Student's community engagement recognized with national award

Science, Social Sciences

- Erin King

UVic student Navarana Smith has been named as one of 10 Canadian undergraduates to win a 2015 3M National Student Fellowship, celebrating outstanding student leadership.

Smith's resume reads like an adventure novel. A child of two biologists who ran an eco-tourism company, Smith spent her childhood exploring the remote wilderness of the Pacific Northwest and the High Arctic. Now a third-year biology and environmental studies student, Smith has travelled to Germany, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Madagascar in the course of her undergrad studies.

Closer to home, she spent a semester at the Bamfield Marine Science Centre on Vancouver Island. Her travels have given Smith a sense of her position in the world-a deeper understanding of place and perspective.

"The field school in East Africa challenged me as a student and as a human being," she recalls. "Immersed in discussions on land claims, foreigner presence, colonial attitudes, and development, I became aware of the immense limitations of my understanding, my discomfort with my privileged background, and my curiosity about the deep complexities in addressing environmental and social sustainability challenges. My self-awareness swelled."

She began to look for classes that allowed her to engage in community partnerships. "I took this fantastic course [ES 441] in first year that involved consulting an NGO on a proposed restoration project. We collaborated with this NGO on a business plan to try to ensure their project's success. I came back to UVic incredibly excited about where my degree could lead, and more engaged in my studies."

Now, Smith wants to strengthen student involvement in community-based research at UVic. "The world needs all the brainpower it can get to grapple with the social and ecological challenges of our time. Yet, students-and people everywhere-are overworked and exhausted. We need to find a way to foster commitments while being realistic about pressures on time," she says.

One way to do this: make community engagement a priority in course syllabuses. "If more courses had an outreach component-including community-level publications, partnerships, and presentations of assignments-students might have higher retention and greater investment in the academic material."

In the meantime, Smith works to foster student engagement outside of class. She has coordinated monthly day trips through the Sierra Club for students and community members interested in sustainability themes. With UVic's student-run environmental magazine, ESSENCE, Smith visited classrooms to create interest in joining discussions on social justice and sustainability issues. She helped to coordinate UVic's Environmental Round Table (UVERT) and in 2013 was selected to represent UVic at the World Student Environmental Summit in Germany.

As part of the 3M fellowship, Smith will travel to Vancouver in June for the annual conference of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. While there, she'll join her fellow awardees in developing a cross- Canadian collaborative project with the goal of enhancing teaching and learning at the post-secondary level.

All this, and Smith still manages to excel academically. When asked how she manages, she shrugs with her characteristic quiet confidence. "I'm lucky to be a part of these communities at UVic," she says. "Life is busy, but it is also beautiful."


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Keywords: 3M, student life, international, field schools, Bamfield, environmental studies, leadership

People: Navarana Smith

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