As a passionate volunteer, animal lover, and researcher, Amanda Dickson is always looking for ways to be more involved in the Calgary community. From spending her time collecting data to improve the quality of life for animals at the Calgary Zoo to assisting as a dog trainer with the City of Calgary and fostering dogs and cats through the Pets for Life Society of Alberta — we think it’s safe to say that Amanda loves animals.
Currently, she is finishing her MSc in Geography at the University of Calgary and was recently awarded the Charles Labatiuk Scholarship through Nature Canada for her work on a study aimed at promoting the peaceful co-existence between humans and coyotes.
“My long-term goals include working to improve the lives of humans and wildlife through environmental sustainability, multidisciplinary research that values diverse perspectives and sources of knowledge, and public education that inspires and encourages people to develop a passion for nature,” Dickson tells us.
As if that wasn’t enough, she has also been fortunate to be a part of many amazing projects. She’s studied black howler monkeys in Belize, Mona monkeys in Ghana, black-tailed prairie dogs and Richardson’s ground squirrels in Saskatchewan, and various species here in Calgary with the Calgary Zoo.
Dickson is currently in pursuit of her next big project, but in the meantime, she sat down with us to tell us a little bit about her relationship with the city, her journey growing up here, and how it influenced her work today.
What was your experience growing up in Calgary?
“I grew up near Fish Creek Park, and I spent my childhood collecting bugs, learning about plants, watching the river to see if I could spot any minnows and reading under the shade of many different types of trees. The park is where my passion for nature first grew, and it sparked in me a desire to discover even more about our planet. I have always had a strong passion for learning, and when I wasn’t outside, I spent much of my time at the Calgary Public Library. The library provided me with the resources I needed to expand my world and I read about absolutely anything that I could think of. The library also helped connect me with the greater city through free programs it offered on wide-ranging topics including music and the arts, gardening, city resources such as employment services and computer skills, and festivals and events where I learned about the diversity of cultures that make up our city. I believe that Calgary is a good place to grow up, and I was lucky to have been introduced to these resources that helped to create opportunities for me to learn and pursue my passions.”
What makes it feel like home?
“Calgary feels like home to me because of the many connections I’ve built here. From the friendly bus driver who always remembered my name and asked me how my studies were going when I took the last bus of the night home from university, the women who stopped to help me when I had car trouble in a blizzard, and the many, many strangers who smile and wave when you pass them on the street, all the way to the large communities of volunteers I’ve worked with at the Calgary Zoo and the University of Calgary; I believe it is the people who make this city feel like home.”
What do you love about the community?
“I love that there are many individuals and organizations within Calgary looking to build better lives for people in the city. The Calgary Public Library offers many free programs aimed at public education, connecting Calgarians with their city and helping newcomers feel welcome and find resources. Festivals such as the Chinese New Year Festival and Beakerhead help to connect people with new cultures, ways of thinking and ideas, which builds capacity for stronger communities. Programs such as the Leftovers Foundation are working to break down barriers to accessible food resources and to reduce food waste in Calgary as well as Canada as a whole, helping to improve the lives of people while also solving environmental issues. I believe that the City of Calgary is full of compassionate and dedicated people who are working every day to build a better and stronger community.”
How are you involved?
“I am passionate about volunteering and believe that it provides many benefits, both on a personal and community level. I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in my community through many exciting volunteer positions. I have volunteered with the Calgary Zoo for over 6 years, while also volunteering as an assistant dog trainer and with the City of Calgary to help people and their pets learn to use dog parks safely. Additionally, I have provided foster care for dogs and cats with the Pets for Life Society Alberta to help prepare animals to be placed with owners and to educate owners so that they can provide the best possible life for their pets.
This past year I have also pursued activities where I can apply my knowledge within the community. With the University of Calgary, I have worked as a member of several multidisciplinary teams to improve volunteer retention at a social not-for-profit based in Calgary, designed a proposal for the university to reduce its paper waste by 2030, and I’m currently working with a team to develop an app to optimize food distribution between local small-scale farms and consumers in Calgary, improving agricultural sustainability and community access to fresh foods.”
How have Calgarians supported you?
“The community within Calgary has provided me with many opportunities to grow. From education provided by organizations such as the Calgary Public Library, talks and workshops through the University, opportunities to learn from groups like the Friends of Fish Creek Park and Grow Calgary, and the skills and training I learned while volunteering, I owe so much to my community.”
What do you feel Calgary is struggling with?
“I believe that the Calgary community is coming to terms with some of the most important realizations of our time: that we need to build a strong and unbreakable respect for all life on our planet. First, from a purely anthropocentric viewpoint, nature provides ecosystem services that are important to human health and well-being. Simply put, we cannot survive without nature. However, its importance cannot be measured simply by the value it provides to people. I believe that by cultivating a passion for the natural world, we will be better able to build compassion for our fellow humans.”
What does community mean to you?
“In its simplest form, a community is a group of people who work together to build better lives. A community respects diversity and welcomes the unique viewpoints of its members to build strength and resiliency. A community also makes sure to support and uplift all of its members so that everyone can succeed together.”
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