Grad’s drive for better life leads to sustainable future

Grad goes from welfare to career in alternative energy technology

Chris Crevier was 31 years old the first time he slept in a decent bed.

At 6-foot-7, he was used to his legs and feet hanging over the edge. When he wasn’t contorting his body to fit, he was careful to avoid getting jabbed by the squeaky coils of his thrift-store mattress.

“It was almost like an iron maiden,” Crevier says. “It wouldn’t penetrate your skin or anything, but you still had to be careful not to get scratched.”

Many Albertans take a good night’s rest for granted. But for Crevier, just two years removed from sleeping on that beat-up mattress, that was reality growing up in a low-income household that, for most of his life, was just he and his mom. It also represents how far he’s come to pursue a dream of higher education at NAIT. The skills he’s learned not only improve his chances at a better life, but could help create more sustainable communities in Alberta and beyond.

“I’m the first in my family to even attempt post-secondary,” says Crevier, now 33, who on May 3 graduates with a diploma in Alternative Energy Technology.

“My intuition told me I was capable of a lot more.”

Post-secondary education once seemed unimaginable for Crevier, a high school dropout. Homework was a struggle – and source of conflict with his mom, Elizabeth Burd, who remembers more than one visit to the school truant office.

Chris Crevier and mother Elizabeth BurdCrevier started smoking pot and, eventually, stopped going to school completely.

“I wasn’t ready. I didn’t apply myself whatsoever.”

During his twenties, Crevier found work in construction, where his size was an asset. He didn’t mind the work but the lifestyle and 60-hour workweeks took their toll physically and emotionally. He grew depressed and put on weight. Eventually, he stopped working and began collecting welfare.

“My self-care was going down the drain,” he says. “My intuition told me I was capable of a lot more, and that fed my depression.”

Burd says it was hard to see her son fall so low. “I tried to help him any way I could, but sometimes you can’t do enough for your kids.”

Crevier doesn’t remember exactly what was his rock bottom moment. But as his twenties drew to a close, he knew something had to change. So he went back to school to finish high school and then began researching post-secondary programs.

Reconnecting with Indigenous roots

Alternative Energy Technology was attractive for its practicality and relevance as Alberta and the world shift to lower-carbon economies. The focus on sustainability also appealed to Crevier’s Aboriginal belief system of respecting the Earth and leaving a small footprint.

Crevier’s family is Cree from the York Factory First Nation in northern Manitoba. He visited the small, remote community for the first time in 2006 for a family reunion where he reconnected with relatives he hadn’t seen in years – or in some cases hadn’t met before. Growing up in Edmonton, and in a Catholic school system, made it difficult to feel connected to his culture, which he says he only started to rediscover in early adulthood.

“I have been trying to come back to it. I’ve learned some stuff that resonates with me spiritually.”

“I saw the Indigenous component to [the project] and and wanted to get in there and help.”

As part of his studies at NAIT, Crevier had his pick of capstone projects for his final assignment, which aims to solve a real-world problem. He was drawn to one that involved creating a community energy plan for Fishing Lake Métis Settlement and helping the community of 445 people chart a more sustainable future.

With classmates Doug McClelland and Barry Atkin, he travelled 280 kilometres to Fishing Lake and assisted 3D Energy in creating the energy plan. The first phase of the project aims to cut utility costs by $20,000 per year – and the equivalent of 220 tonnes of CO2 – by retrofitting eight commercial buildings. Those retrofits range from replacing aging HVAC systems to installing high-efficiency lighting, occupancy sensors that dim lights in unused rooms and upgrades to windows, exterior walls and roofs. Four other phases aim for similar energy savings.

The settlement received $1.9 million for phases one and three through the Alberta’s Indigenous Energy Efficiency program and plans to complete more as funding allows. Job creation is another important goal, especially for a community with 20% unemployment.

Adam Trovato (Alternative Energy Technology ’16), energy efficiency programs coordinator with 3D Energy, says Crevier showed a commitment to the project, to learning – and most importantly, to the people of Fishing Lake.

“You could really see there was a legitimate passion to better the lives of the people there and better the settlement,” Trovato says. “Chris was really engaged.”

It’s the type of work he could see himself doing after convocation. Ultimately, Crevier would like to work in the renewable energy industry – be it solar, biofuels, or public education – but a Bachelor of Technology in Technology Management is another possibility.

A hopeful future

Chris Crevier in the Alternative Energy Technology lab at NAIT

The future is much more hopeful today for Crevier than it was even five years ago. Since beginning his studies, Crevier twice made the dean’s honour roll and served as a NAIT Students’ Association senator, influencing student bylaws and making friendships along the way.

Crevier earned a pair of scholarships, including a family endowment that paid for a new washing machine after the old one stopped spinning. It also covered essentials he’d grown used to doing without, such as new clothing, a desk and single bed (one that actually fits his body).

“I can’t look back. I can’t return to that lifestyle. I can only look forward.”

Scholarships “brought up my quality of life,” Crevier says, but everything he’s worked for has been his own doing. Family members have taken notice, including a niece who wants to get clean and sober and upgrade. When it’s time to walk across the convocation stage, his mom will be there to cheer him on. 

After all the battles over school work and the hardships they endured together, Burd says she’s very proud her son turned his life around.

“He just put his mind to it, he wanted to do it, and there you go. I’m very, very proud of him.”

When Crevier thinks about the journey and how far he’s come, the future is bright.

“I can’t look back. I can’t return to that lifestyle. I can only look forward.”

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