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Making the masters sacrifice: James T. Arreak determined to earn graduate business degree

James T. Arreak is attaining his master of business administration but it's coming at a price, literally.

James T. Arreak, who lives in Iqaluit but was raised in Pond Inlet, stands outside the Ivey School of Business on the Western University campus in London, Ont. Arreak is about to embark on his second of three semesters as he pursues his executive master of business administration degree. photo courtesy of James T. Arreak

He paid for his first semester fully out of his own pocket and only found limited financial support for the second semester at the Ivey School of Business in London, Ont.

“If there's not the support or understanding from funding bodies for graduate work then the numbers (of adults pursuing higher learning) are not going to be very good,” said Arreak, adding that the executive masters program is an expensive proposition but one that he's confident will bring returns in the future.

Arreak, who's in his 40s, goes back and forth between Iqaluit and London to manage his six courses in the intensive MBA program. He's doing it while holding down his job as interim executive director for the Nunavut Coalition of District Education Authorities. It all adds up to extreme demands on his time and it means his wife and six children will see little of him until he graduates in summer 2020.

“When I succeed it's because of the support of my wife and my kids,” he said.

During his second of three terms, Arreak will be absorbed in classes dealing with business leadership, managing operations, strategic analysis, sustainability and entrepreneurship.

He said he brings more practical experience to his learning as an adult than he did while attending university in the 1980s and 1990s.

“I have to be focused,” he said. “When we go into class we're discussing not just theory but practical experience-related subject matter, case work.”

Despite his two decades of business background, “it's very challenging,” he admitted.

“You're getting into some hard math applications in a work scenario,” he said. “You're supposed to perfectly define the relationship between the variables.”

Why is he so driven? He believes these mathematical and business applications, along with data collection, could be pertinent to addressing Nunavut's deficits in homes, infrastructure and even mental health struggles, he said.

“On broad terms, I have a passion for Nunavut,” he said. “I'm just basically trying to equip myself so I can be a resource to Nunavut, whether it's public, private or corporate... obviously Nunavut is in a very unique situation and it needs a lot of people with experience to help transform it into something that reflects the population.”

Arreak spent almost half of his first 23 years in business working independently as a consultant. He's also toiled for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Government of Nunavut, the Nunavut Economic Forum, the Royal Bank and he ran some of Nunasi Corporation's businesses for a few years.

While growing up in Pond Inlet, his parents strongly encouraged him to go to school.

“(My mom) said education opens doors so you have to seek education,” he said.

His father ran a convenience store, which didn't interest a young Arreak until he reached Grade 12. Then he warmed up to business as a potential livelihood. He went on to earn his business administration degree from Trinity Western University in Langley B.C., after attending the University of Alberta for a few years.

“It equips you with analytical skills and things like that,” he said of the business world.