Dr. Brett Eaton Joins USI!

Dr. Brett Eaton Joins USI!


Dr. Brett Eaton will be joining the UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI) as a fellow for the 2014W academic year. In addition, he will lead an initiative to create a sustainability pathway associated with Geography that is also funded by the USI. Loch Brown and Siobhan McPhee are also members of the team, and together will form the pathway curriculum committee.  By combining Dr. Eaton’s expertise in the technical and scientific aspects of environmental analysis with that of Dr. Brown and Dr. McPhee, the team will be able to articulate a vision of environmental sustainability that combines social, economic and scientific perspectives in a holistic way. The pathway that this group will help establish is intended to serve students in existing B.A. and B.Sc. specializations offered by Geography, and to exist as a separate entity (such as a minor) that would be accessible to students in other undergraduate specializations at UBC. By conducting a curriculum mapping of the existing sustainability-related courses that Geography currently offers, performing a gap analysis based on the USI’s description of sustainability attributes, and facilitating dialogue with Geography faculty who teach sustainability-related courses, this pathway grant helps Geography to take a leadership role in sustainability education on campus.

Best wishes to Michael More, former Undergraduate Advisor!


Undergraduate Advisor, Michael More, had his last day as part of the Geography Staff on June 13. He has accepted a new position as Graduate Career Advisor for the Centre for Student Involvement & Careers in Brock Hall. As much as we are saddened to see him leave Geography, we are also incredibly excited for him in his new position! As an alumnus of UBC Geography (both graduate and undergraduate programs), Michael will always be part of the Geography family.

In his farewell email, Michael writes:

“… I’ll still have Geography in my purview, as I’ll be the point person for helping Geography students to connect to skills training, as well as outside-the-classroom experiences like co-op, community learning, and research experience.  So I’m sure I’ll still see many of you now and again.

The Geography department is a very special place to call home, and I will very much miss the support, energy, and truly collegiate nature of this community.  The teaching and research in this department is without peer at UBC, and the dedication and passion of our students, staff and faculty is unmatched.

I wish you all a fantastic summer, and a successful new academic year in the fall.  I am so excited that Suzanne will be adding the undergrad advisor portfolio to her responsibilities.  She will be an outstanding help to our students.”

New Zealand & The Cook Islands: “Landscapes and People” with Jialin and Andrea

[Photos submitted by Andrea Eisma, Jialin Yang]

Welcome back to Vancouver! How did the climate and weather in New Zealand and the Cook Islands compare to Vancouver?

Jialin: Everyone told me that New Zealand and Vancouver had very similar weather but that is not true! The presence of the Southern Alps makes for very different weather on either sides of the South Island especially. The weather also changes very quickly, I found. One moment, it would be fairly warm and the next it would extremely windy and rainy and so cold. At one point we were even stuck in a snowstorm when one of the chains on our tires broke. Rarotonga was very hot, very humid. When it rains, it pours…

Andrea: I thought New Zealand was much colder! It was the beginning of their winter and we traveled in a circle that went as far south as Queenstown – which was chilly. Climate varied quite a bit though from the cooler, wet west coast to the windy, dry and sometimes warmer east coast (Christchurch area). On Rarotonga (the main island of the 15 Cook Islands), the climate was significantly warmer but all around the island there were different microclimates of cooler, hotter or windier places.

How do you think these Physical Geography courses [UBC-O Academic Calendar], Geography 491: Selected Topics in Geography: Natural hazard risk in New Zealand and the Cook Islands and Geography 413: Mountain Environment, contribute to your Environment and Sustainability Major?

Jialin: I think the very hands-on aspect of field courses is very important to Geography. Our professor, Dr. Fes de Scally, really emphasized this [importance] by creating these two courses that really immersed us in our environment. It is one thing to sit in the classroom and learn from lectures and textbooks – it is an entirely different thing to be outside and learning by seeing and doing. It definitely makes you realize how complex and interrelated everything is.

Did you experience any culture shock while in NZ or the Cook Islands? How so?

Jialin: This isn’t exactly about culture shock, but for me, it’s always an interesting experience traveling as an Asian woman. Even when you’re part of a larger group, I find that there’s always people who can’t comprehend that you can be from Canada and not be white. I got, “Where are you REALLY from?” a lot. Also, I was shocked by how expensive everything was…

Andrea: I didn’t really experience any culture shock in NZ or the Cook Islands. The only thing that comes to mind with the Cook Islands though is you must remember the time is always “Island Time” – something I am not used to but definitely adapted to it.

Can you give me a breakdown of what a typical day in the group study was like? Or were there no ‘typical’ days?

Jialin: I would say a typical day would be waking up at a set time and then rushing to get ready while trying not to bump into the other five girls in your room. Packing a lunch and checking the weather outside to see if we needed our rain gear or gaiters. Driving somewhere and hiking while getting short lectures and just having interesting things pointed out. Exploring. Eating lunch on top of a mountain. Maybe driving around to see a debris flow fan or two. Or three.

Wake up, meet up as a group anywhere between 9 and 11am (the time would be confirmed the night before and sometimes change depending on if we were ready or how the weather was), drive to multiple sites in the area that we were staying at, observe the landscape, go for hikes up mountains or debris flow fans and learn about what we are looking at whether it be a glacier, debris flow, river bank channel, storm surge emergency shelter etc. Often we ended the day at a beach (which was a nice way to end the day) then drive back to where we were staying. Days really did vary though, it depended on how many sites there were to see in the area and how the weather was.

New Student Advisor, Suzanne Lawrence!


You’re the advisor for Geography students, but your official title is Student Services Manager; can you clarify on that?

I’m not actually the advisor for graduate students [Dr. Jim Glassman is], but I’m the graduate program manager. The department is merging my previous position and the undergraduate academic advisor position [previously Michael More] to create a student services team. So we’re also hiring a new staff member to also act as student services support but between the two people and Jeanne [Yang, Departmental Assistant], we will be responding to everyone’s inquiries. I will continue to manage TA allocations, contracts, anything that relates to their union, and graduate student financing; with undergrads, my work will revolve around graduation requirements and transfer credits. The admission inquiries and more general/straightforward questions will be answered by the other support staff*.
*[position currently unfilled]

How did you come to Geography?

In 2010, I’d just finished my Masters’ and I was doing temp work at Vancouver Coastal Health and RA work with SFU to pay the bills over the summer. I had written my thesis in provincial education policies on international graduate tuition fees. I wanted to work in higher education so I applied to several universities in the summer. Sandy [Lapsky, Administrator] called me in in late August for an interview and she asked me if I could start in a week. So I started the first week in September along with all the incoming students! It was a tough year but I had a lot of support from Dr. Hassan (Grad Advisor at the time) and the other staff members. Over the years, we have continually developed and expanded our program offerings, and so my title went from Graduate Program Assistant to Graduate Program Manager in 2012.

I feel lucky to be here. Geography is an innovative environment right now and we are leading the way on campus in extended orientation programs, student funding – we have the highest and most equitably funded graduate students in all of the Faculty of Arts, student engagement on committees and forums, and professional development programs such as our graduate mentorship program and the Professionals Leadership Network.

I know it’s only been a week, but what do you enjoy the most about this new position?

Undergrads are wonderful to work with. It’s also a new portfolio, so I’m learning more about the different courses we offer, and all the opportunities that undergraduates have during their program. Graduate students usually come in with a preset research project and that’s what they’re doing for the next few years. With undergrads, the world is a lot more open. I also like being close to the main office, and the fact that we’re starting a team based student service at UBC. So much of UBC’s current organization isolates grads and undergrads, and silos staff members’ portfolios, so you have a lot of practices and opportunities that are missed by the other party.

What is (or was) a challenge you for you in this new position?

There’s been a backlog of emails and phone calls that I simply haven’t gotten to yet. It’s really just the workload. Because we don’t have the other staff support yet, I’ll be the “team” for the next 6-8 weeks. And then I have parental leave in three months so it’s a lot of prepping the year ahead as well.

Is there any piece of advice you’d like to share with the students?

For the undergrads: plan ahead and be flexible. And try not to worry about getting into a specific course right now—it’s only June. Course registration will change a lot in the next three months.

For the grads, be patient! And get your TA contracts signed; read your orientation manuals (for incoming students) and pay attention to the fine print on the emails and contracts you receive!

What’s Suzanne like outside of Geography/work?

I’m also a part time student. Presently, I am working on my certification in Business Analysis. Between my 1.5 hour long commute, course work and the fact that I am 6 months pregnant, I don’t have much of a life right now. Any spare time I have is spent with my cats and sleeping.

When I find I have the energy, I work as a volunteer facilitator with the UBC Grad Staff Network, which I founded in 2012. It is a group of professionals who work in graduate education programs and we regularly meet to host forums and workshops on changes in programing as well as industry best practices. It’s been very successful at bringing people together to share their expertise and I am lucky to have a fantastic co-facilitator this year from the Department of Music, Juliet O’Keefe.

About Geography

An introduction to our Department, its history and aims, as well as location and contact information.

About UBC

About Vancouver

Vancouver is a coastal city in the province of British Columbia in Canada. With more than 600,000 residents, it is Canada’s third-largest city. Consistently named one of the world’s most livable cities, it is where snow-capped mountains meet the ocean, and breathtaking vistas greet you around every corner.

The city is a diverse mix of people of different ethnicities, cultures, religions and sexual orientations. Close to 30 per cent of British Columbians immigrated to the province from another country. As such, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity is celebrated.

Vancouver has hosted many international conferences and events, including the 2010 Winter Olympics and 2010 Winter Paralympics.