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 – Rachel Goldstein

Photo of Rachel Goldstein in nature.

Originally from Kingston, Ontario, Rachel Goldstein joined the CPCIL team as a Knowledge Gatherer after making the move to the west coast to be closer to more outdoor recreation opportunities. Rachel has been instrumental to the team in delving into topics around inclusion and access to conservation careers and outdoor recreation, marine protected areas, and human wildlife coexistence. With a Bachelor’s in arts and a Master’s in biodiversity and conservation, Rachel has continued her career path in conservation through CPCIL, utilizing it as an opportunity to learn more about the parks and protected areas field.

Here’s what Rachel has had to say about her experience.

What were some of your very first formative experiences in nature?

Growing up, we had a cottage on Charleston Lake Provincial Park, where I ended up working, and it was just this tiny little converted fishing shack. So you felt very one with nature out there. It was right on the water and there were turtles, snakes, mink, and frogs all right there. The time my brother and I spent out there, we had no WiFi, no TV, we spent all of our time outside catching frogs and swimming with turtles and fishing. Those were the main experiences that made me really fall in love with it.

When did you first become interested in a career path in the environmental field?

Originally I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I randomly got a summer job in parks because my mom used to work at Charleston Lake Provincial Park which is about 45 minutes away from where I grew up in Kingston, so she suggested I apply. When they found out I was a biology student they suggested I apply to be an interpreter, and I fell in love with conservation and I ended up doing my Master’s in conservation. 

What many takeaways have you had since beginning your research role at CPCIL?

The one thing that I’ve really started to notice is that there are gaps where people aren’t included in things like parks and outdoor activities. I think that was something I probably thought that I was aware of previously, but it’s much more prominent now. For example, I was recently watching a climbing video, and they were amazing climbers but I realized that there wasn’t a single woman in the film other than the climber’s girlfriend. They didn’t even mention a female climber. There are no women on his team. It’s as though women don’t exist in the climbing world. As much as I call myself a feminist, I don’t think I would have really been bothered by that before I came to CPCIL. Now I’m much more aware of noticing, there are no Indigenous people in this space, there are no women in this space, there are no people of colour. I think that’s the main way that my perspective has shifted, I want to make sure everyone is in the “room”. 

Where are you hoping your career path will take you after CPCIL?

I’m really hoping to get another job in conservation. And it’s interesting, after interviewing several women who have worked in oil and gas through this research role, that field isn’t something I would have previously considered but now it seems much more interesting and like a great stepping stone, so I am thinking of maybe applying to jobs in that sector. I mainly want to get some environmental assessment experience, because I think that’s really important for a lot of jobs. 

Is there anything else you would like to touch on that we haven’t yet discussed?

What I’ve loved most about this job is that it’s been such a great opportunity to decide what I’m interested in, have a supervisor who’s incredibly supportive on chasing these idea threads, and then just literally spend my time researching the things that I’m interested in and using this research as a tool to help Park leaders.This job has just been amazing in letting all of us just really do what we’re interested in and what we’re already good at. That’s always how you’re going to have the most fruitful products, because you find what you’re passionate about. Even if the first idea needs a bit of fine tuning, it’s been great to work together and form it into something that’s useful. The most amazing parts of this job have been the freedom and the support to pursue what we’re interested in.

Meet the CPCIL Knowledge Gatherers – Hameet Singh

Having completed both a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo, Hameet Singh joined the team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers with various co-op and internship placement experiences behind her. One of these was with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), where she contributed to analyses of land and water resource issues in Northern Canada as well as projects related to Arctic marine environmental protection and engagement with Indigenous communities. While completing her Master’s degree, Hameet had the unique opportunity to work in a marine protected area (MPA) in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, Mexico. Here, she collected qualitative data while consulting with community members to determine how their involvement in marine governance could help combat against socio-ecological change.  

Hameet continued on with her interest in MPAs in the Knowledge Gatherer position at CPCIL, researching Canadian MPAs as well as economics in a parks and protected areas context. Here’s what she had to say about her experience.

What was it that first made you want to pursue a career path in the environmental field? 

In middle school one of my teachers showed us the Inconvenient Truth. I remember watching it, and it blew my mind that all of these issues were happening in the world, which were previously unknown to me. I think that was my first real exposure to environmental problems like climate change and biodiversity loss. Near this time, my family and I also drove from Toronto to Victoria and I remember that trip as significant because after seeing the different and changing natural landscapes of Canada first-hand, from Ontario to British Columbia, and visiting Jasper and Banff, I realized that I loved being outdoors and connecting to nature through parks. When I was in high school, I did a lot of volunteering with the Credit Valley Conservation Authority as part of the Ontario high school curriculum, and I really enjoyed that as well. We would get out and do conservation and stewardship activities such as tree planting, stream restoration and electro-fishing. These experiences came to solidify that I wanted to create a career in the environmental field. So this led me to complete my undergrad in Environment and Business at the University of Waterloo. The pairing of these two fields seemed like complete opposites, but I was drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of the programme and combined with co-op, I thought that it would be a practical choice.

My supervisor during my last internship with INAC in Ottawa became my first real mentor and introduced me to the idea of MPAs. Her work was related to marine conservation and land management, and she was also one of the people who greatly supported me in going back to get my Master’s, which is one of the best decisions of my so far short life. I got to dig more into the field work and research component side of things, which I hadn’t gotten with my undergrad. I was also lucky enough to travel, and in fact, most of the travelling I’ve ever done was while I did my Master’s – Mexico for my research, and Thailand to attend a conference. I was fortunate enough to do my research in a very picturesque and naturally pristine location that was rich in biodiversity. This is also where I acquired an interest in birding and learned a lot from the community members that I spoke with while in field. I greatly appreciated the mentorship and guidance that my academic supervisor provided, who had been one of my professors during undergrad. His advice and direction allowed me to complete a piece of research that I am very proud of. Completing my Master’s was challenging and lengthy, especially the fieldwork and data analysis components. But it was also very gratifying because it enabled me to dedicate uninterrupted time on a topic that I highly enjoyed and am passionate about. It also solidified the fact that I liked to do research and continuously learn, which is why I anticipate that I’ll be returning to academia in the near future to complete my PhD!

What changes have you noticed in yourself since starting your role with CPCIL?

When I first took the opportunity, I was very excited, because although I’ve done work in the environment field in the past, it was never conservation or parks and protected areas related, which is ideally the area that I want to be in. I was also looking forward to the research component because it was something that I highly enjoyed but hadn’t gotten the chance to do since graduating. The concept of CPCIL as a platform for park practitioners to collaborate and learn from one another was also was very intriguing. I also highly appreciated the opportunity to use my work at CPCIL to learn more about MPAs from a Canadian perspective, which I hadn’t really gotten a chance to do before. 

Before working at CPCIL, my view of parks was largely from a scientific and management point of view. I saw them as places reserved for their great ecological value, and for the public to come and enjoy. My grad work further broadened this perspective to include the social side in terms of community engagement and realize their economic potential through things like ecotourism and job creation. However, working at CPCIL revealed other facets of parks that I had never thought to consider before, such accessibility and inclusion. Learning about Don’s academic work, and the topics that the other Knowledge Gatherers were doing helped me to understand the multilayered nature of parks. During my professional and personal life, parks had always provided a medium for connecting to nature. At CPCIL, I realized how important it is for parks to create that space for all individuals, which I was surprised learn is not always the case. As a member of a visible minority, the fact that parks sometimes had barriers in recreation or career development for certain groups of people really struck home. It was not just about conserving biodiversity or having a place to recreate anymore, although that’s still very important. I think parks have a great potential to provide safe and welcoming spaces for all Canadians to create a connection with nature. When I think of the future of parks, it needs to reflect the diversity of Canada, and it’s not doing such a good job of that right now. Gaining that social perspective was very valuable for attaining something that was previously out of my scope. Learning through the webinars and the work that everyone else is doing as well helped me considerably in that process.

Do you think your time with CPCIL has altered your career or life path in any way?

Working with CPCIL has actually further solidified my aspiration to work in the conservation realm and protected areas, ideally in MPAs. I have really enjoyed my experience at CPCIL. I’ve had past internships and jobs in the environmental field, but this was the first parks and protected areas related experience. I see myself as either going down the career route, in government policy or private consulting related to protected areas or species at risk management; or completing my PhD and staying in academia to conduct research. My time with CPCIL has added more to the foundation of my career path that I want to continue and progress into conservation-related work. 

Meet the CPCIL Knowledge Gatherers – Ebany Carratt

Outdoor photo of Ebany Carratt.

Since joining the team of Knowledge Gatherers with CPCIL, Ebany Carratt has delved into parks and protected areas topics relating to inclusion and accessibility, law and reconciliation, and the history of people of colour in parks. With a background in the social sciences and prior involvement with various NGOs, Ebany frequently brought forth enriching perspectives to broaden team discussions around systemic oppression and social environmental issues. Originally from Saskatchewan, Ebany currently lives in Calgary where she recently graduated from University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Arts in Law and Society.

Here’s what Ebany had to say about her time with CPCIL.

Professional head shot of Ebany Carratt.
Photo submitted by Ebany Carratt.

What was it that drew you to this Knowledge Gatherer position with CPCIL?

My educational background is Law and Society, so the degree I completed looked at things related to law, but also political science, sociology, and economics. It was very interdisciplinary in nature, but it also focused a lot on how society reflects what we put into law/policy as well. In my last year, I was really into writing about gentrification and growing wealth disparity and how those things often relate to exclusion in environmental efforts. I was really shocked at how many well intended efforts, like moving towards environmentally conscious development or creating conserved areas, frequently displace people who are typically low-income or racialized.

So when I found this job I was quick to apply because I love writing, but I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be called back because I don’t come from a conservation or park management background. However, I did see that people with different voices or perspectives were encouraged to apply, so I felt inspired to share my story and my perspectives as an outsider. Even then, knowing what I know in regards to a policy perspective and the nature of exclusion, I wanted to try and stop this cycle of ignoring social issues and to ignite appropriate action in any way that I can.

Has this position had an impact on where you see your career going in the future?

If this year has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is certain. I think before I wanted to live my life on a very concrete and specific path, either becoming a policy advisor or a lawyer that focuses on human rights issues. However as I’ve gone through this experience with CPCIL, I’ve felt really compelled towards sustainability and conservation efforts. Prior to this position, the natural environment and climate change were things that I liked to read about and carry on in my personal life, but it wasn’t necessarily something that I ever considered as a career option for me to pursue in the long term. Looking back, I don’t know why I thought this door was closed to me, but now I actually want to do something in this area. Whether it’s about addressing environmental discrimination or just pushing better policies towards transitioning our economy to a more sustainable future, I think the bottom line is that I want to continue my career path towards giving back to the land that I am lucky to live on.

Were there any personal experiences that made you want to move in this direction as well?

Growing up I had always been fascinated with the natural environment and the species that are a part of it, but since I rarely got the chance to travel to wildlife parks I usually spent a lot of my time learning about it from David Attenborough. In many ways, I have always felt more comfortable in nature or with animals than with large groups of people at times. So when I first learnt about climate change as a kid, it gave me a lot of anxiety. When I finally got past the age of crying about an animal being endangered or going extinct, I started becoming more environmentally conscious of my behaviours and donating to conservation funds whenever I had the extra money. Since attending University and having the privilege to travel to and visit different parks and protected areas in Canada or Internationally, I’ve sort of gotten more directly involved in those things. My partner is very into endangered dart frogs and neotropical plants, so vicariously through them, I started getting into caring for different plants that I wouldn’t find in Canada, learning more about endangered species and reintroduction methods, and talking with people who work on bio-reserves in South-America and Asia. In a way I was kind of sad, because I didn’t pursue a career or degree that would look into this, despite my obvious interest in it. I still love policy and human rights, but since it would be too expensive for me to get another Bachelor’s in something like environmental science, I had just accepted that this interest would just have to be a nice hobby or side-interest for me. That perception all changed once I saw that I can bring my love for policy and social sciences towards conservation through CPCIL.

In what ways have your perspectives shifted since beginning your position with CPCIL?

I’ve mentioned it before that when I started I felt kind of at odds with myself that I was hired for this position, because I didn’t have that environmental or parks background. Through time, I’ve gotten more confident in my abilities and I feel a lot more comfortable to share my perspectives on social sciences and policy with everyone. In our western culture, I have always felt like there’s a very distinct line that people try to put between the hard sciences (like biology or chemistry) and the social sciences. This perception made me hard on myself because my family wanted me to go into the STEM field and the only thing that was an acceptable alternative was being a lawyer or working in finance. Even in University, I had a lot of friends in STEM who would say that people who were into social sciences were less intelligent and didn’t really have much to bring to the world with their degrees, unless they became lawyers and made tons of money. So I felt a little insecure about my degree or my career interests once I decided that being a lawyer was not who I wanted to be. Since beginning my position at CPCIL, I have seen that although that line still exists, and will probably continue to exist for many more years, I realize that it’s nothing more than an empty or misguided perception. Not only has this made me more confident in my abilities and intelligence, but I’m also starting to see how connecting my side of thinking to those “hard” scientific fields is valuable and necessary to create a better and brighter future for everyone who calls this planet home.

What have you loved most about your experience working for CPCIL?

I don’t want to sound too cliché, but I love the people most. I’ve probably said it so much that I sound like a broken record at this point, but I love the people I work with. We all work together in such a nice and cohesive way, even though we have different ideas and come from different backgrounds. The way we share knowledge and are willing to open up and talk about difficult things is the part of this journey that I am truly thankful for. Whether it’s the guests on our weekly meetings, the webinars that we get to sit in on, or just Don telling us about the different things that he’s done or is working on, I have learnt so much from anybody that I’ve interacted with thus far and have felt empowered to share my perspectives despite my age. I’ve never worked in an environment like this at any point in my life and so this opportunity will be something that I’ll cherish for years to come.

Webinar Summary – Healthy Parks Healthy People

Healthy Parks Healthy People Webinar

Healthy Parks Healthy People (HPHP) is an international initiative aimed at increasing the overall health and wellness of individuals through positive interactions with nature. The goal of HPHP, according to Ontario Parks, is to “use health to engage people with parks who may not be otherwise engaged and increase awareness of health benefits of parks with the overarching goal of improving health of Ontarians.” This webinar focused on evaluating the efficacy of HPHP as an initiative through community and stakeholder feedback and in situ surveying on parks premises.

Presenters

  • Anne Craig, Ontario Parks
  • Catherine Reining, Wilfred Laurier University

5 Key Takeaways

  1. After five years of the HPHP program being implemented by Ontario Parks, they held a large public consultation in 2019 with largely positive feedback.
  2. Some engagement and communication strategies of HPHP focused on signature events that links parks with health, such as days for free access to parks and challenges to spend time outside. HPHP-themed social campaigns, such as those around mental health, were some of the most popular topics.
  3. Some of the key barriers to accessing the benefits of HPHP include affordability, transportation, accessibility for diverse audiences, the need for more time, and the need for more green space and continued protection of green space.
  4. Research on the role parks and protected areas play in health promotion found that 95% of respondents felt visits to natural areas were important for improving wellbeing and health.
  5. Research found that high restorative outcomes were experienced by participants, irrespective of length of stay, and environment type is not a determining factor. However, the perceived quality of the environment experienced was important.