UTSC’s Master of Environmental Science (MEnvSc) program has a long history of successfully helping students secure meaningful summer internships in the environmental sector. And this past summer was no different – despite the pandemic.
The MEnvSc program started in 2006 with the aim of providing an advanced curriculum in environmental sciences, complemented by professional skills development and workplace training in a condensed 12-month program. Over the years, the program has grown at a steady state of about 100 students each year with a network of almost 1,000 alumni.
Since its inception, the MEnvSc program has built a diverse network of valued employer and faculty partners to develop enriching internship and research opportunities for students. This collaboration has advanced the MEnvSc program as the centre of gravity for environmental education in the Greater Toronto Area.
Although the pandemic presented many challenges to the 2020 MEnvSc cohort, the MEnvSc program staff helped secure internships for all of the students. Here are five students who not only survived, but thrived, in their internships this year.
In May of this year, recent grad Raymond Co attended a LAUNCH networking event open to arts and science co-op students at UTSC, where he learned about an internship position with Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation (OFNTSC). He’s now working as a junior environmental scientist intern with the non-profit organization, which provides technical and advisory services to First Nations of Ontario.
“I found this to be an interesting opportunity to be able to work directly with First Nations throughout Ontario,” he says. A workday for Raymond can include a visit to a community to assess their landfill and transfer stations, developing guidelines to help operators and field staff on monitoring groundwater wells, or provide guidance on available funding and waste diversion opportunities that are available to communities.
Because of the pandemic, he faced many challenges. “There have been many discussions with our federal funding partner, Indigenous Services Canada,” he says. “Which has lead to the creation of new projects, some of which are more office-based now, such as the development of promotional and educational materials for our clients bringing up solid waste management awareness.” However, he adds, “Covid-19 has affected us all, not necessarily in a negative way, but in a different way, on how we target, operate, and carry out projects.”
Raymond is happy to have lucked into this opportunity through an MEnvSc internship. In the future, he sees himself working in a mix of both public and private sectors. “I’m delighted that the work and services I provide can be a direct, positive influence on my clients and the environment.”
What’s the power of an internship in these challenging times? Just ask Kevin Yang, who graduated in November. “I’m currently working at the federal government with the Canadian Wildlife Service as a habitat data officer,” says Kevin, who started the position in May as an internship in the program.
In fact, this position was almost tailor-made for someone like Kevin, who is particularly interested in issues concerning nature, including wildlife protection, biodiversity conservation, and environmental policy. Kevin’s responsibilities consist mainly of researching, report writing, geospatial analysis and data management for projects concerning wildlife protection and biodiversity conservation.
But it wasn’t all easy for Kevin. “It was challenging in the beginning because I did not have access to a lot of our work, due to being a student,” he says. “Instead, I focused on working hard on the tasks that were available to me.”
Added to that, in other circumstances, Kevin would be working in an office setting. But because of the pandemic, he has been working remotely the entire time, so he misses out on person-to-person interactions. “That has been one of the biggest challenges,” he adds. But his team does a good job of communication, which is one of the barriers to working remotely, he says.
Kevin is so happy that he is continuing with CWS after graduation. “Thankfully, Covid-19 has not significantly affected my ability to conduct work in this role,” he says. “I also find it helpful to look on the bright side – there is no commute and plenty of money saved!”
In today’s work environment, getting a foot into an organization can really open doors. That’s what happened to Nuha Anwer, who was able to get a 16-week internship that has been extended into a position at the Climate Risk Institute (CRI), where she is now working as a consultant/subcontractor.
It was stressful, though. Unfortunately, Covid-19 hit hard in March, when she was supposed to join CRI. “It made my onboarding uncertain and left me scrambling to find other possible internship opportunities during an already difficult time,” she says. But with the help of the internship coordinators and Nuha’s supervisor, who urged her to apply for external funding to support her financially, things fell into place.
Her work revolves around providing support, research and reports for projects, so they are able to move forward. And things are looking up: the non-profit organization has recently been chosen by the Ontario government to conduct the province’s first-ever multi-sector climate change impact assessment. Although working from home wouldn’t be her first choice, Nuha is making the best of it. “The eventual onboarding process was smooth – and working for CRI has been a great experience!” she says enthusiastically.
Now Nuha is looking ahead to the future. “I know climate change is going to be a hot topic that will be of concern to anyone in any field of work – having the knowledge and getting a glimpse of working in the realm of climate change, I see myself continuing to work in this field, while making contributions,” she says.
Life takes some interesting twists and turns sometimes. Take Flavia Santiago, who graduated this fall. To graduate, however, she needed to do an internship as part of her Master’s program, which was already set up (consulting at a private company), but ended up on hold because of Covid-19. In a fantastic turn of events, however, she ended up getting an internship at Metrolinx – the one she really wanted, her dream job!
“It was a four-month temporary contract that recently turned into a permanent position,” says Flavia. She’s working as a project coordinator on the environmental team, working on the environmental aspect of the transit projects. “I ensure projects are in adherence with environmental management plans and applicable legislation, review environmental reports and coordinate activities with various consultants and stakeholders,” she adds.
As well as Flavia, a few other UTSC alumni work at Metrolinx. And when she started, her manager was a UTSC alumni too. Navigating the workplace is different now, with Covid-19, of course. “But there are ways to mitigate it, we do have a lot of [virtual] meetings and that does make it easier,” she says.
And there is a lot of opportunity at Metrolinx, she says. It worked out much better for her than if she had received the first internship. “I’m so happy to be at Metrolinx, there are many different projects and lots of opportunities to grow,” she adds.
“I think I got lucky, she says. “I was worried that I wouldn't be able to graduate because I wouldn’t be able to find an internship during the pandemic, but it all worked out.”
Farheen Kadwa is grateful. Early in the year, she landed a research opportunity with the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF), working on a project assessing the threat to right whales in the Maritimes region.
When her Program Director asked what kind of research she was interested in, she told him that ideally she’d like to work in marine conservation. He put her in touch with the CWF, and she got the opportunity, working on data analysis and writing a report for this specific project. “It was a good fit for me – right whales are getting a lot of attention, and it’s just a hot topic for research.”
Currently, she’s still working with the CWF. “It was a long graduate project and now we’re just finishing up the writing for publication.”
Everything worked out just the way she wanted, she says, and everything was confirmed early. “So even in February, I knew I would be working, and I knew I would be working remotely,” she says. Still, some of the opportunities that a pandemic takes away from someone include the ability to network and attend conferences, which all had to go online. “I even feel bad telling people that, because at least I had secured a good position, while others were in tougher situations,” she adds.
Farheen is job hunting now, looking for something related to conservation and research. “But I’m also looking in other areas, such as communicating science, or translating it into policies,” she says. “I’m open to doing other things,” she says happily.