VIU announces 2016 QEII Scholars

Stephanie Govier burst into tears of joy and immediately called her mom. Kala Mackintosh still can’t sleep because of the excitement, and Haley Robinson recognized right away that she was just given a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

All three Vancouver Island University (VIU) senior undergraduates are recipients of VIU’s Building Resilience in Coastal Communities, Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarships (QES). Each scholarship provides funds to cover travel, tuition and living expenses for a three to six month internship in Belize, Central America.

They, along with 11 other VIU scholars and visiting scholars from Belize, were officially recognized at a ceremony held on the Nanaimo campus, Feb. 4.

After it was over the students were all smiles as they accepted hugs and high fives from VIU professors and administrators. Mackintosh enjoyed the event, but also knew the next day she would be getting right back to work preparing for the adventure to come. She’s scheduled to leave for Belize in May.

“When I heard I was selected I understood right away what a huge learning opportunity it was. When we go to Belize, we know there won’t be somebody there telling us what to do. We’re expected to be leaders of our own projects so it’s a bit intimidating. But I know I was picked for a reason, and I’m ready,” said Mackintosh.

Once they heard the good news they were instructed to start reviewing articles, looking over the research that’s been done in Belize and to learn about the culture and people. They were even provided an introductory handbook on how to survive in Belize. For Robinson, spending the last four years studying about geography and the environment all comes down to this.

“I was told I was awarded the scholarship in an email and I was too excited to finish reading it,” said Robinson.

“This is the best way I can imagine to complete my undergrad. It combines all my past experiences and will require all the skills I have to be successful. I can’t wait to get over there.”

The Feb. 4 event represents the first round of scholarship announcements. Over the next two years a total of 31 QES scholarships will be awarded to VIU and Belizean scholars who have demonstrated a strong commitment to research or studies that foster sustainable economic activity.

President of the Parksville-Qualicum Foundation, Wendy Carmichael, and Director of the Nanaimo Foundation, George Hanson, were on hand to congratulate the scholars. The two organizations made a significant financial contribution to the Building Resilience in Coastal Communities project. K’omoks First Nation, VIU’s World Leisure Centre of Excellence, and the National Association of Village Councils in Belize also partnered with VIU to bring this project to life. Their combined participation highlights the many levels of community engagement that the project has inspired.

VIU Education Abroad programs manager, Jennifer Sills, hosted the event. She says the challenges that face coastal communities across Vancouver Island and throughout Belize are similar yet deeply complex and mired in regional politics, histories, and the tricky business of balancing environmental sustainability and human rights with economic development. 

“Climate change and globalization are adding incredible pressures on sensitive coastal ecological areas. This creates challenges for communities to effectively manage water resources, food production, and economic activity while also striving to preserve cultural heritage and autonomy,” said Sills.       

“Through the Building Resilience in Coastal Communities project, our QE scholars will bring fresh perspectives and creative and innovative approaches to fostering collaboration within coastal communities, across borders and throughout the Commonwealth.”

Dr. Roy Young is the President of the Belize Institute for Local Development, a key community partner to the Building Resilience in Coastal Communities program. He was thrilled to be in Canada for the first time to join in the QES announcement celebration. When asked how he felt meeting the next group of VIU students who will soon be in Belize, he smiles.

“I feel so excited,” said Young. “These students get to see the world from a different perspective. They come to my country with open minds and I know the work we do together will change their lives. What young people need are real world challenges and situations to solve and we are providing them that opportunity through scholarship.”

He notes Belize and Vancouver Island are similar in size and population and both rely heavily on their coastal ecosystems. He says in their case, much of the land is below sea level which causes drainage and flooding challenges. Those challenges are intensified by the impacts of climate change. He says protecting coral reefs, maintaining sustainable tourism models, maritime issues, and coastal erosion are all issues that impact Belize.

“Sometimes we find ourselves too close to these problems. Sometimes what it takes is a fresh perspective, a new way of looking at things, and these students bring that,” said Young.

The relationship between VIU and Belize goes back to 1999 when a partnership was formed between VIU and the University of Belize to deliver a major fisheries project. The relationship has since broadened to include additional community partners and organizations, and provided VIU students and employees intercultural learning and community collaboration opportunities. Over the past 15 years VIU students from a diverse range of fields including forestry, education, biology, tourism, and physical education have attended field schools or successfully completed valuable internships with local organizations in Belize.

Along with the three QE undergraduate internship announcements, six VIU master’s program scholars will be leaving in May to conduct research in Belize. There are also five Belizean QE graduates who will arrive in September to start their graduate studies at VIU through the QE scholarship program.