Andrea Johancsik has always admired the natural world, something that led to a degree in environmental science and a career as a conservation specialist. But not seeing any immediate positive benefits from that work has been difficult for her, so now she’s working to change that by finding ways to connect human health to her work with the environment.

One of her first memories that sparked her love for the outdoors is being at her family’s simplistic cottage at Murray Lake. It’s her idea of “one of the most beautiful places in Alberta.” Her family also loved to travel, going skiing as many times as possible no matter the weather. Johancsik spent three years living in Australia from age nine to twelve.

That passion for the outdoors ultimately led her to complete an environmental science degree at Queens University in Ontario. She learned that the environment was at risk when she first started her degree.

“In the first couple of years you start learning some pretty shocking stuff about the environment and environmental systems globally,” says Johancsik.

Being in a program of 60, Johancsik felt like she was in “the only program that’s really understanding and learning about it, so you’re even the smaller subset of an educated population.” This made her feel a huge weight on her shoulders, inspiring her to make a change wherever she could.Andrea Johancsik posing with a bear skull in the lower library and archive room at the Alberta Wilderness Association in the old Hillhurst Cottage School. Photo by Kaeliegh Allan.

Sean Doherty, a close friend of Johancsik’s from Queens, says she does her best to promote environmental health by getting people thinking and talking about the issue.

“Influencing other people’s ideas and instilling a general motivation to think about the environment,” says Doherty.

Since university Johancsik has been evolving her leadership qualities in a field of work that allows her voice to be heard by a broader audience. She now works with the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), a non-profit organization located in Calgary. The AWA started as a charitable society in 1965 and is dedicated to wildlife and wilderness conservation.

Johancsik says this is the type of job that utilizes her talents best.

“It’s a continuous learning type of job… and you have to be really flexible,” says Johancsik.

Being a conservation specialist also comes with daily challenges. One of the biggest, Johancsik explains, is that you can’t immediately see the results of your work. What’s worse, is people don’t seem to care.

“Conservation is always the last thing on people’s radar,” says Johancsik

She now finds difficulty in giving herself credit for the work she has done because the progress is so gradual.

While working for the AWA she has noticed that other coworkers experience the same sense of discouragement.

“They go into non-profits because they truly care about the issues and spend all their free time thinking about it.”

But Johancsik has chosen to stay positive and explains that personal time is just as important to her as giving all her energy towards the environment.

Andrea Johancsik browses through environmental files in the library at the Alberta Wilderness Association. Photo by Kaeliegh Allan.

“Find time for yourself because you’ll ultimately contribute better if you’re taking care of yourself,” says Johancsik.

Now, Johancsik is starting to work towards a more personal goal.

“[I want to] connect human health with environmental decisions.”

She first realized that this needed to happen when she learned about the health and societal issues that come from the cosmetic industry. Most cosmetics are made from petroleum products that are detrimental to the health of our natural world.

Johancsik makes her own body lotions with natural products, grows as much of her own food as she can and won’t drive her car unless she has to.

“I’m conscious of it every day… just [doing] little things is where it starts for everyone,” says Johancsik about her personal impacts on the environment.

Despite her distress with the recent American presidential election and her fear that environmental issues may not progress the way she wants, she is heartened that the connection between human health and environmental health is already being made by the public.

“I’m not the only one thinking of it and if I can build more relationships with people that are thinking the same way then yeah, we’ll be able to make a difference,” says Johancsik.

 kallan@cjournal.ca

 The editor responsible for this piece is Bigoa Machar and can be contacted at bmachar@cjournal.ca