When Master of Science in Environmental Science student Natalie Maslowski received an email from Thompson Rivers University’s (TRU) president’s office inviting her to attend Universities Canada’s Accelerate 2023 conference in Ottawa, she was curious — albeit thrilled.
“I had to do a little research about the conference, because I hadn’t heard of it before,” says Maslowski, who is studying wildfire ecology under the supervision of Dr. Jill Harvey, a Canada Research Chair examining how wildfires and drought impact forests in the BC Interior.
Held annually in Ottawa, the conference welcomes leaders, policymakers and experts who exchange ideas on how to build a better future for Canada. This year’s attendees at the Feb. 7-8 gathering examined how to accelerate Canada’s transition to a sustainable and prosperous future. Brian Daly, TRU vice-president of University Relations, accompanied Maslowski to this year’s event.
Maslowski was invited to participate in the Reverse Town Hall with 10 other graduate students from across Canada, sharing insights from their areas of study.
The students were seated on stage, given microphones and asked to answer broad questions from members of a previous panel that included policymakers.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had an audience filled with faculty and other leaders listening to me,” says Maslowski. “So that was very meaningful.
“We hear a lot about what people in positions of authority think is an issue, but this reverse town hall provided an opportunity for students to share what we care about.”
One of the questions asked of the students was what keeps them up at night. For Maslowski, the answer was clear.
“What I could speak most about was climate change, which was part of the main themes of the conference. I responded that I care a lot about climate change — it’s a lot of what my research is tied to. I talked about the wildfires that we had in 2021, that summer’s heat dome and flooding in the fall (atmospheric river). I also talked a lot about how wildfires are increasing due to climate change and droughts that we’re experiencing in our province. Climate change can take many roles and for those of us in BC, we’re seeing it with forest fires.”
Maslowski also addressed much-needed funding for wildfire prevention.
“I told those in attendance that the government needs to put more funding in the BC Wildfire Service prevention program. The BC government has a history of surpassing its budget for wildfire response by several million dollars. Their decision-making is reactive rather than proactive. I would argue that more money needs to be put into the prevention program.”
For the master’s student, attending the conference was impactful.
“I’ve been to a few academic conferences, which are more focused on research work,” says Maslowski. “This is the first conference I attended where discussions, an exchange of ideas, were highlighted. It was more about policy and what governs us in this country. I was able to be part of the conversation and, hopefully, part of future change.”