Skip to main content Skip to local navigation

Environmental studies alumni share insights with students

Environmental studies alumni share insights with students

Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) alumni delivered encouragement and advice to students pursuing their master's of environmental studies degree at the annual Anita McBride Mentoring Luncheon in late November. The event featured a panel of four MES graduates who shared personal experiences from the program and postgraduate insights with the crowd.

The first panellist, Elsa Fancello (MES ’07), encouraged students to “move beyond [their] area of comfort,” by taking classes outside of their main focus, meeting others in the Faculty and broadening their skill sets. Fancello recalled taking three classes that were not considered part of a traditional planning curriculum – mediation and negotiation, consulting skills and environmental psychology – which she has found complement her current work as an urban planner at Urban Strategies Inc.

Right: From left, FES Professor Emeritus Peter Homenuck moderated the panel of FES alumni, Al Shpyth, Ann Joyner, Cameron MacKinnon and Elsa Fancello, who shared their post-graduation experience and insights with current MES students

Cameron MacKinnon (MES ’90) agreed, saying “the interdisciplinary holistic approach [at FES] teaches you how to think, how to see the big picture and will provide you with the skills and knowledge that can help you to succeed in the short and long term.” MacKinnon recounted some of his more than 20 years of experience in public affairs and media consulting, including his work as assistant director of communications for the premier of Ontario. Currently, he runs his own consulting business, advising a coalition of industry associations involved with developing a major industrial recycling effort.

MacKinnon called his own career path an “unconventional one” in that he never held a job in the environmental field until recently. “It was at FES where I learned how to conduct meaningful public consultations with citizens and stakeholders, which has been a staple of my approach in almost every project I’ve worked on.”

Left: Steven Pacifico (MES '07) was one of several alumni at the Anita McBride Mentoring Luncheon's post-discussion reception, answering questions and providing guidance to MES students

Dillon Consulting partner and environmental planner Ann Joyner (MES ’85) eagerly addressed students who joined her in “a discipline that has grown with the world” throughout her life. She admitted that the best advice she received in the program was from FES Professor Audrey Armour, who advised her to treat the program seriously. “The networks you make here – both in terms of the students and the professors that you meet – they become your professional networks,” said Joyner. “So take [the program] seriously, like a job.”

She concluded with reflections on the future of environmental planning. “We’ve come a long way in the profession. We didn’t have the Oak Ridges Moraine, the growth plans or protective frameworks in place. None of it existed. But there is lots of room for you to add to it all, which is what I hope to see.”

Right: From left, panellist Ann Joyner and FES founding dean Gerald Carrothers shared stories and encouragement with students at the event

Al Shpyth (MES ’91), a former vice-president at mining company Cameco, urged audience members to use passion as their guide throughout their studies and career. He was led by his own passion and the flexibility of the MES program, “When I was here, FES students couldn’t take environmental law at Osgoode Hall unless you were in the joint MES/JD program. I really wanted to take environmental law, so I found out what it would take to get this class offered − a willing faculty member to teach and enough students to take the course. I found both, and was able to take the course. Ultimately, that class has added value throughout my career,” Shpyth said. “When you leave here, follow your heart and you will do good work and have a good life. There are a variety of ways to follow your heart, just keep your passion alive.”

The Anita McBride Mentoring Luncheon is an annual event for FES students and alumni, consisting of a panel presentation and informal reception. Anita McBride is former director of the FES Office of Student & Academic Services. McBride remains instrumental in the event through her continued financial support, along with maintaining numerous connections with FES alumni and inviting them annually to share their experiences with current ­students.

Submitted to YFile by Alicia Brown, FES media and communications coordinator

Republished courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.