NANAIMO, BC — For Rick Lesage, a trip to Vancouver Island University (VIU) this summer has changed his direction in life.
The 19-year-old from Fort Providence, Northwest Territories, is one of nearly 20 students visiting from Dehcho First Nations, which includes a dozen communities in the south-central region of the province. The students were in Nanaimo this July for a two-week Exploring the Trades program at VIU, which gives them hands-on experiences in a variety of trades, and a chance to explore the city.
Lesage has enjoyed the experience so much that he’s decided to stay on in Nanaimo and enroll in classes through VIU’s Adult Basic Education and Aboriginal University Bridging programs. Then he hopes to do some trades training at VIU – he particularly liked baking – and eventually move back to the Northwest Territories to work in that trade.
“Nanaimo is beautiful and there’s lots of things to do here,” says Lesage. “I’ve learned a whole bunch of stuff and we’ve checked out some beautiful parks. It seems like a good place to live.”
The trip, funded by Dehcho First Nations, included campus tours, menu planning, mini-courses in automotive, welding, electrical, culinary arts and welding, and a variety of off-campus activities, such as a trip to Newcastle Island, the movie theatre and WildPlay Elements Park. The group stayed in VIU Residences for the duration of the program.
“They get to come to a university and experience that and experience the city for a couple weeks,” says Doug Campbell, VIU’s Coordinator of Professional Development and Training. “They also get a sense of what it’s like to take courses here. Several are considering a post-secondary career now.”
VIU was chosen because students from Dehcho First Nations have attended VIU in the past, and periodically, groups of students come down to tour VIU and other Island institutions.
Alison dePelham, Dehcho First Nations executive director, says the trip was to give students who have left school or are close to leaving school a taste of what a university is like.
“It’s very small up here in the north, so they don’t get exposed to that many post-secondary institutions,” she says. “The priority is giving northern students the experience and confidence to move away from home to a post-secondary institution, and how to navigate it. It’s a bonus they’re getting the trades experience at the same time.”
Gloria Buboire, a chaperone with the group, says skilled tradespeople are in short supply in the area, and she believes the trip has inspired some of the students to enroll in trades training.
“I’m really excited to see these students so engaged in what they’re doing,” she says.
Brent Villeneuve, 16, from Fort Simpson, loved being on-site and attending classes in a university setting.
“Originally, I came to experience the culinary arts program, but I’m also really enjoying the automotive – I like to take things apart and put them back together,” he says. “The program gave me an idea of what the environment is like in both.”
Villeneuve would like to return to VIU to take some courses when he finishes high school in two years. “It’s on the Island, it’s on the coast, I have family nearby and it is a really nice campus!” he says.
Delainea Anderson, 15, from Fort Simpson, isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life, which is why she came on the trip.
“I’ve liked cooking stuff, and getting more involved in the process,” she says. “I might want to do culinary.”
VIU runs a number of Discover the Trades programs for high school-aged youth.