Donors Support Enriched Education Program on Haida Gwaii

In a world where it’s easier than ever to shut out dissenting opinions, surround yourself with like-minded people, and become insulated from the unfamiliar, the Faculty of Forestry has developed a successful program that does just the opposite – and students love it.

The UBC Haida Gwaii Institute (HGI) offers third- and fourth-year students exceptional learning experiences in natural resources management, reconciliation studies, marine conservation, community resilience and more. The semester-long programs during the academic year allow students to earn credits while learning, living and volunteering in small, remote communities on Haida Gwaii, while the four-week summer sessions offer immersive classroom and field experiences.

Caitlin Laidlaw is a Forestry student who attended HGI in 2016. “Perhaps the most unique aspect is the integration of the students within the Haida community,” she says. “Where else in Canada would I be able to live on a First Nations reserve and get invited to community dinners and potlatches, and openly discuss how Canada and First Nations communities can work towards reconciliation?”

Joseph Moric, a third-year Forestry student, says that HGI “has allowed me to become more honestly open to different perspectives, different ways of knowing, and pushed me to understand the value of diversity not only in ecosystems but in people.”

HGI also gives students learning opportunities that are unavailable on UBC campuses. Third-year student Georgia Hall says, “Learning about ancient Haida village sites while actually being in Kuuna or hearing about the Lyell Island standoff of 1985 while staring at the Windy Bay Legacy Pole made the information relayed even more meaningful. I woke up every morning eager for class and excited for whatever unique adventure that day would involve.”

Over and over, students relate how the HGI experience gave them a new perspective. In some instances this has led to “light-bulb” moments, such as this one for Erin Stewart: “Our time at Tarundl Creek brought me to realize my passion for riparian ecosystem conservation and research of land use effects on salmon life cycles. I now hope to study this throughout a graduate degree.”

As enriching and beneficial as HGI is, it’s also expensive for students. The program fee is $4,000 for a semester and $1,600 for a summer session, above and beyond UBC tuition. On top of that there’s the cost of travel to and from Haida Gwaii, as well as accommodation and living expenses that are generally higher than usual due to the remote location.

To help bridge the financial gap for Forestry students in need, the Faculty has established a Travel Award program. With the help of donors, we would like to offer 12 or more Travel Awards each year to deserving students.

Gary and Louise Kenwood have supported forestry students for many years, initially through their award for Aboriginal students, and now through the Travel Awards program. They recently renewed their commitment to support two students for the next three years. “We have visited Haida Gwaii and have talked with students in the HGI Travel Award program” Gary says, “It’s clear to us that this program provides a valuable learning experience, with impacts that extend beyond academics into cross cultural understanding. Certainly, it’s important that we all support programs of this nature.”

Other donors have come on board as well. A private grant-making foundation funds four full semester grants each year, and UBC alumna Dee Rothwell will be supporting the first grant for summer session students, starting in 2020.

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