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Forests Ontario’s Interview with Envirothon Alumnus Tess Ward

Posted: February 6, 2020

The Ontario Envirothon program helps to prepare students for post-secondary education and careers in the environmental sciences, and refines their interpersonal and teamwork skills. More than that, though, it touches the lives of its participants—fueling a passion for the environment and sparking friendships.

In this series, a number of Envirothon alumni will be profiled to give potential participants a window into the program and its benefits. Tess Ward was an Envirothon competitor in 2012 and 2013, representing East Elgin Secondary School in Aylmer. She is now studying Ecosystem Restoration at Niagara College.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
A: I am 25-years-old and originally from Belmont, Ontario. I went to high school at East Elgin Secondary School in Aylmer and went on to complete a Bachelor of Science at Trent University, where I majored in biology and minored in environmental science. I am now working towards the completion of a postgraduate certificate from Niagara College in Ecosystem Restoration.

Q: What has been your employment experience thus far?
A: I’ve worked for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry as a Stewardship Youth Ranger Team Lead for the past three summers; this involves supervising and leading four local teens in local environmental work. This summer will be my fourth contract with the MNRF! I’ve also worked as a Senior Park Clerk and Resource Management Technician for the MNRF. During high school, I had a co-op with Catfish Creek Conservation Authority doing maintenance and odd jobs around their conservation areas.

Q: Where did you interest in working in the environmental sector come from?
A: I’ve always liked nature and being outdoors. I grew up camping, hiking, and canoeing with my family, and in high school I joined the Environmental Club where I worked on various sustainability projects, like starting a composting program and promoting reusable water bottles. However, participating in Envirothon and an environmental leadership program in my fifth year of high school cemented for me that I wanted to work in the environmental sector. I’ve never wanted a 9-5 job, I’d rather be outside!

Q: Can you tell me about your Envirothon experience?
A: I participated in Envirothon for two years, in 2012 and 2013. The first year, me and my friends from our high school’s Environmental Club formed a team; we did really well and ended up going to provincials. I remember that the topic was nonpoint source pollution, and we got fifth place overall in the presentation competition. The second year, my team was handpicked from an environmental leadership program I was participating in at my high school; that year was online, and the theme was sustainable agriculture.
The most memorable thing about my Envirothon experience were the things I learned that they don’t cover anywhere else in high school; for example, we got to go out into the field, meet local farmers, and talk to them about their sustainability practices.

Q: How did the online experience compare to the in-person competition?
A: Although the in-person competition was a great experience because I got to meet new people from across the province, the online competition really helped prepare me for real-world situations, like further education and employment. It ended up being quite the learning experience!

Q: What kind of skills did Envirothon help you develop?
A: Well firstly, Envirothon gives you a really good base knowledge of the four foundational topics (soils, aquatics, wildlife, and forests) as well as the fifth theme. Specifically, you don’t really learn about soils that in depth in any other classes. This knowledge was really helpful going into university, and I felt it gave me an advantage over my classmates who didn’t participate in Envirothon. Also, the hands-on experience I got doing things like taking soil samples and measuring trees set me up for success in my career and provided me with a level of comfort I wouldn’t have had I not gained that experience.

Q: All in all, did you find your Envirothon experience valuable?
A: Yes! Not only did I have a fun time getting outside of the class, but I also learned a lot and gained really important skills. Envirothon should definitely stick around.

Q: What would you say to someone considering participating in Envirothon?
A: Go and do it! It’s a great program and a great learning experience – you won’t be disappointed. You get to learn from your peers, make mentors, and build a strong network.

Q: What are your career goals?
A: I’m passionate about ecological restoration and would like to find work at an environmental consulting firm, conservation authority, or the government. I’ll be happy doing anything that involves rehabilitating land that has been degraded. I’ll probably stay around southwestern Ontario because there are a lot of opportunities here, although I can always put my feelers out to my Envirothon network!