Yukon College grad wins prestigious prize

Jesse Vigliotti has one piece of advice for mature students considering a career change through further education. "Take the plunge. It's definitely worth it," said the 31-year-old father of two.

Jesse Vigliotti has one piece of advice for mature students considering a career change through further education.

“Take the plunge. It’s definitely worth it,” said the 31-year-old father of two. “If you’re not happy in your current situation in your career, it’s worth it for your own happiness and for the happiness of the people around you. It’s worth it.”

Vigliotti, a recent graduate of the Yukon College’s Northern Outdoor and Environmental Studies program, won the Governor General’s Academic Medal.

The prize is awarded each year to students with the highest grade point averages in a Canadian high school, college and university. Vigliotti won the college category. This is the first time a Yukon College graduate received the prize.

His grade point average of 3.99 – one point shy of a perfect 4.0 – clearly put him at the top, said Bente Sorensen, Yukon College’s financial aid advisor.

“There were a few other very good contestants but Jesse was clearly the winner,” said Sorensen. “It speaks to the success some mature students are capable of. Those who have some life experience can really put that to good use in our programs.

“We’re extremely proud of Jesse’s accomplishments.”

Almost immediately following the completion of the program, Vigliotti was hired by Ecological Logistics and Research as a wildlife surveyor. He’s doing exactly what the program was intended to teach students to do, said Sorensen.

Vigliotti helps conduct wildlife surveys at the abandoned mine site of Mount Nansen, a mine 60 kilometres west of Carmacks.

As part of the Yukon government’s cleanup of the site, the team tracks the number of birds in the area through sightings, counting different bird songs and nest areas, as well as recording tracks and pellets, said Vigliotti.

The former gold and silver mine was shut down in 1999, after repeated violations of the terms of its water license on the part of mine operator BYG Natural Resources Inc. Concentrations of arsenic, cyanide and lead were found contaminating nearby waterways in the traditional territory of the Little Salmon Carmacks/First Nation, according to the Yukon government’s assessment.

With the company undergoing bankruptcy proceedings, it fell on the federal and territorial governments to start cleanup efforts at Nansen. So they hired Ecological Logistics and Research.

For Vigliotti, working outdoors with plants and animals is exactly where he wants to be.

“I just wasn’t excited about the idea of a career in carpentry or working as a chef,” he said. “I was definitely excited to go back to school, and excited about doing something that makes me happy.”

Vigliotti’s career and life goals weren’t clearly ordained. His time training as a carpenter was shortened by a hand injury with a circular saw. It was that potentially career-ending injury that led to the decision to follow his life goals, said Vigliotti.

“In a weird way I was lucky,” said Vigliotti of the injury. “I received worker’s compensation after the injury for retraining, and I went for it.”

Grants and loans are available for mature students wishing to return to school. Still, it isn’t easy, said Vigliotti.

“It was maybe a little scary after 16 years of being out of school,” he said.

It’s important to have support from your partner, said Vigliott. His wife Miranda, who works for the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, was an enormous help, he said.

“She’s happy with me being happy, and that’s exactly what this whole process has been about,” said Vigliotti.

But he isn’t done yet. Vigliotti plans to take advantage of the college’s partnership with the University of Alberta to complete a Bachelor of Science degree.

The degree can be taken in its entirety at Yukon College, and in the end, a successful student will receive a University of Alberta degree.

All in all, Vigliotti said the experience was exactly what he needed

“The college has definitely helped me directly with my fieldwork,” said Vigliotti. “I’m very impressed with how well the program has prepared me for my career goals.”

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