Selkirk College Class of 2016 Valedictorian Brings Message of Passion to Graduates
A passion for protecting water resources is at the heart of Tanya Tran’s studies at Selkirk College and as the Class of 2016 valedictorian, the Integrated Environmental Planning Program student will bring some of that fervent energy to the graduation ceremony being held April 22.
Being first generation born Canadian, it was instilled in Tran the value of taking advantage of opportunity through hard work. Her parents came to Canada during the Vietnam War as refugees from that country.
“My parents came from a hard life during the war. They got shipped off on a boat here. My dad arrived here at 17 without much money in his pocket,” she says. “For me, I need to make sure I benefit the most I can from the opportunities they’ve given me.”
Born and raised in Ottawa, Tran went on to study at McGill University in Montreal where she achieved her Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology with a focus on Fresh Water & Marine Sciences. She also did field studies component that took her to Panama for four months to study with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
After graduation, Tran worked at Environment Canada for a short while and then moved to Halifax with her boyfriend to enjoy East Coast living while he was finishing his studies. The couple returned to Ottawa for a year and then decided it was time to return to school.
“I knew I needed to go back to school,” she says. “I had all these wonderful theories that I was taught and these beautiful philosophies that are still in my head but I had no way to apply them.”
The Right Place at the Right Time
Tran chose Selkirk College after visiting the school’s website exploring options in the School of Environment & Geomatics.
“I’ve always been interested in being that interface between science and policy, and learning to be that middleman who speaks both languages,” she says.
Tran had never heard of Selkirk College or the West Kootenay, but together she and her boyfriend decided coming to British Columbia would be a fantastic move. And it was.
Not only has Tran had a valuable post-graduate learning experience, campus life in Castlegar has been equally enriching. The 25-year-old has taken every opportunity to be engaged in the Selkirk College community. Tran is part of the Student Ambassador Program and also works as a peer tutor. She organizes informal activities for her classmates such as hikes or cross-country ski trips and often shows up for field trips with a plate of cookies to share.
“At McGill, you have the people within your program but there are 20,000 other students around you and you don’t know one face from another,” she says. “Here, I have a different mentality. If I want to succeed, I want everyone to succeed with me. What is success without your community with you?”
Being involved in campus life brings the simple reward of recognizing faces in the hallways, but it also solidifies skills at the heart of Tran’s chosen field. Tutoring students has her honing her communication skills.
“It’s taught me how I can communicate different ideas to different people,” she says. “When you are surrounded by science nerds all day, we talk the same lingo and we understand each other. But to talk with someone without the same background, trying to explain something science-y, you have to change your language… In environmental planning, I want to be able to explain something to a broad audience.”
A Passion for the Planet
For Tran, helping people comes from the heart as does her love for the environment and need to help the earth and its waterways.
“Our streams and rivers are our lifeblood of our earth,” she says. “There is something really nice about the connection of rivers. They don’t stop at boundaries. They connect different landscapes and they connect people together. People need it to survive. Animals need it to survive.”
Tran grew up near the Ottawa Canal and did extensive research in Southern Quebec where the water is substantially different from the pristine West Kootenay waterways. Experiencing this “blue gem” further inspires the student to continue working tirelessly toward water conservation.
“There’s something very tangible about touching water and being in it. You can feel that the water is coming from 400 kilometers up on a glacier that’s been melting for thousands of years,” she says. “Here there is hope for me as a young environmentalist reaching out.”
Tran’s involvement in the community goes beyond the Selkirk College campus as she’s made a connection with Salmo Streamkeepers where she works advocating for protection of water resources.
“Working with them has been fantastic,” she says. “This is the first time I’ve seen real change. I can see the product of my efforts. This is ground-up community work. Planting 100 plants down by the river, that’s change that people can feel, that community can get involved in. It’s change people can feel closer to their heart when they can see it happening there.”
Tran has attended conferences through Salmo Streamkeepers including the Columbia Mountain Institute’s Regulated Rivers event, the Columbia Basin Watershed Network Conference and she has also volunteered with the Kootenay Native Plant Society.
Tran plans to continue her work with Salmo Streamkeepers after graduation because she finds it truly rewarding. Even though her income from this job isn’t substantial, the experience is worth it, she says.
“I get paid to put things into the soil and watch them grow. I did Bull Trout walks along the creek for 10 kilometres, seeing this whole ecosystem that no one has ever seen before,” she says. “I have to do what I love. I’ve gone too far now building my values to compromise them at this point.”
The Selkirk College Graduation 2016 Ceremony will take place in the afternoon at the Castlegar Campus on Friday, April 22.