Emma Simard Provencal holding a Save the Bees sign

Leaving her mark beyond the classroom: Emma Simard-Provençal

July 15, 2022
Author: Eric Zimmer

Meet this year’s recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation

A passion for the environment, local food sustainability and a desire to get involved in making the world a better place were the core drivers of Emma Simard-Provençal’s extra-curricular activities at VIU.

However, the time, energy and work that she simultaneously put into her studies also paid dividends, and now Emma is balancing a professional career with community building.

Emma graduated this year from VIU’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and now works as pediatric nurse at BC Children’s Hospital.

At her convocation ceremony this past June, Emma was named this year’s recipient of VIU’s Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation, an award that recognizes a top graduating student who has excelled in their studies while positively contributing to life at VIU and/or in the broader community.

“Receiving this award made all my hard work seem not only recognized, but valued,” she says.

We caught up with Emma to get her further thoughts on the award, the program and her time at VIU. 

 What does receiving this award and recognition mean to you?

Receiving this award made all my hard work seem not only recognized but valued. I spent all four years of my time at VIU running two student clubs that worked hard to improve our Nanaimo campus and community. The VIU Eco Club, which I cofounded, focused on hands-on improvement of the environment through nature walks, clothing swaps, litter pickups, volunteering with local farms and habitat restoration. The VIU Community Peace Garden Club, which I took over in my last year, focused on teaching students how to grow their own food, upholding our Bee-Friendly campus designation, and enhancing knowledge of local food systems and pollinators. I helped initiate two large passion projects that will far outlast my time at VIU, and these gave me a more well-rounded education than classes alone ever could. I helped fundraise more than $2,000 for the Eco Club to create a Garry oak ecosystem at the top of campus where before there was just a hillside of grass and invasive species. Garry oak meadows are important ecosystems for local First Nations, but less than 5% of this beautifully biodiverse ecosystem remains. This project has many long-term goals, but we have already made significant strides with 62 native species planted to date. My hope is that the space and plants will continue to grow as new club members expand on what we started. As for the Garden Club, I helped secure $7,500 in funding to create a native edible ecosystem. We planted 31 native edible species, created signage in Hul’qumi’num, English and Latin, and organized various workshops on food security and gardening. We also created a document to share with students that lists each plant’s traditional uses, which was created in partnership with VIU’s Elder-in-Residence C-tasi:a - Geraldine Manson and renowned ethnobotanist Nancy Turner.

I may have sowed the seeds for these clubs (quite literally in some cases), but the benefits will be reaped by many. My hope is that these projects can continue growing for years to come and educate future students on local ecosystems, Indigenous knowledge systems, connecting with the Earth, and growing foods and medicines.

 What drew you to pursue your post-secondary education at VIU?

I chose to study at VIU for many reasons, but a lot of it came down to affordability and finances. Studying at VIU meant I could stay close to family, spend less on fees per semester and benefit from the amplitude of scholarships offered. I was also attracted by the smaller class sizes and the reputation of VIU's nursing program.

Can you tell us about any challenges you faced during your studies or otherwise, and how you overcame them?

One of the things I struggled with the most was balancing my studies with my extracurricular club involvement, especially when I was starting out. Time is a precious thing when you have an ever-growing list of readings, papers, and assignments, but I knew that I needed an outlet for my passion for environmental activism and I found that the time I dedicated to my clubs helped me destress from classwork. It certainly helped that my clubs were doing things like gardening and going on nature walks, though the organizational side of things still took a good chunk of my free time. I think what helped me achieve balance the most was finding a supportive team that I could lean on and giving myself permission to not have to do everything on my own. I met some of the greatest people through VIU clubs, and knowing they’ve got your back and are dealing with the same struggles really helps.

What’s next for you, education or career-wise, or both?

Career-wise, I’m now working as a pediatric nurse at BC Children’s Hospital. I hope to return back to the island and eventually try labour and delivery nursing as well. In terms of the environmental side of things, I took a brief hiatus to allow myself time to get settled into my new apartment and study for my licensing exam, but I’m eager to get back into it. It’s a whole different scene living in a bustling city, but I’ve already found a few community gardening groups and environmental advocacy networks that I plan to join. I’m excited to meet new like-minded individuals and pursue my passions again with renewed vigour. 

How do feel your time at VIU helped in your path towards achieving this goal?

The nursing program at VIU is a well-reputed and supportive program. The faculty and students went above and beyond to encourage and welcome everyone. Because of their support, I was able to finish my degree in four years and begin my career as a Registered Nurse immediately after graduation.

I don’t like to separate talking about my career from my environmentalism, because I see so many ways in which they can intersect and complement one another, but for now they have not become fully connected in my life. Before I started at VIU, my passion for environmentalism was just budding. Through the Parks Canada Club, I met my partner with whom I started the Eco Club. Through this club, I met dozens of other wonderful people and ended up taking on leadership of the Garden Club. These experiences ignited my passion, helped me learn new hobbies (like gardening, herbalism and picking up litter) and strengthened my desire to advocate for a better planet. 

What was the highlight of your time at VIU, and what has been the biggest takeaway? 

I’d have to say that the highlight of my university degree wasn’t the learning, though I’m very grateful for that. I’m most thankful for the people I met and the connections I made. I didn’t just gain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing; I left VIU with a life partner, a few lifelong friends and community connections that inspire me in my pursuit of creating a more sustainable future.

Anything else you would like to add?

Seeing the amazing work that student clubs can do, I’d love to put in a couple plugs. First, to the university, to continue finding ways to support and finance student projects, either by creating a funding program like some other universities where a portion of each student’s tuition goes towards student projects (e.g. 25 cents), or by spreading the word about projects that could use more people power. Secondly, even though I’ve graduated, the Garden Club and Eco Club are continuing on under new leadership. I want to encourage current and future students to join these clubs to try something new, meet new people, and explore another worldview. In this time of global climate crisis, the Earth can use all the help she can get, and there are so many ways you can support her. Through exploring resilient local food systems, planting a garden, supporting local pollinators and plant species most adapted to our climate, decreasing plastic pollution or banding together for a new project entirely, everyone can make a difference. It can be overwhelming, but you just need to remember: think globally, act locally.

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