Forestry girl in a grand communications world

By Sophia Yang

If you told me six months ago that my second UBC forestry co-op work term would be with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) working as the national communications intern, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Fast-forward nine weeks, and I’m here, preparing for my last day.

Saying this summer was a learning curve is an understatement. This summer has been thought-provoking, enriching, challenging and heart-warming. I learned how to take initiative and prioritize tasks better as a writer, been bought to tears hearing wise words from a senior staff, and camped out under the stars during a Conservation Volunteers (CV) event to help endangered sage grouse.

“This summer has been thought-provoking, enriching, challenging and heart-warming.”

Growing up, I always had an affinity with nature. As new Canadians in 2004, the concept of national parks was foreign but fascinating to my Chinese family. While other kids on the block were looking forward to getting their new Tamagotchi’s, I’d be asking my parents what national park we’d be visiting next.

But I’m an avid writer as well. During road trips to the mountains in the car, I’d be reading. Once I’d get home, I’d be writing. When I was seven, I wrote a 13-chapter storybook about a Russian shoemaker and his encounter with a wizard. But when I was 17, inspired by fond memories Jasper and Yoho National Park, I made the decision to pursue an environmental degree. The biggest reason for my decision is due to an interview I read with David Suzuki at the age of 11.

Nonetheless, when I have the chance, I still write short stories and poems to fulfill my passion for writing.

Working as the national communications intern for NCC this summer was the best of both worlds. I was able to utilize the knowledge I learned in school, such as conservation biology and wildlife management, but still practice my professional and journalistic writing skills in producing digestible content for NCC’s large and diverse audience. From featured species profiles, to reporting back on CV program initiatives and summarizing conservation news from around the world, there was a never dull moment at NCC.

This job really required initiative. Of course every job I worked did, but this one was special. Working as the national communications intern in the Calgary regional office, I would always be on the phone with national staff in Toronto or trying to get a hold of people in the field via email. When I started, I wasn’t given a concrete set of tasks like most jobs, I was given suggestions and prompts on projects that I wish to pursue, and take it in a direction that I see fitting.

As a student with a forestry background, I was apprehensive when I first started the job. I’d never worked a downtown office job before, having spent the last summer in the field working for Parks Canada. But the opportunities with NCC were endless. Due to my love for being outdoors and for protected spaces, I made it my mission to go to at least two CV events over the summer. Amazingly, the CV event at Old Man on His Back (OMB) heritage site in Saskatchewan caught my eye on the first day, since the bison at OMB actually came from the national park I worked at before, Elk Island National Park.

“Working for NCC this summer has reaffirmed my faith in environmental action and conservation.”

In the modern workforce, every job requires communications skills. While I had written for the UBC school newspaper before and produced research reports, this job opportunity with NCC greatly strengthened my portfolio. I was challenged when tasked with contacting radio stations in Alberta to see if they would run a story about NCC Google Trekker going to Coyote Lake. I learned about media tracking through assisting the national team with recording which media outlets were talking about NCC; some days those numbers would be over the hundreds, and I had to record all of that information! I dabbled in wildlife photography, talked to staff about NCC’s land securement process and conducted various in-person and phone interviews to produce content. These are all different types of very useful communication skills that I will carry with me for life, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

Other than all the valuable communications skills I gained, working for NCC this summer has reaffirmed my faith in environmental action and conservation. In academics, we are constantly bombarded with numbers that are inherently negative, for it is easy to forget the accomplishments and focus on all the doom and gloom. From attending CV events this summer, speaking with conservation leaders and interns in the field, I have never felt so inspired.

As I finish up my last few days with NCC, I proudly say that I will be back, and look forward to coming back to a welcoming family of conservation professionals focused on a natural legacy when I do so.

About the Author

Sophia Yang is the 2016 summer National Communications Intern for the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s national office.

Read more about Sophia