Kate Corrigan still has blister scars from backpacking up to the base of Mount Robson during a high school field trip, but it was that first trek that sparked a passion for the great outdoors.
“For me, the outdoors is a place to disconnect, to reconnect. You’re away from the stress of work, school, social media, and you’re reconnecting with yourself, the landscape and the people around you. When you’re climbing and camping, you get to know someone in ways you wouldn’t otherwise.”
That Rocky Mountain high set her on a path to study at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus, and as Corrigan graduates this month with a bachelor of arts in environmental studies and looks to her future, she knows she very much wants to champion Canada’s natural beauty to others.
“I’d ultimately like to become a park planner or warden. Having a lifetime working outside in a national park would be a dream come true. Jobs like that are important to keeping parks accessible for generations to come, and everyone should have the opportunity to be outside and to explore and appreciate what Canada has to offer,” Corrigan said. “To allow everybody to connect with nature is important to me.”
Before enrolling at the U of A, Corrigan spent a year working in Jasper, Alta., while nurturing a growing curiosity about the surrounding wilderness of the majestic Jasper National Park.
“I wanted to know more about the natural landscape. Why does a mountain look that way? Why does an animal behave a certain way?”
That desire led her to the Augustana Campus degree program. Its strong outdoor education component caught her interest and, as it turned out, added to her wilderness education.
“I learned how to winter camp in minus 40, how to canoe, and got to dog-sled in the Northwest Territories—things I wouldn’t get to do otherwise.”
Her studies turned her into a well-rounded outdoorswoman.
“I studied my relationship with nature, the relationship nature has with surrounding organisms and the impacts nature faces in terms of climate change. It has made me more aware of the landscape surrounding me and what I can do to support the environment.”
Outstanding undergraduate research
Corrigan’s eagerness to appreciate and learn all she could took the form of several initiatives as an undergraduate student, including a research project on the effectiveness of parks interpretation programs, led by U of A professors Glen Hvenegaard and Elizabeth Halpenny and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Corrigan also had a scholarly paper published, investigating the impacts of COVID-19 on interpretive park programs. Along with Hvenegaard and Halpenny, she also contributed to a second paper on the topic.
Her work, which garnered her a U of A Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award, gave Corrigan an appreciation for the nuts and bolts of scientific research.
“It’s been incredible, learning what the research process is, how to write academically. And the research findings show how valuable parks are to other people, particularly those who use interpretation programs.”
Through her student work—making a video about the Augustana Miquelon Lake Research Station, tutoring and mentoring first-year students, and talking to school children about forest trees, parks and wilderness—Corrigan also earned a Certificate in Community Engagement and Service-Learning.
The projects amped up her appreciation for building connections with people. “I got to use my passion for the outdoors to teach fifth- and sixth-graders and get more involved on campus. I know what it means now to be a giving member of the community, to be supportive to others.”
Learning to build a community
Also heavily involved as the president of the Augustana Outdoors Club, Corrigan pushed herself as a leader, planning and guiding trips and events from start to finish. “It helped me become more confident in my skills and myself, and to lean on others for support. I’ve learned how we can build a community together.”
That sense of self-confidence will be valuable as she laces up her boots and moves from the classroom to working outdoors—starting with a job as an environmental education co-ordinator for a nature-based children’s camp this summer in Golden, B.C.
“I have this confidence in my abilities as an outdoor leader, as well as people skills—Augustana classes are small and connected, so relationships with my peers and professors are unique and helped me grow as a person,” Corrigan said.
“If I want to be an educator or a parks planner, I could be the smartest person in the world but I need to know how to communicate my ideas and listen to other ideas in order to be effective.”
Corrigan was supported as a student through the Jason Lang Scholarship, Glynne Jones Memorial Award, University of Alberta Undergraduate Scholarship, Centennial Food Service Award in Community Service Learning and a 2021 Augustana Leadership Award.