The graduation celebration at the South-Central campus in Quesnel featured the first cohort of Bachelor of Education grads in the community in addition to graduates in the Bachelor of Social Work, Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Certificate in First Nations Public Administration programs.
Before Joni Hesselgrave was a student in UNBC’s Bachelor of Education program in Quesnel, she was an advocate for its creation. On Thursday, Hesselgrave crossed the stage at the North Cariboo Community Campus as one of the first graduates to complete the undergraduate program in the community she calls home.
“I remember sitting in the same campus that I’m at today and being part of a group of around 40 people who were passionate about bringing this program to Quesnel,” she recalls. “We talked about how important it was for this city to have teachers coming here and staying here. If you’re living here already, you’re invested.”
Family and friends packed the atrium of the campus to celebrate with 25 graduates from UNBC’s Schools of Education, Nursing and Social Work and one graduate who completed a Certificate in First Nations Studies Public Administration.
Hesselgrave is one of five inaugural Bachelor of Education graduates in Quesnel. The unique program, launched in 2021, includes students in both Quesnel and Terrace using a combination of face-to-face instruction, blended learning and immersive sessions. The Quesnel and Terrace students learned together throughout the entire program and gathered for week-long intensive sessions in Prince George.
A parent of three young children, Hesselgrave says having the program in Quesnel allowed her to balance her family, career and educational aspirations.
“This program had to be here for me to be able to complete it,” she says. “I’m a mom and I was working full-time as a teacher on call, so travelling back and forth to Prince George just wasn’t an option. By saving the time driving back and forth, I was able to spend more time with my family.”
Bachelor of Social Work graduate Brittany Marsh also has a young family and was grateful she was able to complete her degree in her hometown.
“It was important for me that this program was offered here in Quesnel because this is where I grew up, this is where I have supports and as a student with three children it’s really important to have supports,” she says.
Now a counsellor with the Quesnel Women’s Resource Centre, Marsh also provides grief and loss workshops with the Quesnel and District Hospice Palliative Care Association.
“I’m really happy to be giving back to the community where I was raised,” she says. “I feel like this is where I need to be.”