Naturalist Society Establishes Student Award in Urban Forestry

A bequest from an avid birder and naturalist has established a new award for students in the Bachelor of Urban Forestry program, giving welcome surprises to its first two recipients.

John “Jack” Halliday McCrae had a career as a teacher,most notably at North Delta Secondary School. He and hiswife Jean were longstanding members of the White Rock and Surrey Naturalists Society, and as volunteers they promoted conservation, stewardship, and citizen-science. Jack often led birdwatching walks and participated in annual bird counts.

Jack died in 2014, and with his wife predeceasing him and no children, he left the bulk of his estate to the White Rock and Surrey Naturalists Society. Deb Jack is Vice President and Conservation Chair of the Society. “It was quite an usual situation, because we received the bequest with no strings attached,” she says. “We struck a committee to set up some terms of reference for donations, and then figured out where and how much to give. It’s been really quite exciting.”

After deciding to prioritize the Surrey environment, post-secondary education, and ecological justice issues, the Society has made gifts to the City of Surrey, Simon Fraser University, BCIT, Ecojustice and West Coast Environmental Law, as well as the University of British Columbia.

The inaugural John Halliday McCrae Memorial Award in Urban Forestry went to Nick Nieuwenhuis and Shenae Borschneck. Nick is in the third year of the Urban Forestry program, and Shenae is in fourth year.

“I just checked my email one day and saw that I’d received this award,” says Nick. “I didn’t know what it meant because I’ve never received anything like this before.”

Nick entered the Urban Forestry program after doing general studies at Kwantlen University. “I was taking a wide variety of courses to see what most interested me,” He says. “I really like science and biology and I love to be in nature, so this program is a good fit.”

Shenae was surprised to learn she had received the award, and surprised again to find out it came from an organization she was familiar with. “For the past couple of years I’ve been involved with Surrey Natural Areas Partnership (SNAP), a nonprofit organization that offers young people practical experience in environmental education and conservation. The White Rock and Surrey Naturalists Society is a partner in SNAP, so this award felt close to home,” she says.

Shenae came to UBC after completing a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Alberta. She worked in the financial sector after graduation but, as she says, “I decided that I needed a career that made a difference overall, and the environment is an important issue to me.”

“As a mature student, I have paid for all my schooling myself, with no outside support. I have a job and I also have student loans,” she says. “This award takes off some of the pressure.”

Nick agrees. “This award gives me some breathing room.I really like the material in the Urban Forestry program and I’m working hard and learning more. It’s really nice to be recognized for doing well in school.”

Nick is keeping an open mind on his career prospects after graduation. “I still have another year, so I’m not sure if I want to work right away or do graduate work,” he says. In her final semester, Shenae is gaining clarity on her future. “I really enjoy working for a nonprofit organization, but I’m looking at the municipal sector as well,” she says.

Deb Jack is pleased with how the student award has been set up at UBC. “Making decisions about the donations has been hard work but it’s been interesting, and the committee has been really pleased with the choices we’ve made and the impact they have had already,” she says.

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