Julia Forster
Julia Forster

When Julia Forster was looking for real-world experience to enhance her undergraduate degree, she didn’t need to look any further than her own community. As a fourth-year student in environmental governance, she had the opportunity to work on a community engagement project with Prof. Ben Bradshaw, Department of Geography.

Forster worked on the Community Well-Being Initiative (CWI) led by the City of Guelph. “We all love Guelph and we wanted to see if other people felt the same way,” she says. The project consisted of a series of surveys, focus groups and town-hall meetings designed to collect public feedback on what makes the city great and how to make it better.

After graduating in 2013 with a BA in environmental governance and a minor in marketing management, Forster now works for a not-for-profit organization called Emerge Guelph, which encourages people to make environmentally sustainable choices. She says she has applied the knowledge she gained from working on the CWI’s communications strategy to what she does now for Emerge Guelph.

She says community engagement opportunities benefit students in a variety of ways. “It’s absolutely vital if you want to make connections.” Gaining real-world experience before they graduate helps students decide which career paths to pursue, she adds, and learning how to network can help them find jobs in their field of interest.

Growing up in Barrie, Ont., she says, “I’ve always had a soft spot for the environment.” During family camping trips, her father would often point to the natural surroundings and say, “You won’t see that for long,” referring to nature’s losing battle with development.

During her first year at U of G, Forster took a course called “Human Impact on the Environment,” which inspired her to study environmental governance.  After meeting a student in the program, she says, “It didn’t take much convincing. I just switched into it.”