University of Alberta BA in Environmental Studies

Today we are featuring guest blogger Emily Hayes, a BA student in the U of Alberta Environmental Studies program. We have been interested in profiling the voice of youth in our blog, and hear about educational opportunities and job prospects for those who want to focus on the health of our planet. Thank you so much Emily for taking time to answer our questions so meaningfully and for sharing with us your insights.

What is the name and location of the environmental program you are in?

“I am currently in the BA in Environmental studies program at the University of Alberta. I am taking a concentration in Politics, Society and Global Environment. The other two available concentrations are Food and Society and then Environment and Peoples of Canada. However, the program will be undergoing some upgrades and a redesign so these titles may change in the future!”

How long is the program and what are the main courses you are taking?

“The program is theoretically four years however the flexibility of the program really allows you to make it your own. I am planning on drawing out my degree to 5 or 6 years in hopes of increasing my time for volunteering, extra curriculars and additional learning opportunities. Regarding the flexibility within the program itself, on top of getting to choose my concentration, I get 11 free electives over the course of my program to elaborate on things I’ve learned so far, try new subjects and indulge in my interests separate from my degree program. The first two years of the program are very general and cover many bases from political science to biology to economics to native studies. In the later years of my degree, I focus on completing the requirements for my concentration in Politics, Society and Global Environment which consists largely of agriculture economics, sociology and rural sociology, and political science, all with an environmental lens. To wrap everything up, I take a capstone research course that nicely summarizes what I’ve learned throughout the degree.”

What got you interested in this line of study/work?

“I would say that my parents really emphasized environmental issues throughout my youth, particularly by teaching me how to recycle and compost, reducing our plastic consumption and by building and maintaining a solar powered cabin. This led me to get involved in environmental strikes and clubs throughout high school. From this, I learned just how intertwined the climate justice movement is with social justice issues, another great interest of mine. Gaining an understanding of environmental and social issues through activism highlighted the importance of viewing the climate crisis as a social issue. It’s from there that I began looking for programs that would allow me to learn about social theory and act on environmental and social injustices!”

Are there other similar programs across the country? 

“Although I didn’t look into many, there are quite a few environmental studies programs across the country. I’m not too familiar with the differences and similarities to my own program but some other universities that offer a BA in Environmental Studies include the University of Victoria, Wilfred Laurier University, the University of Waterloo, Carleton University, the University of Ottawa and the University of PEI.”

Do you feel your program is teaching you useful skills, and do they help with graduates finding employment?

“The flexibility and versatility of my program allows for so many different outcomes, making it hard to pinpoint where each student will end up after graduation. Most graduates of Environmental Studies don’t know what career they will be doing and therefore can’t be provided with a specific bank of knowledge that they are guaranteed to use in their future career. However, I’m finding that instead, I’m being provided with an open-ended skill set that teaches me to think critically about environmental and sociological issues which can be useful in a wide variety of careers! I am gaining a strong base in social and environmental theory to which I can apply to new scenarios as they come up and change throughout my personal and professional life. I have not been made aware of any programs or initiatives from the university specific to my degree or faculty that would help graduates find employment after graduation, but the University of Alberta does offer many opportunities during your degree that can help you get ahead. This includes local and international internships, volunteer opportunities and going abroad which can boost resumes and help in narrowing down the direction that graduates want to go once they’ve completed their degree.” March Day of Action for a Just Transition

What is your passion and what are you hoping to do when you graduate?

“This is a difficult question! My dream would be to be involved in some sort of environmental and social justice activism. I would also be interested in environmental education as I love to teach what I’m passionate about, especially because it is an extremely important subject for everyone to know and understand! I feel that education and open discussions are crucial in unifying people of all political and social backgrounds to achieving the common goal of a sustainable future and I would love to focus my skills on that!”

Describe some (as many as possible) of the career paths available to someone coming out of your program? Is there a lot of competition for work in this field?

“With sustainability becoming more important than ever, I think we’re approaching a time where the expanse of the environmental field is truly just beginning. It’s not hard to believe that there could be room for everybody to contribute to a sustainable society, whether that be through a career or volunteering. As the environmental field grows, there will be even more jobs created that are suited to the graduates of my program and other environmental fields. That being said, here are a few career paths that my university recommends:

  • Community Relations 
  • Sustainability Coordinator 
  • Environmental Education Specialist 
  • Policy Analyst 
  • Environmental/Aboriginal Relations Advisor 
  • Writer 
  • Communications Officer”

What is your view of the liberal government management of its commitments to the Paris Accord? What can they do better? 

“Honestly, I really don’t think that what they’ve done is enough or will be enough to meet the goals of the accord. The discrepancy we’re seeing in Canada between agreeing to certain targets and actually following through with a plan to achieve them is huge and quite concerning. Our government needs to be focusing on investing in a green energy sector while phasing out current projects that increase our emissions, such as oil and gas. As this won’t happen overnight, this involves retraining and transitioning fossil fuel workers to new and sustainable sectors. Furthermore, big corporations are primarily responsible for the majority of our emissions and need to be held truly accountable in terms of meeting emission reduction goals and transitioning their industries to greener ways of running. As we’re approaching the 2030s, our government’s transition plan needs to be big, and it needs to be bold, but it also needs to support all Canadians.”

Do you feel hopeful about the future health of our planet?

“Overall, we are behind where we need to be to combat the climate emergency. However, it’s important to realize that there is no specific point of no return after which we will be completely doomed although, the longer we wait to act, the worse the effects will be in the long run. This is why it is so important that we get everyone involved and continue to pressure our governments to act as fast as possible. There is no deadline, but this is still an emergency that threatens the existence of life on our planet!”

In your view, how can we instil more passion in fellow citizens to reduce carbon emissions?

“Although individual actions like taking shorter showers and using shampoo bars are important and can prepare us for the change to come, the emphasis needs to be on corporate and societal change. And this requires a lot of push from individuals banding together. The next 5, 10, even 20 years will be extremely challenging, and we don’t have all the answers to our problems yet which creates a lot of hesitancy towards this change. In Alberta in particular, the biggest challenge is finding a way of showing people that environmental justice is a movement for them and not against them. Through my degree and personal research, I can see how much hope, empowerment, and equality there is in a transition to a sustainable future and it’s important that others see that as well! What are some socially and environmentally positive changes you can think of that would personally benefit you and your friends and family?”

Local Edmonton environmental organizations to follow and get involved in:

@climatejusticeEdmonton (also other cities such as @climatejusticeToronto)




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