it continually follows strict guidelines from the Provincial Health Officer, Ministry of Health, Northern Health and Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills and Training. In collaboration with the faculty and other stakeholders, all classes move to alternate modes of delivery and students living in on-campus housing are encouraged to move out if possible. Faculty and staff are required to work from home where possible. Decisions are eventually made that classes in the spring, summer, fall and 2021 winter semesters move to alternate delivery modes. While our campuses remain open, the Charles Jago Northern Sport Centre temporarily closes. It re-opens in August. 


Since it’s not safe to hold face-to-face gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, UNBC determines that Convocation for the Class of 2020 will be held virtually during a ceremony in June. Students will still graduate and receive their parchment. After feedback from the Class of 2020, an in-person gathering to celebrate the class will be held once it’s safe to do so.


UNBC student Louisa Hadley
UNBC student Louisa Hadley

Louisa Hadley, a UNBC Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Master of Arts student, is among the Top 25 finalists selected in the 2020 SSHRC Storytelling competition. Its purpose is for post-secondary students to show Canadians how SSHRC-funded research is affecting our lives and the world for the better. Hadley’s master’s thesis, which she explained in her SSHRC submission, found that based on an online experiment, compared to the carbon tax, “personal carbon trading was significantly better at providing the public with the knowledge about reducing their direct carbon emissions.”

A Northern Medical Program (NMP) faculty member is honoured for his dedication to teaching not once, but twice, this spring. Dr. Sean Maurice recently received both the 2019-20 Robert W. Tait Annual Lecture on Implementing Teaching Excellence Award at UNBC and a 2019-20 Killam Teaching Prize from the University of British Columbia. Dr. Maurice joined the Northern Medical Program in 2007 as a senior lab instructor. He now also holds the roles of MEDD Site Director – Years 1 and 2 (NMP) and NMP Assistant Director of Histology and Affiliate Senior Instructor, UBC.

Deborah Koehn, a lecturer in UNBC’s School of Education and co-ordinator of the Bachelor of Education program, has spent her career determined to create an exceptional learning environment for teacher candidates. The Association of BC Deans of Education (ABCDE) has recognized Koehn’s dedication to her craft with the 2020 ABCDE Teacher Educator award. The award is presented annually to a teacher educator who has distinguished themselves in partnering with a teacher education program in British Columbia.

Danika Sarafin, who is graduating with her Bachelor of Science – Nursing degree is one of two valedictorians for UNBC’s Class of 2020, along with Katie Timms, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (honours) and Biology. They each give a brief speech during UNBC’s virtual convocation celebration on June 26.


Anthropology Professor Dr. Michel Bouchard holds a copy of his book
Anthropology Professor Dr. Michel Bouchard

Anthropology Professor Dr. Michel Bouchard along with two co-authors win the Prix du Canada en sciences humaines et sociales from the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences for their book Les Bois-Brûlés de l’Outaouais. The prize is awarded annually to a French-language book that makes an exceptional contribution to scholarship, is engagingly written, and enriches the social, cultural and intellectual life of Canada. It’s the first time the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences selected a book co-authored by a UNBC scholar for its most prestigious book prize. 

For 25 years, Environmental Science Professor Dr. Peter Jackson has been teaching UNBC students about atmospheric science, researching wind flow in complex terrain and engaging with the community about air quality and weather patterns. The Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS) honours Jackson for his professional accomplishments and dedication to the organization by naming him Fellow of the Society. The designation is awarded to CMOS members who have provided exceptional long-term service and support to the Society, and/or who have made outstanding contributions to the scientific, professional, educational, forecasting or broadcasting fields in atmospheric or ocean sciences in Canada. 

The University recognizes five distinguished Professors Emeriti in the electronic program at UNBC’s virtual Convocation on June 26. Dr. Stan Beeler (English); Dr. Keith Egger (Ecosystem Science and Management); Dr. Michael Gillingham (Ecosystem Science and Management); and Dr. Mark Shegelski (Physics) have all been granted the title Professor Emeritus. Dr. Katherine Parker (Ecosystem Science and Management) has been named Professor Emerita. Professor Emeritus and Emerita titles are an honorary rank and are awarded to outstanding professors who have retired

Dr. Nadezhda (Nadia) Mamontova receives a prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue her research into Glafira Vasilevich's mapmaking project with the Evenki people in Siberia. Working with UNBC Geography Professor Dr. Gail Fondahl, Mamontova is exploring the methods Vasilevich used to collect the maps, examining her motivations and tracing the legacy of the place names she used. 

The NSERC/Rio Tinto Industrial Research Chair on Climate Change and Water Security partnership is one year old. Led by Environmental Science Professor Dr. Stephen Déry, the project aims to better understand how climate change and human activity are impacting water security in the watershed, which stretches from the Coast mountains to the Nechako River’s mouth in Prince George where it flows into the Fraser River. 


Students and faculty members earn scholarships and grants from federally funded agencies to continue their research. Christiana Onabola, a UNBC Health Sciences PhD student, receives a Vanier Scholarship for her research that focuses on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how those goals are relevant to local populations and communities along the Nechako Watershed in British Columbia and Niger Delta in Nigeria.

Eight faculty researchers obtain grants worth more than a combined $1.3 million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s Discovery Grant program and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant program.


Six years after the consequential tailings pond breach at the Mount Polley mine, UNBC researchers collaborate with scientists at the University of Alberta and University of British Columbia to present their latest findings on the impact on Quesnel Lake in a paper in Water Resources Research. They find that turbidity, or cloudiness, in portions of B.C.’s Quesnel Lake increases each spring and fall, when the lake mixes from top to bottom in a natural process called turnover.

Chancellor Joseph Gosnell with mountains in the backgroundChancellor Joseph Gosnell Sr.

The University community mourns the loss of Chancellor Joseph Gosnell Sr., who died on Aug. 18. Gosnell, a leader in the Nisg̲a’a Nation, holds the hereditary chief name Sim'oogit Hleek, the most senior name in the House. It means “well-used” or “most useful,” and in the manner that the Nation uses his wisdom, strength, and knowledge of culture to inform everything they do on the land. It’s the second time in a little over eight months that UNBC says good-bye to a Chancellor. John S. MacDonald, the fifth chancellor, died on Dec. 26, 2019.


With the coronavirus pandemic raging, there is a different feel to move-in day and the first day of classes. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of our faculty and staff, the Fall Semester begins with most classes using alternative modes of delivery.


UNBC biologist Dr. Roy Rea and a team of student researchers produce a video about their summer fieldwork to explore the summer diet of moose in northern B.C. The group spent the summer of 2020 combing the Macleod Lake Mackenzie Community Forest north of Prince George collecting moose droppings. They are studying the droppings to identify what plant species are important for moose in the summer months.

UNBC continues to shine in the Maclean’s rankings with a fifth-place finish in its category. The rankings reflect the success of UNBC’s students, with the University placing first for students who won national awards. For the third consecutive year, UNBC places second in student/faculty ratio and fourth in total research dollars, both indicators of teaching and research success. 


Rahim Somani joins UNBC as Vice-President, Finance and Administration. In his new role, Somani leads the strategic financial and operational planning.

Dr. Pamela Wright outside at the Prince George campus
Conservation Science and Practice Professor Dr. Pamela Wright

Conservation Science and Practice Professor Dr. Pamela Wright receives the 2020 Mitacs Award for Outstanding Leadership – Professor for her exemplary record of developing collaborations with industry and other partners, providing valuable research and training experiences to interns and initiating research projects with significant outcomes through Mitacs funding.

UNBC launches the Centre for Technology Adoption for Aging as an AGE-WELL National Innovation Hub. Through partnerships with technology developers, researchers, policymakers, health-care providers, community groups and older adults themselves, CTAAN tests, pilots, implements and promotes new and existing technology solutions to help older adults live independently.

UNBC researchers discover that glaciers in B.C.’s Columbia River basin are 38 per cent thicker in mass than originally thought. Ben Pelto, who successfully defended his UNBC Natural Resources and Environmental Studies PhD dissertation in October, is the lead author in the paper published in the Journal of Glaciology.


The latest edition of This Is UNBC magazine features stories of alumni succeeding in digital media and others who work on the front line of the pandemic response. Find all the stories on our website.

UNBC wraps up the year the same way it began, with another strong result in the Research Infosource Rankings. This time UNBC sees a 42.5 per cent increase in research funding overall, the most among any university of its size in Canada.