FENV 2023 Changemaker discovers new capacity for creating change in planning co-op

February 14, 2024

Dean’s Choice awardee for the 2023 Changemaker Awards Ellen Watters took a chance last summer when she moved a 14-hour drive away for a co-op placement in Fort St. John.

“As a REM Planning undergrad, I was really keen to gain direct, hands-on planning experience in my field and apply everything I have learned in university in a real-world context,” says Ellen, who took a position as a planner with the Peace River Regional District.

As part of her job, she did geographic information systems (GIS) mapping, processed development applications, responded to public inquiries and conducted policy research for regional projects like the Regional Growth Strategy and Climate Action Plan. She also prepared policy reports, attended public hearings and fostered relations with local First Nations and provincial and municipal agencies in Fort St. John.

“This work experience has been invaluable – I’ve built a solid toolkit of skills and experience that came as a result of taking a job somewhere I didn’t initially consider,” she says, explaining that by being in a smaller community, the position gave her more of the diverse opportunities she was looking for at this stage in her career.

Ellen received the 2023 Faculty of Environment Dean’s Choice Changemaker Award for her work and leadership in the food justice community at SFU. As a volunteer food justice coordinator with Embark Sustainability Society, she planned and hosted a Food Justice Exhibition in 2022, in which attendees got to listen and learn from advocates who shared their experiences with food security and insecurity.

She also planned and hosted monthly Community Kitchen events for guests to share their culture with others and an event called Foodscapes: A Food Security Soiree, which engaged students and key stakeholders in Burnaby’s food sector for an evening of discussion about the Lower Mainland’s food landscape and ways to build a future where everyone has access to nutritious food.

After completing her co-op this year, Ellen says she has discovered a passion for local government and rural planning as well as the capacity for creating positive change within them.

“Local government arguably has the greatest level of governmental accountability and closer community engagement — two things I think are integral to good governance,” she says. “It’s a great place to be for budding planners!”

Ellen is excited to continue pursuing more diverse planning experiences and says she aims to get her professional planning designation with the Canadian Institute of Planners when she becomes eligible.

Nominations for the 2024 FENV Changemaker Awards are open! Nominate a Changemaker here.

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