Nastania Mullin was prepared for a rigorous four years of studies through the Nunavut Law Degree Program.
But he, like all other students, wasn’t ready for the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
He had to adapt from intensive weekday classes at Nunavut Arctic College to Zoom meetings at home while his children were running around in the background.
There was enough downtime during the first Covid lockdown in March – late in the law program’s third year – that Mullin was able to work on his cabin outside of Iqaluit. That isolated structure has become a place of refuge for him and his children. They’re able to make treks there and be social-distanced from others while enjoying nature and books.
That first lockdown also scuttled plans for Mullin to spend a semester studying in Helsinki, Finland.
“That kind of when it first kicked in, the magnitude of the seriousness of Covid,” he recalls. “I was extremely bummed out because I was going to go (to Finland) with my kids.”
With the pace of learning “substantially disrupted” during the pandemic’s early days, one thing Mullin decided to do was to introduce daily routines in his home to ensure he didn’t get too far off track.
“I know we’re home but we still have to try to create routines,” he said, adding that he approached his studies like a full-time job. “Most of the work gets done from nine-to-five and you can manage that.”
When the second lockdown occurred before Christmas, Mullin said it exacerbated his feeling of burnout as his final exams were approaching. He said he has had a few reassuring conversations with the director of the law program.
“I think it grounded me, personally,” he says. “Being able to bring that to her and her fully understanding right away gives you a sense of motivation and pride to want to keep going.”
He has also been grateful for the sense of camaraderie and support among his classmates, who have stuck with the program at a remarkable rate of 92 per cent – as 23 of 25 students who started the program are on the verge of finishing it.
“Although it’s been a very stressful time, I think we kind of lucked out having the cohort that we have,” Mullin says. “Us students have become kind of like a family.”
He credits former law program director and now deputy minister of justice Stephen Mansell for influencing him to pursue his jurisprudence studies and he refers to Bill MacKay, Nunavut’s former deputy minister of justice, as his “mentor.”
Mullin, who was a member of the Government of Nunavut’s devolution negotiating team prior to beginning law school, and his classmates will write their final exams in April. From there, he is eyeing a year of articling with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.
Improvising due to virus
A lengthy lockdown from March to September 2020 for students and another two-week lockdown in late November, forced Nunavut Arctic College to make numerous adjustments.
Among the measures that the college took to ensure learning continued were offering program materials in a variety of formats, including online learning and take-home course packs and assignments. Laptops were purchased and distributed to all students who required one, and USB-internet devices were given to students who needed a connection. Wireless hubs were installed at campus parking lots and in student single residences in Iqaluit. Phone counselling was made available for students during lockdown. Online applications were developed to allow students to apply to programs remotely.
As well, an online payment system was established so students can pay for tuition, books and rent through virtual banking .
Nunavut Arctic College has also implemented smaller class sizes in numerous programs for 2020-21 to ensure social distancing. This has contributed to a decline in enrolment but the college stated the drop in students hasn’t been significant. Exact figures will not be available until the institution’s next annual report is released to the public.
An extraordinary effort was made to ensure that the trades program in Rankin Inlet continued since students were only two weeks away from completing national exams when the first lockdown occurred.
“Given the size of the facility, the number of students, and the health and safety protocols in place, the CPHO (chief public health officer) agreed to let the trades program work while the remainder of the community (was) in lockdown,” a statement from the college reads.
But the harsh reality of the pandemic has been more difficult to overcome elsewhere. In Arviat, the Nunavut community hit hardest by Covid-19, the community learning centre has been open only to essential workers since Jan. 25.