Student stories

Geography student connects with nature, particularly forage fish, on his co-op with the Comox Valley Project Watershed

Nhan (Young) Nguyen

Comox Valley Project Watershed

Nhan (Young) Nguyen spent a co-op term with the Comox Valley Project Watershed, working with a marine conservation project as a field and research assistant. Read more about his experience below.

Growing up in Saigon, Vietnam, Young Nguyen had always been fascinated by nature. As he grew up, this fascination expanded to urban and rural planning, sustainable agriculture and how these topics intersected with social issues. So when it came to picking a post-secondary program, UVic’s geography and ecological restoration programs were the perfect fit. Even better was the opportunity to gain hands-on experience—Nguyen joined the co-op program and begin turning his passion into a career.

“As an environmentalist, I’ve always wanted to work in Canada—there are so many unique job opportunities and potential for personal development,” says Nguyen. One of these opportunities found Nguyen completing a co-op work term as a field and research assistant at the Comox Valley Project Watershed. “My role was to research, survey and identify potential spawning habitats of forage fish, namely Pacific Sand Lance and Surf Smelt in the northern Salish Sea,” he says. “On top of literature research, I developed a GIS predictive model to narrow down potential sampling sites, conducted survey sampling and coordinated volunteers.”

Nguyen thrived in Project Watershed’s fast-paced learning environment. “Every day on the job was different, and every single project was engaging.” Nguyen says. He worked with World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF) and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “One of the most memorable moments of my work term was when I first met Ramona de Graaf, an expert on forage fish, at the Forage Fish Collaborators & Stakeholders Meeting hosted by WWF Canada, whom I had only known through research.”

Nguyen noted that having so many projects was an adjustment at first, but that adopting an adaptive management strategy helped him learn flexibility and balance. “The support and trust of my two supervisors helped my professional growth a lot,” Nguyen said. “Try your best, but take care of your physical and mental health as well.”

All of Nguyen’s hard work paid off when on the second to last day of his work term he found the forage fish embryos from his samples and positively confirmed the spawning sites. He proceeded to take his experience back to the classroom where he developed a post-hoc GIS suitability analysis to reassess forage fish spawning sites for his final project in his advanced topics in GIS course. 

“My dream is to improve sustainable agriculture in the Mekong Delta,” says Nguyen. “However, in the short term, I want to immerse myself in restoring degraded environments. My co-op really opened the doors for my future by providing amazing networking experience and areas for personal growth.”

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