N.W.T. university students heading back to school — both at home and away

Diana Rockwell starts her second year of voice and performance studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton next week. ‘It’s like the exact wrong program to be in right now,’ she says. 

'I'm determined to make this fun,' says engineering student who'll stay in Yellowknife this fall

Yellowknifer Diana Rockwell is heading to the University of Alberta in Edmonton this weekend for her second year studying voice and performance, even though much of the programming has been moved online. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

When Diana Rockwell moved to Edmonton last fall, it was the first time she lived in a city with an opera company. 

As a first-year student in the University of Alberta's music program, studying classical voice and performance, she spent nine or 10 hours a day with other students, taking voice lessons, singing in a choir, and working on an opera of their own. 

When the Yellowknifer arrives this weekend for her second year of studies, she'll find a somewhat different scene: all of her classes — including twice-weekly voice instruction — have been moved online. Singing in a choir is out, as are any live performances. Master classes with local and visiting performances are also out. 

"It's like the exact wrong program to be in right now," said Rockwell, 19. 

In normal times, students in her program are expected to attend local performances. Growing up in Yellowknife, Rockwell saw her first opera in Grade 9. "Being able to see operas in Edmonton was fascinating," she said. 

Now? "We can't even do that." 

Rockwell is one of many northern post-secondary students who've had to make the decision: stay home and take classes online or return to university campuses that are drastically changed. 

Kleo Skavinski, 19, is returning to the University of British Columbia for her second year as an arts major. 'The northern internet situation wasn't going to work for me,' she said. (Submitted by Kleo Skavinski)

Kleo Skavinski, 19, of Hay River is another. 

She thought about staying home for the year, since all of her classes and her student job are all online. Instead, she's heading to her second year of arts at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. 

"The northern internet situation wasn't going to work for me," she said, recalling a final exam last spring where she spent the first 15 minutes using data on her cellphone, waiting for the exam to load on her computer. 

Skavinski, who has roots in the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation, plans to major in sociology and First Nation and Indigenous Studies. 

She's also an advisor with the Indigenous Student Collegia, which helps bring together Indigenous students throughout the university. This year, she'll be one of the people working to bring that experience online. 

"We are the guinea pigs," she said. "Whether we like it or not." 

She'll miss the weekly lunches she attended last year, being able to meet people outside class and borrow notes, and the intramural basketball teams she was part of. 

But the job and the community she forged last year have lured her back.

"And I'm quite excited." 

Samantha Goodwin is returning to Calgary to study nursing. 'Honestly, I think it should be encouraged that nursing students work in this type of situation just because, like, you don’t know when this type of thing is gonna come up again.' (Submitted by Samantha Goodwin)

The decision to go back was easy for Samantha Goodwin. 

She's heading back to Calgary from Hay River for her second year studying nursing at Mount Royal University. 

"Honestly, I think it should be encouraged that nursing students work in this type of situation just because, like, you don't know when this type of thing is gonna come up again." 

Nineteen-year-old Obed Duru is also heading back to school. He'll be entering his third year of kinesiology and health science at York University in Toronto. 

"Honestly, I just like living in Toronto more than living in Yellowknife, but the restrictions will make it a little bit harder to do the things that make Toronto so much fun." 

Jenna Orr has set up a home library in her parents' basement suite. 'I'm determined to make this fun,' she says. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

Jenna Orr made a different call. 

She started a co-op engineering program at the University of Edmonton last year. After learning that her two best friends weren't returning to campus, she decided to stay home, at least for the fall, turning a basement suite in her parents house into her own personal "library." 

One of her best friends is also studying engineering at home this year. Orr's planning to spend a lot of time studying with her. 

"We're gonna have a fun time," Orr said. "I'm determined to make this fun." 

Gabriel Leclerc will also stay in the North this fall. 

Gabriel Leclerc poses with the mascot of the Yellowknife Polar Bear Swim Club. Instead of joining the University of Lethbridge's swim team, he'll experience his first year of university online. (Submitted by Gabriel Leclerc)

The 17-year-old Yellowknifer was set to go to the University of Lethbridge for his first year, studying math and business management finance. 

He'd been invited to join the university's swim team, a spot that came with a scholarship. Earlier this year, he learned that the university swim season would not be happening.

"Which is unfortunate."

Leclerc will stay at home this year, taking classes online, and doing the best he can to get to know other university students at Lethbridge through a server he's been invited to join. So far, he's watched movies and played games with other students from different programs. 

He's also talked to some of his Yellowknife friends who are also staying in the North about studying together, but he hasn't made definite plans. 

"We've just been kind of putting off school," he said. "It makes some of us a little bit upset, so it's a touchy subject."