'UC set me up with new skills, critical thinking, community connections, and lifelong friends...'
Bachelor of Science in Geography with an endorsement in Environmental Science
Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in Geography
Co-Creator, Kea Database
Master’s student, Sciences Po (l'Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris)
Since discovering his passion for Geography at UC, George has gone on to make a number of meaningful contributions to conservation and environmental efforts in Aotearoa New Zealand.
George enrolled at UC with a UC Entrance Scholarship, partly because of its strong reputation in the sciences, but also because of the opportunities available to get out into nature to participate in conservation activities and go skiing and tramping in the nearby backcountry.
After receiving a UC High Achievers Award for his results, George started his first year studying Computer Science, but ultimately found his skills best suited in using technology in the geography and environmental sphere. Thanks to the flexible options provided by the Bachelor of Science programme, George was able to easily to change his studies to Environmental Science and Geography.
‘I realised that Geography was my ideal field of study as it is a broad field that allowed me to combine my interests in the environment, technology, the outdoors and the world around me. Since then I’ve met some of my best friends, worked with interesting lecturers, and have been on some great field trips,’ he says.
‘Take the opportunity in your first year to take a diverse array of courses – you might even find your future career in a subject you’d never studied before. Many of UC’s degrees offer quite a bit of flexibility, so a variety of courses you take can ultimately count towards your degree.’
Studying Environmental Science and Geography at UC meant George was able to go on trips to UC’s field station in Cass, which was a great hands-on learning opportunity, as well as providing the opportunity to make friends and connections with like-minded students.
‘Our activities included radar analysis of landforms, and using expensive GPS survey equipment/weather stations; however one of the coolest field trips involved flying remote sensing drones around outside and making 3D models with photography.’
Another great benefit to studying with UC was having being able to contribute to real-world projects.
‘In one of my courses we had to connect with community partners that needed research done – my group worked with the Avon-Ōtākaro Network to help them plan their biodiversity monitoring. You learn how to work with real people and at the end you feel like what you've done could have a real impact,’ he says.
For his efforts, George was awarded a Freemasons University Scholarship during his studies. He attributes much of his academic success to the support and passion of the UC Geography community.
‘The Geography Department at UC is, in my view, an excellent place to study. The lecturers are intelligent and friendly and they all tend to have a much wider interest in the world than just their respective areas – you get to know some of them quite well, especially when on field trips. The lab technicians are also very knowledgeable and happy to chat about a things such as the difficulties of cooking in Antarctica!’
Meanwhile George also feels one of the most integral parts of his student life was the opportunity to be involved with many clubs, including a number of executive committee roles where he was able to directly improve the UC campus experience.
‘There’s plenty of clubs to choose from, from academic pursuits, to the outdoors, skills, social events and more,’ he says. ‘The busy club scene is one of the things that sets UC apart from other universities and makes it a great place to study!’
His interest in clubs ranged from helping create the website for music club TuneSoc, to organising social and academic events with GeogSoc, to being a media manager for UC POLS, to the Canterbury University Tramping Club (CUTC) where he acted as Environmental Officer and then later President.
‘The environmental role involved working with the Department of Conservation, Environment Canterbury, and Forest & Bird to organise trips such as wilding pine control and pest trapping missions.’
These experiences lead to one of George’s biggest projects at UC – founding the Eco Club Network/Te Ohu Kākāriki. The group is made up of a consortium of UC clubs with a sustainability focus. George was awarded the Gold Sustainability Award in the student category at the 2016 UC Sustainability Awards for its creation.
‘The group achieved many things in a short space of time, including bringing about change in some food/beverage practices on campus, contributing to the future campus landscape plan, and increasing collaboration between eco clubs.’
During his final years with UC, George was also involved with the Kea Conservation Trust, where he helped build the Kea Database which allows people to look up individual kea based on their band combinations and submit sightings – ultimately contributing to a better understanding of kea behaviour in the wild.
‘As fellow kea conservationist Dr. Laura Young found, kea are a keystone species for the distribution of seed amongst our alpine flora, so a loss in their numbers could have considerable effects on vegetation – not to mention making the Southern Alps a lonelier place. They are really smart birds, and it’s fun to create an engaging way for people to learn about them. It’s great when you can use your academic skills to help the wider community, plus you get to meet heaps of interesting people,’ he says.
‘In less than two years since the database launched, we had over 4,000 sightings of kea from around the South Island!’
After working on other projects in the IT industry for over a year following his graduation, George decided to return to study at Sciences Po (l'Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris) in France, to complete a two-year master’s degree in Environmental Policy.
‘If you had told 17-year-old me studying Computer Science in Christchurch that I’d end up doing an environmental master’s in Paris, I wouldn’t have believed it! UC set me up with new skills, critical thinking, community connections, and lifelong friends, and has helped enable me to pursue many of my interests!’