University of Saskatchewan president reflects on importance of P.A. campus at alumni event

University of Saskatchewan president Peter Stoicheff poses in front of the future Prince Albert campus on May 8, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Peter Stoicheff is no stranger to Prince Albert.

When he was first named University of Saskatchewan president, he held an event at a local hotel that was well-attended by the community.

But even before then, as dean of Arts and Science, Stoicheff spent a good amount of time in P.A.

Still, Wednesday’s event was a first.

Wednesday marked the first time Stoicheff hosted an event as president inside the future site of the Univesity of Saskatchewan Prince Albert Campus, the building currently known as the Forest Centre. It attracted dozens of alumni and community leaders and gave Stoicheff an opportunity to communicate his vision to the city.

“I said at that luncheon (at the hotel) that I wanted to increase our presence and our footprint here because we’re the University of Saskatchewan, not just the University of Saskatoon,” Soitcheff said in a one-on-one interview with the Herald prior to Wednesday evening’s event.

“I didn’t know exactly what that would look like. But a lot of the people I worked with had ideas. This opportunity came along and we seized it.”

Stoicheff thought back to the time he was Dean and visited Prince Albert in that capacity. Arts and Sciences is one of the university’s 17 colleges, and it offers courses and programming at Saskatchewan Polytechnic. Nursing and medicine also run courses at Sask. Poly.

“What this building will do is allow us to take all of that separate programming and put it into one place. The second thing is that this building has far more capacity than any of those individual sites. There is a huge demand and we can begin to accommodate it. At the moment, we have just under 400 students enrolled in our various programs and courses here. This will allow us to begin to meet the demand. I couldn’t give you a number, but I would expect the number of students we’re able to commodate would go up significantly.”

The Prince Albert location has been referred to as the University of Saskatchewan northern hub, but like the newly-installed sign on the outside of the Forest Centre says, Stoicheff does believe it is truly a campus.

“Students will be able to rub shoulders with other students in different disciplines as they do back at our Saskatoon campus. We can offer forms of student services in one location we can’t duplicate or triplicate in the other locations we have at the moment. More importantly, we can start to offer programming here that we haven’t been able to offer in P.A. At all, such as certain years of dentistry, ag and bioresources.”

That ability to expand is one thing that has some Prince Albert-based alumni excited about what the new location can bring.

Peter Stoicheff speaks to University of Saskatchewan supporters and alumni on May 8, 2019 in Prince Albert. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Downtown business owner Fred Matheson was one of those alumni who attended Wednesday night’s event.

“The word expansion — anytime you see an expansion, especially in an education program, it’s great,” he said.

“It’s great for the City of Prince Albert, but it’s really great for downtown Prince Albert. I think with the students moving in, it’s a business boon for the city, but it also gives credibility to the City of Prince Albert.”

Matheson acknowledged that while some businesses may have to move out of the forest centre (the university has said some will continue to operate in the space), that too can provide spinoffs for the downtown core.

“I think we’re going to see some other building filled because everybody has got to find a spot,” he said.

“It’s generating some economic spinoff that way. I’m excited about that. As a downtown business owner, I am ecstatic this is here in downtown Prince Albert.”

The councillor for the downtown area, Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp, was also making the rounds Wednesday, sporting an alumnus nametag.

“I’m thrilled to see the U of S campus come to our downtown Prince Albert. I am an alumnus of the … college of law, and really enjoyed my experience and learning environment with the University of Saskatchewan,” she said.

“We have high expectations of being able to provide that fantastic learning environment here in downtown Prince Albert.”

Adding hundreds of students and over 70 faculty members will also be good, especially as the city works on its downtown revitalization plan, she said.

But while expansion is part of the picture, Stoicheff also emphasized another reason for the establishment of a campus in Prince Albert.

“We are working on what we call a northern strategy,” he said. “How can we be the best university we can be for all sorts of communities in the north, and for people who can’t access us in Saskatoon? Having a P.A. campus gives people in the north greater access to university programming. From here and from Saskatoon we can start to offer distance programming as well.” The MOU signed with the PAGC is a big part of that northern Strategy and the university’s efforts to serve Indigenous students in the best way it can, Stoicheff added. He said that about 46 per cent of the 400 students enrolled in P.A. is Indigenous.

Stoicheff said the university wants to have a presence in as many parts of the province as it can but still has to be realistic.

“P.A.  is the obvious place,” he said, citing the city’s nickname as the gateway to the north.

Those increased opportunities for students are what alumnus, school board chair and University of Saskatchewan Senate member Barry Hollick sees as one of the major pluses of the project.

“We have two outstanding public systems, and then with (Saskatchewan Polytechnic ) and First Nations University, it’s becoming an education hub, especially for people from the north,” he said.

“When the university announced plans to use this building for post-secondary education, we on the school board were pleased and I being an alumnus of the university was especially pleased, because it gives our young people a chance to take post-secondary education without the expense of having to go to Saskatoon.”

Hollick said the Saskatchewan Rivers School division is looking at creating dual-credit partnerships with the university, something he said Stoicheff is open to.

While he acknowledged that students have been taking USask programming at Sask. Poly, Hollick believes the new building will improve the experience.

“Having a central place, especially in a distinctive building like this is going to give them a sense of identity because the building will represent the university,” he said.

“It’s a very impressive building. I think the university was lucky to get it.”

The event was picketed in solidarity with members of CUPE 1975, who are in the midst of a contract dispute with the university.