UTM graduate students warm up to the Canadian Arctic

Arctic ice and ocean
Friday, January 15, 2016 - 10:21am
Elaine Smith

The charm of the Canadian Arctic has stolen the hearts of two U of T Mississauga graduate students who are now planning careers North of 60.

An upcoming step in this process is being among the first North American students chosen to present papers at the prestigious Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway, from Jan. 25 to 29. Kevin Jakiela, 24, and Andrew Orawiec, 26, will board a Jan. 22 flight that will take them to this conference taking place more than 300 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.

“This is the largest Arctic conference in the world, and from a career, academic and professional development standpoint, it is a can’t-miss opportunity,” Orawiec said. “The focus of the sub-conference for students has been primarily on Norwegian and European students, but we submitted abstracts and put together a lobbying effort.”

Jakiela and Orawiec are students in the second cohort of UTM’s Master of Science in Sustainability Management program, and both men entered the program knowing that they wanted to apply their knowledge in the Canadian Arctic. Jakiela taught high school in Northern Quebec for a year after earning his undergraduate degree, while Orawiec worked overseas and on Parliament Hill after graduation before taking a position as a policy analyst with the government in Iqaluit. The North grabbed hold of their imaginations and hasn’t let go.

“For me, it is a bit like the final frontier,” Orawiec said. “I originally relocated for work, but realized that there was a lot of opportunity and work to be done on the ground floor, building what is essentially a new territory. It’s great.”

Jakiela loves the outdoors, exploring indigenous culture and benefiting from the personal growth a new setting has allowed.

“The North really opened my eyes to the fact that there is so much more to see and do,” Jakiela said. “I like being a part of helping a community help themselves.”

Jakiela's research paper for the Arctic Frontiers conference focuses on food security in the Canadian Arctic, exploring the quality and quantity of food now available to the indigenous community compared to what is possible through the use of geodesic greenhouses. Jakiela is working with a group in Hay River, NWT, to educate people on growing food there hydroponically.

“Not only is food costly in the North, but the quality is very poor,” Jakiela said. “The availability is also hit and miss. Using holistic management, we’re combating sustainability issues and promoting better quality food for health purposes.”

Orawiec’s research looks at shifting ice conditions in the Northwest Passage and how the region is being affected by climate change, exploring the potential for sustainable economic development in the North. As the shipping window increases due to global warming, there will be more trade and more cruise tourism, with the associated impacts on the local residents, the economy and the environment.

“If the ice is no longer present, it introduces unforeseen challenges and we want to get ahead of these things with legislation, preparing communities for a potential influx of tourists,” Orawiec said.

Both students are eager to learn as much as they can from their fellow conference attendees.

“We don’t really know what is happening in the rest of the circumpolar world,” Orawiec said. “There are definitely best practices that can be shared. It will be an invaluable experience.”