U of A’s Augustana students help create climate resilience solutions in Camrose

Class project puts students’ academic skills into action in the community.


Augustana Campus students Kailyn Hofman, Marissa Degenstein, Leah Peters and Michelle Turgeon discuss their work for the City of Camrose with professor Greg King, pictured left to right. Their project was one of several aimed at helping the municipality build resiliency to climate change. (Photo: Sydney Tancowny)

University of Alberta students in Camrose are helping their community plan for better resilience against climate-related hazards. 

Third-year Augustana Campus undergraduates teamed up with the City of Camrose to research and develop strategies in response to a Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (CRVA) recently conducted by the municipality.

Their work will help guide next steps for the municipality as it proactively prepares for the effects of extreme weather on its public services and infrastructure. This project stems from a course called AUIDS 301: Community Partnership Project, one of a series of core courses that are mandatory for all Augustana students.

“The work these students are doing is having a direct and meaningful impact on preparing both the municipality and our citizens to be more resilient to climate change,” says Patricia MacQuarrie, general manager of community development for the City of Camrose.

“By tackling some of the most important actions right away, they’re significantly advancing our work on the recommendations of the CRVA.” 

Camrose, like other western Canadian municipalities, now faces regular risks, such as drought, heat waves, high winds and wildfire smoke. There was a need for the city to create or amend its policies, MacQuarrie explains. “As a municipality, we are just starting to investigate what the future of climate change looks like and how that is going to affect our infrastructure and people.”

Student projects tackle emerging needs

Working with MacQuarrie’s team, other city officials and several community groups, the 48 students involved with the Community Partnership Project tackled 10 topics emerging from needs identified by the assessment. 

Students called on skills learned in the classroom to approach projects including developing wildfire and smoke response plans, a communications plan for advance public warning of extreme weather hazards like tornadoes, and identifying climate-tolerant trees and plants. 

They also formulated safety policy recommendations for organizers of large community events like music festivals, and developed information for the city’s website to help residents understand and better prepare for local effects of climate change, such as extreme weather.

The projects gave the students a way to serve the community while building their professional skills, says Augustana Campus professor Greg King, who oversaw their work.

“They needed to engage with external partners and figure out how to address their asks” he says. “The process involved applying many of their academic skills: looking at case studies and scientific literature, analyzing their research and putting it in a context that makes sense locally.”

The projects were based on the city’s goal of addressing the effects of climate change on infrastructure, but also its effects on social and civic life, MacQuarrie says. 

“Doing that will help us be more prepared as a municipality to help people in an emergency situation,” she says. “And it will help citizens be more prepared as we move through climate change scenarios.” 

One of the student projects, for example, focused on how the city can improve its communication and work more closely with social support groups serving seniors, unhoused residents, people with disabilities and people living in low-income households, to help them respond to climate change and extreme weather events.

“We want to make sure these vulnerable populations are included in any proactive and responsive information that the rest of the city residents get,” says Kailyn Hofman, one of four students who worked on the issue.

They created a communications network to streamline that flow of information, detailing how the city could more effectively share extreme weather messaging using a “working group method,” Hofman says.

“Social service organizations serving similar demographics would collaborate to provide city resources to their clients. As trusted sources for vulnerable people, they know firsthand the needs of their clients and how to reach them.”

The plan devised by the students promotes two-way communication between the city and the community’s human support service groups, Hofman adds.

“The information could move both ways through the network, to guide city policy and how it’s communicated.”

Making better policy

Policymaking related to using city infrastructure is also becoming more important, particularly this year, due to Alberta’s dry winter, McQuarrie notes.

Located within the Battle River Watershed — the only one in the province that isn’t glacier-fed — Camrose is solely reliant on precipitation, which means, “this year we are preparing for drought, and the risk of water scarcity,” she says.

One of the more pressing projects the students tackled was how to educate the public about water conservation.

Biology student Ayra McCarthy and her four classmates reviewed the city’s existing water use and conservation policies and drafted recommendations for updates, with the goal of boosting the community’s resilience during parched conditions. 

“We’ve looked at policies the city has already put in place and how we can make them better,” she says.

Ideas include using more technology such as apps and website postings to let residents know about any water restrictions, improving overall outreach.

They also hope to present an action plan that not only reflects the city’s current regulations and restrictions on water use during emergency drought conditions, but also builds in “more gradual steps,” McCarthy says.

The idea is to promote what people can do outside of dry conditions to use water more efficiently, such as replacing lawns with drought-tolerant plants and investing in rain barrels, she says.

“Taking a more proactive approach communicates to residents and businesses that there are things they can do in their own lives to help mitigate harm from drought,” McCarthy notes.

The students’ work will be put to immediate use on the city’s website offering guidance for residents and businesses on how to become more resilient to climate change, says MacQuarrie. 

Their recommendations will also help the city incorporate that resiliency in their policies, guiding everything from issuing licenses for outdoor concerts, to establishing safety thresholds for city employees working outdoors in extreme weather. 

The students’ work has been “exceptional,” MacQuarrie adds. “They’ve been amazing in working with us to assist in real-world problem solving, and because they haven’t been part of the municipal working environment, they brought fresh perspectives.”

Students apply their skills to real-life situations

The hands-on, community-level work gave her group a chance to expand skills in working “outside the academic sphere,” says Hofman, who is studying for a combined degree in science and education

“It’s been a great experience communicating with different professionals and groups outside the classroom environment; they have unique perspectives we could learn from. We’ve been able to apply our academic research and approaches to real-life, practical situations.” 

Presenting their final recommendations to city officials this week at Augustana’s annual showcase event, the students hope their work makes a difference for the community. 

“As a student, it’s a non-traditional experience to have your work mean something beyond you,” says McCarthy. “It’s bigger than a grade we are getting back, it’s going out into the community and it's not just for us anymore.” 

As the students graduate, they can point to these examples of their work for future employment opportunities, King says. “They now have the ability to say they tackled these projects and know how to work in this environment.”

The project with the city was one of four completed through AUIDS 301 this year, with the other three involving local partnerships with an education authority, food producers and a museum. 

King sees potential for future similar collaborations.

“With Augustana Campus situated right here in the community, our students can bring a lot to those efforts.”