Bringing advanced education to Canada’s North
There aren’t any universities in Nunavut, but these 3 students have still earned advanced degrees
There are few options for learners in Northern Canada to get a post-secondary education, and even fewer to earn a university degree.
Fortunately for those pursuing an education in the vast sparsely populated territory of Nunavut, Athabasca University (AU) can provide a university education just about anywhere.
We connected with 3 learners who have completed their degree while living in Nunavut about their experiences, and how education is helping them to transform lives and transform communities.
Nursing in the north
Originally from Newfoundland, Trista Bennett (Master of Nursing – Nurse Practitioner ‘22) moved to Iqaluit, Nunavut, when she was just 18 years old.
“I fell in love with its rich culture and its people,” she said. “Here I met my husband and it is where we built our wonderful life.”
She works in the local hospital doing data entry before taking on the challenge of becoming a nurse. In her role she sees a lot of turnover in doctors and nurses, which she said is a major contributor to the challenges Nunavummiat—the people inhabiting the territory—face when trying to access primary holistic care.
Bennett wanted to become a nurse practitioner to help bridge that gap, but opportunities for post-secondary training are limited in the north.
“With this degree from Athabasca, I now have the requirements and skills needed to become a successful nurse practitioner,” she said. “I am excited to work with our community to create a primary care model that is meaningful and engaged by our patient population.”
Building skills as an educator
Seema Abbasi (Master of Education in Open, Digital, and Distance Education ‘22) has been living in the North for 4 years, having moved from Toronto, Ont., because of a tightening job market—but also to experience the incredible opportunity to live in Canada’s Far North.
She works as an adult educator at Nunavut Arctic College in the Baker Lake area. A typical winter day for her begins with putting on three layers, warming up the truck for 20 minutes, and heading to work where she may have to navigate mountains of snow only to find the front entrance frozen shut.
After supporting students all day long, she became the student and was able to head back home and complete her coursework online. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Abbasi said she was able to use the digital skills she had picked up as a learner in her role as an educator and connect with her students without much struggle.
“AU’s online program suited my environment, and the need to continue to remain marketable,” she said. “This education has helped me tremendously, both personally and professionally.”
For the love of learning
Although Patti Bligh (Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies ’22) is currently working in a term position as a teacher in Yellowknife, N.W.T., her home is in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, a community located on the northwest passage about 30 km from the mainland.
She moved north with her partner, 3 kids, and a cat in 1998. There she found that a peaceful northern life was conducive to raising a family. She began working as a full-time teacher there that same year.
After taking a French course with AU in the 2000s, Bligh knew about the university by the time her children had grown up, and she was looking to try something new.
“When I grew restless at school and most of the children had left, I went looking for online options that I could make work here in Nunavut,” she said.
But not wanting another education degree, and not even wanting to take courses directly related to a career, she chose to embrace her love of history and study for a Master of Arts. The experience was incredibly positive and fanned the flames of her passions for both learning and teaching.
“I spent a wonderful 5 years floating around knowledge in a meaningful way, and I passed it on to all in my world,” she said.
“When I grew restless at school and most of the children had left, I went looking for online options that I could make work here in Nunavut.”– Patti Bligh (Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies '22)