Sustainability Science and Society grads rely on connections, training to tackle global problems

Last week, Mikellena Nettos (BSc ’20, MS ’22) was at the UN Biodiversity Conference COP15 in Montréal to help uplift youth voices.

Since March, the Sustainability Science and Society (SSAS) graduate has worked as the Youth Engagement Co-ordinator for the Climate Reality Project Canada, a branch of the global organization founded by former American Vice-President Al Gore, providing tools and resources to youth who want to pursue climate action.

Nettos is one of several SSAS graduates rolling up their sleeves and getting to work to in their careers in the complex and urgent field of sustainability.

“I’ve grown up in this climate change generation, and if I’m going to work towards something for most of my life, I would like to have a lasting impact,” says Jillian Booth (BSc ’20, MS ’22).

Jillian Booth in a white coat wearing a mask and goggles checks settings on scientific equipment in a lab

Jillian Booth (BSc ’20, MS ’22) analyzes soil at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre

Gavin Esdale (MS ’22) adds that “if you want to take an active role in finding good climate solutions, then sustainability is definitely the field for you.”

Booth currently works as a Research Technician on the Plant Responses and the Environment team at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, where she also completed her graduate co-op placement. She co-ordinates with private businesses, governments and other research organizations to ensure soil health and promote healthy plant establishment.

She says that while completing her undergraduate thesis research in environmental geoscience was exciting, she wanted to add new dimensions to her graduate work.

“We can come up with solutions to environmental problems, but if we’re not integrating the values and needs of communities that are going to be affected it will not result in long-term success,” says Booth. “The program offered a holistic approach that considers the social, economic, and environmental aspects of issues experienced around the world.”

Nettos studied Medical Sciences, Theatre and Sustainability as an undergraduate at Brock. She says the versatility of her graduate program, including her co-op placement with Canada Post, helped her understand where she wanted to take her next steps.

“The SSAS program touches on a lot of different sectors, whether it’s data analysis, project management or education, so it gives you a broad sense of sustainability,” she says. “I loved that there were so many different perspectives in the program — it’s nice to have so many disciplines and voices in the room, so you can really learn and grow.”

Esdale has spent the past year working as the Sustainable Travel Co-ordinator for the University of British Columbia, supporting the institution’s Climate Action Plan 2030 and goals that include, among others, reducing business air travel emissions by 50 per cent below 2019 levels.

Like Booth and Nettos, Esdale studied science as an undergrad. He says he felt drawn to the field of sustainability in spite of the challenges and the sheer scope of the problems that need to be addressed.

Gavin Esdale seated in an office cubicle with a computer on the desk and green plants in the background

Gavin Esdale ((MS ’22) in his workspace at the University of British Columbia.

“It’s unavoidable, if you’re going to go into sustainability, that you are going to be exposed to a lot of incredibly depressing news and a lot of hard-to-accept facts,” he says.

But he credits the program and its collaborative culture with helping him learn the value of connection with community — something Booth and Nettos agree was a key feature of their graduate studies.

“By developing connections and fostering a sense of community — to be in the same room or the same virtual space as others who are doing this kind of work and appreciate it — is, in many ways, an antidote to the despair of the climate crisis,” says Esdale.

Graduate Program Director Marilyne Jollineau says that the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre’s transdisciplinary programs have been developed to ensure students have opportunities to engage with faculty, research, coursework, community partners and a range of experiential education opportunities to help them develop the skills and knowledge they need to address major sustainability challenges — so seeing graduates like Nettos, Booth and Esdale already hard at work is gratifying.

“This year, all of our graduating students, aside from those who chose to pursue a PhD program, have secured employment in sustainability science or a cognate field,” says Jollineau. “They are already making an impact in communities across Canada and beyond, and we are tremendously proud of their successes and support them in their journey.”

For Nettos, sustainability is an accessible field that can propel those who engage with it in multiple directions.

“Something you’re passionate about can really change the trajectory of your life and build strong foundations for the future,” she says.

Read more stories in: Alumni, Faculty & staff, Graduate Studies, News, Social Sciences
Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,