MES alumni continue to inspire students during Anita McBride Luncheon

“Our alumni are in every environmental sector in Canada and making important contributions worldwide and we are so proud of them and their accomplishments,” said Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) Dean Noël Sturgeon as she introduced the 11th annual Anita McBride Luncheon held Oct. 18.

The event brought a panel of four master of environmental studies (MES) alumni who work in the fields of international finance, urban planning, First Nations treaty negotiation, and public policy, to share their career experiences and wisdom with current first-year MES students. Professor Emeritus Ted Spence moderated the session.

Left to right: Ted Spence, Babak Abbaszadeh, Anita McBride, Beth MacNeil, Noël Sturgeon, Charlene Lindsay and Peter Kulkarni
Left to right: Ted Spence, Babak Abbaszadeh, Anita McBride, Beth MacNeil, Noël Sturgeon, Charlene Lindsay and Peter Kulkarni

Well-spoken and representing diverse and interesting career paths, the alumni delivered inspiration to all the attendees.

“I came to FES with a background in finance and politics but I loved being exposed to the most advanced level thinking about the environment at the time,” said Babak Abbaszadeh (MES ’92) president and CEO of Toronto Centre, a non-profit organization committed to educating and improving capacity of financial regulators around the world.

“The interdisciplinary approach to learning in FES, where we were encouraged to ask questions and not be focused into any one silo, trained me to see the interconnected nature of the challenges we face and gave me thinking skills that have been invaluable in my leadership roles and in engaging with stakeholders throughout my career,” Abbaszadeh said.

Peter Kulkarni (MES ’04) represented the planning stream of MES as a manager for planning and development at Shoppers Drug Mart. One of his favourite parts of the program was connecting with his fellow students.

“At FES we were given so much freedom to explore our curiosity,” said Kulkarni. “I really enjoyed interacting with the people in my classes. I use those skills now on a daily basis, hearing everyone’s opinions and learning good ideas. FES taught me to be analytical and to think outside of the box. At the time, I was surprised by how much I had to read, but that love of reading has also stayed with me. Planning is an amazing profession because there is so much discourse on the subject and sharing of ideas.”

Charlene Lindsay (MES ’16), co-founder and president of SDNR for First Nations Consulting Group, enthused that the major research project (MRP) instead of the requirement of writing a paper was what drew her to the program – and she actually used the MRP to launch her current company.

“I wanted to make my research pro-active,” said Lindsay. “I used the MRP to start SDNR because I wanted to make a real impact in First Nations communities. We were recently awarded our first major funding in a $2.5-million grant for a four-year project to aggregate some northern communities, build eco-friendly housing, coach entrepreneurship and mining career skills and facilitate healing workshops. The scope of the project is huge and it was my training at York that gave me the confidence to pursue it.”

When asked to give advice to the first year students, Beth MacNeil (MES ’90), director-general of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, shared a concept that has been integral to her success in her 25-year career in public service.

“I call this the four Rs,” said MacNeil. “Our relationships above all enable success through our lives. Our reputation precedes us everywhere we go. We need to develop resilience and a portfolio of things we can do to help maintain ourselves in times of stress. And last but not least is reflection, especially in leadership positions our actions can have unintended consequences and reflection is key to understanding how we are perceived.”

FES Dean Noël Sturgeon presents Anita McBride with flowers
FES Dean Noël Sturgeon presents Anita McBride with flowers

An important piece of advice offered by all the speakers was to be ready to alter plans as conditions change. This was especially salient given that all the panelists had taken very different career paths before getting to where they are – and being flexible and adaptive were keys to their success.

Sturgeon concluded the panel by thanking Anita McBride, a committed FES volunteer and former director of the FES Office of Student & Academic Services, whose remarkable ongoing connection to FES alumni makes the event such a success.

A networking lunch followed the panel, and featured an even more diverse range of MES alumni in fields including corporate responsibility, sustainability, climate change, education, energy, planning, and food justice, among others.

Once again, the Anita McBride Luncheon demonstrated the real contribution MES alumni have made to society, their passion with giving back to the FES community, and all the exciting possibilities for current first-year MES students.