Seeing the forest for the trees

Alec Forest is a fifth-year student in the Faculty of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences. He holds leadership roles with the Oilsands Student Delegation and Sustain SU. You can often find him at the campus Bike Library and Workshop.

How did you become interested in sustainability?

At a very young age, I was interested by animals and pets, which turned into a love and fascination of nature. I also enjoyed studying science, and that got me thinking about conservation and climate change as issues I wanted to work with in the future.   

I joined the environment club in high school and that was both eye-opening and inspiring. The biggest event we planned was a “Bike-In” [Editor’s note: A bike-in is an event were participants bicycle to a set location, to increase bicycle commuting visibility to the general public]. We organized a competition, a pancake breakfast, prize draw and obtained sponsors. It was a pretty big event for a high school student group. Otherwise, we did typical environment club things: running the recycling program, waste diversion, education on sustainability and greenwashing. It was an empowering experience. 

How did you get involved on campus?

I started as an Ecology student and I was able to network in labs with teaching assistants and student groups. That year, I became a delegate for the Oilsands Student Delegation and aCampus Sustainability Volunteer with Sustain SU. Both of those are very strong communities and support groups; they were sources of like-minded friends for me. I dove into both those communities by joining the executives and staying involved. Sticking with these groups is nice for me since I can continue working on these issues and help make these groups better year after year.

 

How did you get involved with the Oilsands Student Delegation and what role has it played in your education?

In high school I completed a large project on the oil sands and environmental perceptions, so I knew a lot already, but I had never been there. I applied as soon as I got to university. It was especially valuable to me as a first year since the tour group included Students’ Union councillors and student group leaders—people who can share their experience with their big networks after the trip. I was able to meet them and use that networking to get more involved.  

As far as the networking and meeting people, it’s the most important thing we can do in university. For my personal journey, I find I’m getting a lot of benefit out of the things I’m doing rather than the things I’m learning in classrooms. Meeting people can introduce you to so many opportunities and new ways of seeing things. That’s something I cherish about being here.  

Any tips for students looking to get involved on campus? 

Something I think that works well is to find a stepping stone to getting involved with something that interests you. I find that events work well. Find one that you are really excited to go to, whether it’s a Facebook event that a friend shares with you, browsing Eventbrite, or seeing what’s going on around campus and get involved.

The University of Alberta is such a big community and there is huge potential to meet diverse people and make friends. Choosing just one event and trying to meet just one person, then following that path is a good way to get more involved.