My undergraduate degree focused on ecology. My interest in environmental change drew me to paleoecology where I began graduate studies with Dr. Rolf Mathewes (Biological Sciences) using pollen and plant macro remains to reconstruct tree line and ecosystem responses to climate change over the past 10,000 years. My thesis was titled Postglacial changes in vegetation and climate near treeline in British Columbia.
After completion of a post doc working on the high resolution of vegetation and climate in SE Vancouver Island (Ocean Drilling Project Leg 169s) I was hired as the Parks Canada Coastal Ecologist focusing on western and northern Canada. Some of the highlights of this job include: projects along the arctic coast of Ivvavik National Park on the Yukon’s north slope; sampling lakes among the polar bears in Wapusk National Parks on the coast of Hudson Bay; working in the ancient forest and shores of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site in British Columbia; working among the lakes, beaches and forests of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (BC), the lakes and forests of Riding Mountain and Kootenay National Parks, and understanding the role of First nations people in the eco-cultural evolution of many Garry oak meadows on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Island National Park Reserve.
I am still working with Parks Canada as an ecosystem scientist with the National Ecological Restoration Division where I focus on the Conservation and Restoration Program for Parks Canada including climate change adaptation and mitigation and eco-cultural landscapes. Climate change is one of the greatest issues impacting ecosystems. How our national parks adapt to climate change is a question of ever increasing importance.
Why did you choose to go to SFU?
My wife and I were young parents moving down to the coast from the Okanagan to continue my undergraduate studies. We had not found any family housing at UBC and UVIC and were driving home to the Okanagan when we saw the SFU sign off of Highway 1 and Gaglardi. We decided to go see if there was any family housing at SFU and met Bev Cooper, the lady in charge of Louis Riel House. Bev secured us an apartment and I applied to SFU. It is funny how some events change the course of one’s life.
Where did you spend the most amount of time on campus?
Most of my time was spent in lecture halls, the library, Rolf Mathewes' lab, and at Louis Riel House - where we hung around with an amazing mixture of student families from around the world, many who became life-long friends. I spent many hours in the old gardens and parks scattered around campus (now all gone) with my wife and children. These were amazing places - relics from past SFU students. We were at SFU at a point in time when it was transforming from the “radical” campus to what it is today.
What is your favorite memory from your time at SFU?
No doubt the field trips - trips to Bamfield as an undergraduate experiencing the wonders of coastal and marine life, being a TA for Bob Brooke’s Biology 404 plant ecology field trip or digging fossils in Rolf Mathewes’ paleoecology course as a student then a TA, but most of all the subalpine and alpine field work on Haida Gwaii, the Coast Mountains, and Cascade Mountains.
When my children were old enough they would walk from the school bus and meet me at the “the lab”. Dr. Robert Brooke (who did not have children and seemed somewhat wary of them) shared the lab with Rolf Mathewes. On one day the girls were arguing and the youngest asked Bob Brooke he could operate on her sister’s brain. I still smile when I envision how he tried to explain why he could not to two little girls.
Who was your favorite SFU professor and why?
Rolf Mathewes was my favorite professor and I ended up in his lab for my Ph.D. studies. Rolf’s keen interest, communication style, passion, and knowledge not only of paleoecology but of the earth sciences, forensics, and archaeology always amazed me. Rolf’s authenticity and curiosity is inspiring.
How has your SFU degree impacted your career?
I have the privilege of being a senior scientist for Parks Canada and provide advice, guidance, and research that contributes to the conservation of Canada’s National Parks and National Marine Conservation Areas. The multi-disciplinary nature of my Ph.D. grounded in the biological sciences has been the educational foundation for my career.
What is your favorite SFU snow story?
Living at Louis Riel House with small children made snow days at SFU amazingly fun times. The community came alive with excitement and we played in the snow, went sledding on Burnaby Mountain, made snow men - it was great. The campus would be very quiet and surreal – we essentially had a winter wonderland to ourselves.
I remember when many students were stranded on campus because of snow and many of us who lived on campus prepared sandwiches and brought them to stranded students. That was life as a student family on campus - we looked out for each other.
If you could give advice to students today, what would you tell them?
Explore your interests, pursue the topics that interest you, embrace the experience of being a student. It is a time in your life where your mind and your dreams can take you anywhere – it can be one of the greatest adventures in your life. We find that the things we truly enjoy in life are the things we often excel at.
What is the one thing about SFU that must not change?
I loved the learning environment, the sense of community, the field trips, but most important was the ability of the university to provide accommodations for a diversity of students. Affordable and accessible family housing is important to many students giving them the opportunity to pursue a university education and a better life. There is no question that having family housing on campus was so very important as an undergraduate student. With Louis Riel House seeing its last days I hope that an equivalent, or better, accommodation is in the works. SFU was built to be an accessible university that provides world class education to a diversity of students – an important legacy to build upon.