What I’ve Learned About Learning: University Degrees for Parks People

Close up of hands on laptop, woman sitting on park bench in nature.

By Karly Upshall

Karly Upshall is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

There are a lot of ways to come to Parks. People from all backgrounds end up working in Parks. Some actively chose this route — they worked in parks as teenagers, picked a green degree, interned in conservation fields, anything that would lead to a career in parks. Others, like myself, kind of just fell into it somewhere along the way. As one of my university professors, Joe Pavelka, likes to say, “There are a lot of ways to live a life, and most of them are good.” I believe this applies to Parks as well — there are a lot of ways to come to Parks, and most of them are good. 

That being said, the more I get to know park leaders, the less clear I am about what that actually entails. These wonderful people have opened my eyes to a variety of backgrounds, interests and experiences, all of which make up the parks world beyond a singular definition. More and more, the parks field is becoming an interdisciplinary playground filled with jacks of all trades.

This fact is partially what made my task of curating a degree list so complicated. While I hope that this list is a meaningful resource for those looking to pursue or further a “green” type education specifically relating to Parks, this list was made through my own lens of what I’ve seen from current Park Leaders, what I understand to be the direction of Parks in general, and what I personally would like to see be a part of the future of Parks. 

Plenty of Paths in Parks Professions

Within that struggle to define a Park Professional also lies the question of the definition of Parks. There are National Parks, Provincial Parks, Municipal Parks, Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, Marine Protected Areas, and hundreds of other protected land designations across Canada, and they all need a variety of people to run the show. The breadth of knowledge and experience required by parks is vast, however, a list that includes every area of expertise would not have been that helpful of a resource. Applicable programs such as Human Resources, Organizational Management, and even Environmental Engineering were mostly left off of this list due to their non-specificity to Parks or environmental protection in general. Geology and Anthropology are also rarely found on the list as Geology often focused on resource extraction rather than land protection and Anthropology often lacked an environmental element. Some green sounding degrees were also left out because their focus was in agriculture and crop production. I am not perfect, however, and I am certain that some things have snuck in that shouldn’t have, and other things were left out that should have been included. 

While I aimed to be as unbiased as possible in my creation of this list, it is never possible to be truly neutral. Being a part of something, creating something, means it was created through your worldview, and that’s okay. I come from a humanities background, so you’ll definitely see my bias show up in this list. Because of this, I tended to give a little more wiggle room to degrees that involved community development, leadership, Indigenous studies, and the kind of social equity programs you might not typically associate with parks. I believe that diversity includes a diversity of educational backgrounds. By no means am I trying to overshadow some much more abhorrent inclusion issues that parks across the nation are tackling such as gender, race, and LGBTQ+ inclusion, but some of these degrees reflect the knowledge and interests of the people often left out of the conversation.

I was also more likely to include the certificate or diploma in some topics rather than a full degree, as they made more sense as complementary knowledge rather than an educational focus for someone aiming to be a parks professional. Therefore, the following list will generally fall into one or more of these topics:

  • Environmental Sciences/Studies
  • Environmental Management
  • Earth Sciences
  • Forestry
  • Geography
  • Tourism/Ecotourism
  • Outdoor Guiding/Adventure Studies
  • Sustainability/Sustainable Development

If you are interested in a general cacophony of these niches, this list was made for you.

Canadian Parks Relevant Degrees List

British Columbia

Undergraduate:

Graduate Studies:

Undergraduate:

Graduate: 

Other: 

Undergraduate:

Graduate:

Other:



Alberta

Undergraduate:

Graduate:

Other:

Saskatchewan

*Included more agricultural programs given the location and focus on agriculture in the province

Undergraduate:

Graduate:

Other:

Manitoba

Quebec

Programmes de 1er Cycle: 

Études Supérieures:

Autre: 

Programmes de 1er cycle:

Etudes Supérieures:

Autre:

Ontario

Undergraduate:

Graduate:

Other: 



Undergraduate:

Graduate:

Undergraduate:

Graduate:

Other: 

Newfoundland and Labrador

Undergraduate:

Graduate:

Other:

 

Nova Scotia

New Brunswick

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Prince Edward Island

Method of auditing:

  • Degrees that resulted in careers linked to the Parks and Protected Areas field (environmental consultants, parks planners, etc) were normally included 
  • Reputable Indigenous Studies programs, particularly ones with environmental/planning links, were normally included
  • Programs with required courses that pertained to the interests of Parks and Protected areas were normally included
  • Major degree programs that are offered at most Universities such as Human Resources, Operations Management, Engineering, etc, were mostly excluded from this list as they are not directly linked to Parks and are readily available at many Universities. 
  • Specializations that were only offered as minors were also primarily excluded from this list. Exceptions were made in cases where outstanding or unique programs were found. 
  • Format for listing programs may vary slightly between schools depending on how the school presented information i.e some schools highlight exceptional minor programs and so more minors were included 

Which Universities made the list:

The list was determined using the Government of Canada’s List of Designated Educational Institutions and setting the filter to “University” for each province. An exception was made for Mount Royal University, which is designated as a Junior College on this list but has recently attained its University status. Vocational schools, technical colleges, and private institutions are not a part of this list.

Format:

Designation – Major: Specialization or Concentration

Examples:

Bachelor of Arts – Geography: Human Geography (All Three Components)

Bachelor of Science – Environmental Science (Designation and Major)

Bachelor of Resource Management (Specialized Designation, no listed Major or Concentration)

Do you know of a really great program related to parks? Leave us a comment below, we would love to see what you are all learning! 

Meet the CPCIL Knowledge Gatherers – Karly Upshall

Karly Upshall hiking in the Purcell mountains.

A recent graduate from Mount Royal University’s Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership program, Karly Upshall joined the Knowledge Gatherers team with previous valuable research experience to bring to her role. This included an immersive field school in Peru for research and a past position working for the Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation and Leadership as a Research Assistant. During this time, she contributed to the Accessibility Parks Leaders program and the creation of the Inclusion and Accessibility Community of Practice. As well, in 2020 she worked as a research assistant at Mount Royal University in a practicum role, analyzing and interpreting data around travel fears and aspirations throughout COVID-19. Karly’s strong work ethic and diligence have contributed immensely to the quality of her parks and protected areas content, where she has explored topics ranging from environmental podcasts to assessments of post-secondary environment programs to palliative care in natural spaces. 

Let’s get to know more about Karly’s experience with CPCIL. 

Photo of Karly Upshall in a tree.

What were some of your first formative experiences that helped you feel connected to nature?

My dad was a pretty outdoorsy guy. So as a kid, he would take me hunting, which is a far cry from who I am now, but I remember as a kid I just wanted to be out there with him. We’d go camping every summer, but I also really love that mom’s not as much outdoorsy, but she’d be happy to join along with the trailer, as long as she had an indoor bathroom. But those were the big ones, hunting and fishing and camping with dad as a kid.

Did you always know you kind of wanted a career path in conservation?

No, I was fairly into English and literature and poetry growing up. On my first round through university I was working on an English degree and had started out with the intention of being an editor, and through that I found speech pathology and started to pursue that path but eventually I realized that I hated it. So I took some time off to finally travel and figure out what I wanted to do. When I did decide to come back to school, I didn’t actually get in right away. So instead of moping about it I decided to follow another dream to volunteer with elephants. I ended up in a sanctuary in Cambodia and fell in love, it was kind of the epitome of ecotourism and that’s how I chose Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership as my undergrad, expecting to pursue tourism as a career. I didn’t really come into the conservation side of things until meeting Don and participating in the CPCIL Accessibility Park Leaders program back in November 2019.

Has your experience with CPCIL shaped or altered this path in any way? If so, how?

It definitely has. I wouldn’t say I was very interested in working for parks originally. Where I grew up, there’s not really any provincial parks nearby and the nearest national park was four hours away, and it was considered a tourism destination. So that concept of being connected to nature through parks was not familiar to me. While I was at Mount Royal, I was starting to learn more about the darker history of parks. When I began the leadership programme I was anticipating some resistance around inclusion. But then you start talking to people, you start realizing, these are my people. These are weird, compassionate, funny, easy going people who love what they do. They know the things that are going on, they know what’s wrong and they know what needs to be improved and they care.

What are your main takeaways from your experience as a Knowledge Gatherer?

In terms of projects, it has been interesting to go more in depth on the topics that I’m covering, such as with the jurisdictional scans, and figuring out what’s important to park leaders. Figuring out how to take an idea and make it digestible to a reader, in the most effective way. And as much as I love writing and learning and figuring out how to do this work, the highlight is definitely our weekly meetings and getting to hear from different park leaders with all sorts of backgrounds, and even from the other knowledge gatherers. 

 

Read some of Karly’s articles here:

Meet the CPCIL Knowledge Gatherers – Hyun Ho Cho

Photo of Hyun Ho Cho in mountains.

Hyun Ho Cho joined the CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers team in September 2020, fresh off a graduation from Mount Royal University’s Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership undergraduate program. With a background in military service, guiding, outdoor education, and environmental education, Hyun Ho has experienced first hand what it means to develop meaningful connections to place and collaborative approaches to understanding the environment, and how to foster these experiences for increased outdoor advocacy. His perspective as a first generation Canadian brought invaluable insight to the team of six, shaping meaningful discussions around inclusion and accessibility. Based just outside of Banff National Park in the hamlet of Dead Man’s Flats. Hyun Ho’s favourite ways to explore the outdoors range anywhere from caving to rock climbing to backcountry skiing. Quick-witted and with the perfect metaphor ever on the tip of his tongue, Hyun Ho has a talent to clearly articulate any given situation in a contextualized and relatable way. His work with CPCIL has centered around newcomer experiences in parks as an avenue to developing connections to nature.

We asked Hyun Ho about the path that led him to CPCIL, and how it has helped shape his journey moving forward. Here’s what he had to say.

Hyun Ho Cho family photo at Waterton Lakes National Park.
Photo by Hyun Ho Cho.

What were some of your first formative experiences that helped you feel connected to nature?

I’ve always been out in the mountains and always been connected to the mountains.  My family didn’t have a lot of resources growing up, so in a way we were forced to recreate nature. Having a family that would bring us to the natural world really went on to form when I thought about it. Even just being outside and playing after school. Growing up in an immigrant family right next to Fish Creek park, when you don’t have a Game Cube or an Xbox, you’re going to go out and explore, play outside on your bikes, and stay out until the streetlights come on. Having those experiences and those memories that were very formative to who I was in nature. 

How has this shaped how you view the environment today?

Growing up in southern Alberta gives you access to these massive mountains, you have these rolling hills, you have these river bottoms that are just gorgeous and look like floodplains. For me my main connection in nature was always just it’s a raw unadulterated way to experience the world. There’s no social constructions. There’s no man made objects, in most cases, to hinder your access. If you want to get somewhere on your own two feet, you get to suffer along the way and it reminds you you’re alive. In some recreation settings such as when you’re ice climbing, and you’re just focused on your next two swings and your next two kicks, and that’s all that matters in the world. Everything falls away when I’m outside. That’s what I love about it. 

What made you decide to pursue a career path in the environmental field?

I was always stuck between two places as a newcomer and immigrant. When I visited my family in Korea, they thought of me as a Canadian. And when I visited my friends and other people and other relations here in Canada, they saw me as Korean. So I never really fit in anywhere and for a long time, I struggled with that. Eventually, I came to embrace my identity as a bit of both, predominantly Canadian because I grew up here. That self realisation came around ninth grade, along with this understanding that I could do better, I could actually do something to help people. 

And that’s when my mind started turning towards public service – I always kind of knew that I wanted to get involved with law enforcement, firefighting, the military, paramedicine, teaching something like that, and I still have strong desires to work in the public sector. So that’s why I started with cadets – it was a free way to get outside and it kept me out of trouble. In 11th or 12th grade for two weeks over spring break, we came out to the Rocky Mountains. Up until that point I had done a bit of backpacking and scrambling, but we got into ski touring, avalanche terrain, and ice climbing. That trip had such a big impact on me, it’s what made me decide that I want to be able to do this for the rest of my life. After that I started thinking more about career paths that would allow me work outside, like guiding and search and rescue, and I had heard of the ETOL program at Mount Royal University which I ended up applying to and being accepted to. I learned a lot about recreation, time of the epistemology behind parks, the health and physical education aspects of parks and recreation. I also learned about adventure therapy, which is something I’ve been looking at and been wanting to do at some point in my career. 

That one trip in high school really set my career path, because I was not in a good place at that point in my life. That trip definitely turned it around, and having that kind of experience made me want to be able to share that with others. 

What have been your biggest takeaways from being a Knowledge Gatherer with CPCIL?

CPCIL seems like a way to help a lot of people get into the parks and to make parks a better place for them. In the beginning, I thought it was more of just a research position looking at articles and combing through the interwebs. But when we got to writing the blogs, the stories, and actually sharing them, that helped me look within myself as to how I could best help. That’s why I shifted from public safety to more newcomer programmes or outdoor recreation introductory programmes, because it resonated so much with my own experience. Being able to provide that insight is where I think I can have the most effect.

This experience has definitely impacted where I see my career going, or what I see myself doing in five or 10 years. It’s reiterated that I have a unique skill set that is extremely useful in a certain area, and I’d like to pursue that and see where that goes a bit more. Going forward, I might not be guiding or might not be in public safety, it might not be what I originally envisioned myself doing. But the things that give me fulfilment are being able to help people to make places a better space for people. It’s reframed how I think of how I can help people best, and that I need to leverage my talents, and with CPCIL I’ve been able to do that. What I’ve loved most about this experience is the amount of introspection this project and this place of employment offered. I’ve thought about my own experiences as a newcomer before. But this project has forced me to really rethink it, and recontextualize my lived experiences.

Webinar Summary – Outdoor Active Play in Parks

Outdoor Active Play in Parks Webinar

In Outdoor Active Play in Parks, the panelists discuss the advantages that youth benefit from by having outdoor experiences. The importance of connecting youth to nature at a young age is a highlighted theme, as it establishes a lifelong advocacy for nature. The panelists also explore opportunities for collaboration between park agencies, school, and Indigenous nations to support the growth of instilling a connection to the land in youth.

Presenters

  • Chloe Dragon-Smith, BushKids
  • Dr. Louise DeLanoy, Outdoor Play Canada
  • Deanna Jacobs, Saskatchewan Parks

5 Key Takeaways

  1. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Saskatchewan Parks developed new and creative ways to continue connecting people with parks and nature This included offline programming, such as the creation of Park Activity Kits to encourage safe outdoor exploration. In-person or online programming were also utilized, including online-facilitated activities and nature-based collection crafts.
  2. Research shows that when children are outdoors, they learn to balance risk and reward, and identifies the physiological benefits of time outdoors such as increased resilience and self-regulation. 
  3. Outdoor Play Canada acts as a central Canadian voice to outdoor play in Canada. Their position statement frames access to outdoor play as essential for healthy child development, which has had far-reaching advancements, implications, and benefits. 
  4. Bush Kids is a land-based outdoor play school program, which means that all learning is led by the land and they acknowledge that land includes peoples, cultures, languages and knowledges. It embraces ethical space, balancing both Indigenous and western worldviews.
  5. Parks agencies can play a role in the cultural revolution of being more connected to land and to place for the betterment of all systems together. Park agencies, schools, and Indigenous nations can come together when thinking about the responsibility we have to our children and to land.