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Environmental Studies: Student Testimonials

Gabriel Shifferaw

Majors: Environmental Studies & Environmental Science

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
Passion for the environment. Peace & Harmony
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

Environmental Studies is a program that attempts to tackle detrimental environmental issues in order to force society towards a more equitable and sustainable future. Environmental studies is holistic program because it integrates many different disciplines including the hardcore sciences (chemistry, biology, physics) and social sciences (including politics, law and human psychology.) Being part of the environmental studies program is an amazing experience in many different ways. For one, UTSC provides direct knowledge about the environment along with access to our own professors who are expert scientists. This allows students to actively participate in environmental assessments and to engage in professional trainings and discussions with the leading experts in our field. Additionally, as a student of Environment Studies you also undergo environmental application where we put all the course work into use in a final project with organizations that are making a difference in the environment. I had an amazing experience working with the Government of New Brunswick and WWF Canada in my senior year. 

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

  1. Follow your passions
  2. Ask a lot of questions
  3. Open your mind to the world and all it's complexity. 

What will you do with your degree after graduation?
Finding ways for the environment, people and money to work in harmony with one another. I currently work with the City of Toronto under the Youth Cabinet working to promote environmental harmony in our city.
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
It was a long journey before I arrived at this program. I initially enrolled at UTSC for Health Sciences then later switched to Biochemistry, which I hated with a passion. I later switched into Psychology and lastly Economics. In the middle of my third year, just as confused as I was in my first year, I took a intro class to environmental studies and I loved it, and that's what my program became. 4th year I was able to utilize a majority of my courses to complete my environmental science program and I took a 5th year to conclude my Environmental Studies program. In my fifth year I was able to do the senior year capstone course with Jim MacLellan, which I highly recommend.

Nicole Anasis

Specialist: Environmental Chemistry (Co-op)

Major: Environmental Studies

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

Before starting university, I had no clue what I wanted to study, I knew I liked science and that Chemistry was an interest but that was all. Everyone (and their mothers) who was interested in science seemed to be choosing “Life Sci” and I wanted to do something different. I learned about Environmental Science programs through the University fair and it was love at first sight. (By love I mean I thought it would be hilarious to study and play with dirt in university.) I chose this specialist because of the combination of Environmental Sciences with Chemistry and that there was a co-op stream attached with the program. Through taking courses in first and second year I developed an interest in the societal perspective of Climate Change and chose to add a Major in Environmental Studies. Through choosing this major I have begun to understand the vast complexity of socio-economics intertwined with Environmental Issues. Both programs have given me a fundamental understanding of systems and practical skills and will continue to prepare me for a dynamic and widespread workforce.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like? 

Let’s just make things clear; in the specialist, there are core Chemistry courses and core Environmental Science courses, whose content don’t overlap besides in the course “Environmental Chemistry”. I am a very practical learner, I need a “real life” reason to understand something, in grade school I was the kid asking why someone would buy 367 watermelons. In all my Environmental Science/ Study courses there has never been a significant question of “how is this relevant to real life” which is why I am so deeply passionate about them. I enjoy every single course I take and walk out with a robust understanding of different systems or different Environmental issues. The chemistry aspect has been difficult for me in comparison. I excel in labs (practical application) and completely bomb theory. The courses are VERY demanding after second year and could be two courses on their own. I’ve decided to take things slowly, so hopefully things will come around, there’s no shame in taking one’s time. Overall, I know the programs are equipping me with the knowledge and the skill set required of an Environmental Scientist in the work force, and that this knowledge is sound enough not to need to pursue even higher education if one so desires.
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

  1. Don’t be afraid to take your time, a lot of people in the specialist programs in Environmental Science will excel at certain courses and do very poorly in others. Taking your time will give you the opportunity to work through the challenging courses and not stress yourself out about grades. It will also allow you to retain more information from your courses, which will help when progressing through the program as a lot of information carries on, is relevant, and sometimes overlaps.
  2. Pay attention to prerequisites and when the courses are offered. There are a lot of courses that will have a “Part 1” and a “Part 2” which will only be offered during certain semesters. There are even more courses that will only be offered in the fall or the winter each year. Because of this, have back up courses that you can take in a semester in case you don’t have prerequisites, the courses fill up, or if there are time conflicts.
  3. Do your Chemistry prelabs in a way that you understand. Make sure to understand the apparatus, chemical theory, procedure and everything else before you show up. It sucks when you’re panicking in a hot lab, lab coat and foggy goggles. 

What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)
Being in co-op was the best decision I made, as my first work placement opened my eyes to the world of possibilities working in this field. I worked abroad in Ghana as and discovered my passion for International Development in the face of Climate Change. This placement, along with taking courses exploring the Hydrological system and Agriculture, facilitated my interests in Water and Food Security. I hope to pursue a Masters in International Development, or Environmental Science with a focus on Water or Food Security… so really, I’m not too sure, but I am sure of my interests. If I wanted to simply graduate and find employment I would consider either public education of Climate Change and strive for more accessibility in its understanding and resources, or site remediation and cleaning up contaminated sites from pollutants. I feel well equipped for both career paths upon completion of third year.
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
First year was a breeze for me, I didn’t do any challenging work and did quite well. In second year, I took a lot of courses of interest that didn’t contribute to my graduation. Because of these two years, third year was quite difficult, having to take upper year courses with more complex content and trying to cram in requisites for graduation so I could graduate “on time”. I’ve come to realize that forcing myself to push through academics doesn’t benefit me and that I should take the time to enjoy my undergrad, even if that means me graduating as a sixth year.