CASTLEGAR — The future has once again arrived at Selkirk College as the Class of 2018 prepares to embark on the next chapter of their lives.
More than 1,000 Selkirk College students from dozens of programs will step out of the classroom and into the workforce toting the education and skills needed to make a difference in the region and beyond.
“I’m blown away by the level professionalism of my fellow students,” says Class of 2018 valedictorian Chris Black. “Our generation of college graduates have a high technical level of training which is exciting for our region. The people entering the workforce are very technically-minded and adept in a lot of different areas.”
A student in the Integrated Environmental Planning (IEP) Program, Black was chosen to represent his peers at the April 27 graduation ceremony on the Castlegar Campus where hundreds of graduating students will walk across the stage to celebrate their achievement. Black’s diligent work in the classroom, his excellence in field work and his dedication to the greater community through volunteerism made him the perfect fit for the honour.
“Chris is an outstanding student and active member of the community,” says IEP instructor Doris Hausleitner. “More than that, he was a key person in creating a respectful and caring class atmosphere. We had a lab at Cottonwood Lake where it had snowed 30 centimetres the previous night. Chris went to the lab site in advance with firewood and had a fire going when the class arrived in order to make everyone more comfortable. He was helpful in bringing together different personalities in order to unite and create a strong cohort of students.”
Prairie roots and Kootenay pursuits
Black grew up in rural Central Alberta where he became involved in environmental conservation at a young age. Following his father’s lead, he developed an appreciation for protecting natural areas. By the time he was in high school, Black was a volunteer with the Battle Lake Watershed Synergy Group where he took water samples and collected data in a natural protected preserve 100 kilometres southwest of Edmonton.
After high school, the pursuit of abundant recreational outlets led him to the West Kootenay where he immersed himself in snowboarding, biking and hiking.
“I thought I would take a year off and then go back to school, but Nelson kind of sucks you in when it comes all the recreational opportunities,” says Black. “I knew I wanted to go back to school, but it wasn’t until I connected with previous Selkirk College students that I understood what the IEP Program was all about. It was a surprise because it was right here in my backyard.”
Just prior to starting at Selkirk College, Black began working for the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) as its Water Smart Ambassador where he was able to put to use his volunteer background and passion for finding positive environmental solutions. The experience further bolstered his desire to pursue a formal education and after receiving career counselling from the Kootenay Career Development Society (KCDS), he enroled in the two-year program at the start of the 2016-2017 academic year.
“I had a real hard time in high school, I didn’t do very well and it was a struggle getting through those final years,” says the 25-year-old. “It’s a complete turnaround to come to Selkirk College and have a really supportive environment where I can excel. My goal was to work hard and when you do that, it’s really easy to find success with the support and resources you get at Selkirk College combined with the passion towards what you are studying.”
Finding the right career fit
Along with studying forest ecology, environmental chemistry, GIS mapping, hydrology and a whole host of other subject areas in the IEP Program, Black continues to work part-time with the RDCK and even manages to throw himself into more volunteerism. The Friends of Kootenay Lake Stewardship Society and West Kootenay EcoSociety are two of the local organizations that Black has contributed to over the last two years.
Upon graduation, Black will continue to work at the RDCK as a site inspector for a water system project in Balfour and also help mentor first-year IEP students during fieldwork at the Duck Bay Restoration Project at Nelson’s Lakeside Park. In the fall, he will return to school to complete his Bachelor of Science at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in Vancouver which will be completed in two years due to the transferability of his Selkirk College credits.
As for his role at the Grad 2018 ceremony, Black is looking forward to helping provide a fitting send-off for those destined to make a difference.
“Being chosen valedictorian was unexpected and I feel really honoured,” he says. “I’m very proud to represent the students in the School of Environment & Geomatics amongst my peers in all Selkirk College programs.”
Learn more about the Selkirk College Integrated Environmental Planning Program at selkirk.ca/iep.