A force for nature: Reflecting on those who've guided my conservation career
After studying and working in the environmental field since 2014, I have been reminiscing on my journey to where I am now.
One high school teacher had a profound impact on me, which I didn’t realize until I was heartbroken to hear about her passing in 2017, several years after I had graduated and started my career.
Sharon Keller was so much more than my chemistry teacher — she was the one who guided me toward studying environmental science. She created an “Earth Club” for students, complete with green initiatives like tree planting, sent me to my first Envirothon competition, helped me receive bursaries for college, and took her students, me included, to a local creek to sample benthic invertebrates — something that would later become my absolute favourite subject in college. I didn’t know there was so much life to be found at the bottom of a creek until she showed us. Somewhere on Miss Keller’s iPad was a photo of me smiling ear to ear while a crayfish pinched my hand with both claws, even though she warned me not to hold it. I had never seen a crayfish before, and I wanted the full experience of discovering one.
Miss Keller helped me find what I was truly passionate about: studying and protecting all of these remarkable animals and their natural habitats. By encouraging outdoor, hands-on learning and new experiences, I strongly believe that Miss Keller was the reason why I find myself working for the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) today, and I am forever thankful for her.
One day, Miss Keller arranged a field trip for her students so we could learn how to use a handheld GPS with a professor from another school. The professor enjoyed my energy and enthusiasm and hired me to work at an outdoor education centre, where I taught early grade school kids about nature and generally spent time outdoors with them. I remember a little girl running up to me, crashing into my legs with a big hug and saying “I want to be like you,” before running off to play with her friends again. I have no idea what exactly she meant by this, but her hug and her words meant enough to create a strong memory for me nearly a decade later. Maybe all she meant was that she wanted to grow taller, but I’d like to think I was inspiring her in a way that Miss Keller had inspired me.
Over the past six years at NCC, I have been lucky enough to learn from many brilliant women of different backgrounds, skill sets and expertise in the vast field of environmental conservation. I believe that I need to surround myself with people I admire because I will subconsciously pick up on their knowledge and traits as I spend more time with them. This community of women — with our shared values of studying and safeguarding nature — have helped me feel a true connection and sense of belonging. They have helped me feel safe and empowered in who I am. They continue to inspire and motivate me with all the wonderful work they are doing individually and collaboratively as a powerful force for nature.
Click on each photo in the gallery to expand and read more:
Val Deziel teaching volunteers about tallgrass prairie restoration.
Jennifer Jackman reading about another woman in conservation — Hazel Bird.
Elizabeth Kellogg banding birds and monitoring nest boxes.
Nina Hunt picking purple loosestrife before they go to seed.
Amanda Tracey measuring wildflower and grass seeds for restoration.
Val Deziel supervising a prescribed burn for tallgrass prairie restoration.