"If you put in the work for something you want, usually you can get it done. Even if there are obstacles and you feel like you can't reach your dreams, keep going towards them, working towards them and really make your experience at university what you want it."
In Antoine Gendron’s first year at uLethbridge, he was part of the Global Citizenship Cohort (GCC), a cohort of students who take a diverse range of classes together and participate in outside projects and experiences in their first year. As a direct result of the work Antoine did for his final project in the GCC, he was invited to sit as a board member on the Oldman Watershed Council from June 2017 until June 2019. He founded the Earth Day Symposium, an event that continues four years later, as well as having completed a sixteen-month co-op at Agri-Food Canada. This impressive body of work results from Antoine's determination and resolve, always searching for an opportunity rather than waiting for it to find him.
"Sometimes opportunities are hard to come by, so you have to create your own. The university has taught me this, especially with the liberal education components, critical thinking and GCC. They pushed me in the direction of, 'if you know there's a lack somewhere, create an opportunity for yourself there.'” At the University of Lethbridge, opportunity waits around every corner and Antoine recognizes that the skills he gained here will help him as he continues to search for it, even beyond graduation.
Born in Quebec, Antoine moved to Wainwright at the age of eleven with his family due to his father being in the Canadian military, before moving to Lethbridge for post-secondary. He is close to completing his Bachelor of Science, general major, with streams in biology, chemistry and kinesiology and is set to graduate this April. Antoine was named a shining student in his first year of university and now in his fifth, he recounts the journey which led him here. “Since then, I switched from education and science to science alone. After Ed 2500, I realized I enjoyed working with the kids, but education wasn’t for me.” Antoine is particularly interested in environmental biology and “As of now, I’m looking for jobs in the environment industry, riparian or environmental assessments. I know eventually, I’ll come back and do my master’s, but right now, I’m looking to find some work.”
For Antoine, studying at the University of Lethbridge was about relationships and community as much as it was academics. “Ultimately, it’s the relationships I’ve created with students and faculty members through projects and classes that’s been the most memorable for me.” One key figure in his journey was Dean of the School of Liberal Education, Dr. Shelly Wismath. “She was leading the GCC in my year and since then, I’ve had a professional and personal relationship with her. I can ask her for advice and questions like ‘how will it look moving forward with a master’s,’ or ask for help with larger projects. She is someone who has shaped my university career.” Students find one-on-one connection with their professors at the U of L and participate in meaningful research projects. Antoine describes the GCC, “It is great for meeting a group of friends and people you can connect with for the rest of your university career.”
“I’ve always enjoyed the scientific aspect of this world. Throughout high school, it’s always been a strength for me, understanding those concepts. In my first year, the GCC moved me in that direction with the Oldman Watershed Council project.” The GCC was instrumental in starting his environmental journey. “That’s how I got connected with the Oldman Watershed Council. Our group participated in a southern Alberta Water Charter signing project. We “adopted’’ a river section and did some clean-up, water data testing, took notes and blogged about it. Because of that experience, I was actually offered the opportunity to run for a general member board position [with the OWC]. I applied for it and got it! From there, I did two years on the board and it was a really good time.”
The Oldman Watershed Council does work with many industries within southern Alberta, combining science and policy in their efforts. There are board members from all different types of industry such as forestry, agriculture, government and health, working to monitor water and wildlife while teaching the surrounding community about the importance of water. They do this through advocacy work such as letter-writing to Government, holding conferences, research and education efforts. Antoine describes that through the GCC, they had the opportunity for hands-on experience. What he learned is that “as for water in Canada, we think of it as ‘we have so much of it,’ it’s not always in the forefront of our minds. But water is crucial to so many things: agriculture, drinking water, how the land forms, and how things grow. Whether it’s in Canada or anywhere globally, we need to do our best not to pollute it and keep it healthy and sacred even. Looking to Indigenous traditions, there are also spiritual aspects to water. There are many aspects to what water means to people.”
Antoine became the founder of the Earth Day Symposium, an accomplishment that he also credits partly to the GCC. “Part of it was because of my GCC project. I talked to the mayor of Lethbridge, Chris Spearman, and the U of L president, Dr. Mike Mahon, and asked if the City or University had anything planned for Earth Day, a day that has been recognized globally for decades. Because there was nothing, I thought, ‘okay, I’ll see if I can create something for the next year.’ Do something where the university can invite community members as well as staff and students, where we can celebrate and commit to protecting the environment.” This year will be the fourth year of the Earth Day Symposium celebrated at the U of L and will take place virtually on April 1st, 2021. Antoine plans a speaker series, booth attendees (when things are in-person) and works on delegating tasks, envisioning the project overall. Continuing his connection to the GCC, students from this year’s cohort are helping him organize the event.
“Part of it is just contacting speakers, marketing, some finance work. I usually include other students to work with me, to make the load lighter and implement new ideas. We have staff support as well.” Antoine explained how important it is for him to ensure the quality of his symposium stays high and reflects the university's quality. “Because I’ve run it for four years, it’s easier for me to plan because I know the steps. I have to do this at this time, that at that time. But we are trying to grow it. We’ve reached out to high schools.” As for the future, “I have a lot of ideas. Expand it to a conference, competitions for solutions to problems, involving businesses. As of now, we’re primarily trying to bring environmental topics forward.”
When looking to the future, Antoine reflects on how he has faced uncertainty in the past, but pushed through. “I’m a pretty loyal planner, so switching my degree was a little bit of an uncertain time for me,” he explained. Years later, with his current job search during a pandemic, with fewer positions available, Antoine expresses some uncertainty as well. However, this innovative student returns to his refrain of pushing through, “I’m just going to keep persevering and looking for jobs and volunteer opportunities.” He sees Lethbridge as his permanent home and owns a house here with his wife. He enjoys staying active, by playing basketball with friends and going to the gym.
As a last piece of advice to students, Antoine adds, “If you’re going to come to the U of L take advantage of the chances and opportunities given to you, whether that is the GCC, independent studies, applied studies, co-op or volunteer experiences. They all matter for getting a job and expanding who you are and learning what you enjoy doing. Classes help with that, but I would recommend going outside of them as well. Connect with professors. If you make an effort to ask questions and talk to them, they will most likely reciprocate. That’s one huge aspect of the U of L. They care about you.”
From his environmental work, Antoine learned a simple lesson. “I think we can do things better. To pollute less and be more efficient with how we use resources. I think we have a responsibility to take care of the resources we use.”