In the last few years I have taught everything from Fluvial Geomorphology (how rivers work and what role we play in that), to Tourism Management, to Introductory Human Geography, to Environmental Literature, to Conservation and Parks Management (which is the course I am currently teaching). I guess at this point in my career (I graduated with a PhD from UWaterloo just a couple of years ago), I am still plugging away at really creating my own niche in geographic education (hence the diverse course offerings!) – but it certainly takes a long while and I am committed to the journey.
In addition to teaching, I was also recently appointed as the Field Course Developer for the Faculty. I believe that students need the opportunity to go outside and into the field in order to truly engage with the material taught in the classroom. I work with various professors across the faculty to assess current course offerings and look for ways to integrate additional applied experiences; students don't necessarily need to go to exotic locations in order to learn about the world – often the very best lessons are learned in our own backyards. My motivation for this whole shift in education stems from my own experiences as a student. In my third year of my undergrad, I was quite bored with my education. I chose courses that were interesting, did co-op work terms in great locations, and yet something was missing. I found the solution in a field course in the States, where I spent two months retracing the route of Lewis and Clark across Montana via paddle and foot – and got university credits for the work that I did while out there. I returned with a renewed interest in what I was doing, and most importantly, why it all connected to not only me but to the larger landscape as well. And so today? I am hoping to facilitate similar experiences for undergraduates in the Faculty of Environment. I am working on two proposals for new field courses for this summer – one in an urban national park and a second in an old growth forest in northern Ontario. I don't know what the end products might be – whether students end up creating environmental interpretation literature, writing advocacy letters to decision-makers, or collaborating on GIS work – but what is important to me is that these students make their education matter. And that perhaps it provokes some significant conversations. In a not-so-distant past life I was a wilderness guide and my heart still sings when I am out there. By bringing my own students out there, I am hoping to inspire a whole new group of folks to see the world in a slightly new light.
Seeing the world differently is important for not only my own students, but those who will follow. Today I am also taking three of my geography undergraduate students into a local high school to talk with grade elevens and twelves about â€œthis whole geography thing. I am excited to sit on the sidelines, so to speak, and just let my own students explain why this is such an important and exciting field to be getting into. I know that realistically not every student I teach will become a geographer with a capital "G", but I hope that whether students become planners, teachers, parents, economists, lawyers, or farmers, they continue to do good work connecting people to places and advocating for the causes they believe in. And that they never forget to pause and look at the beautiful world that we all live in.
And, lastly, I am packing. Tomorrow I head to Ottawa for the Royal Canadian Geographic Society's Annual General Meeting and Fellows Dinner. This year I am being inducted as a Fellow for the Society. For me, this is a big deal. Not only is it a lifetime appointment, but it also adds a significant amount of obligation and yes, perhaps even some pressure to keep up with them all. I feel that I am part of the next generation of educators – a generation that must continue to share Canada with Canadians and also with the world. Through my days, I continue to find great moments of inspiration and opportunity. There is lots to be done in this realm and I am pleased to be playing a small role. Teaching geography is not an occupation, it is a way of being, an approach to life and livelihood that requires open eyes, the willingness to engage with others who may not see the world quite like me, and the constant and conscious decision to keep pushing forward, no matter what barrier may initially appear to be there.
And so I sign off, and head back into the world. I'll see you out there – be it on the trail, in the city, or somewhere in between.
~ Amanda Hooykaas, PhD, FRCGS