Convocation ‘23: Brett Friesen, BSc Environmental Earth Science Specialization

Donna McKinnon - 08 June 2023


Gathering experience, inside and outside the classroom, has always been a priority for Brett Friesen. 

As a student in the environmental earth science specialization program, Brett has taken advantage of the many field schools and internships the Faculty of Science offers, including several field schools in the Rockies, and one very memorable excursion to Costa Rica. 

These hands-on learning opportunities were unique, says Brett, adding that he always had a great time learning geologic skills that were transferable to other field schools and to life in general. 

On the Dean’s Honor Roll for each of his four years, Brett was also an avid volunteer and local and international community builder, serving as finance executive for the PS Warren Geological Society and as an executive member of the Students’ Union Sustainability committee. 

After interning in British Columbia, Brett travelled to Bonn, Germany through the U of A’s German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and was able to implement a project establishing connections between land use, pollution and biodiversity. He received the DAAD RISE and Mitacs Globalink Scholar award, which provides funding to the top 100 Canadian applicants to the RISE program out of over 1400 applicants, to complete his research in Germany. 

In August, Brett will be in Ghana conducting research on how to incorporate green and inclusive development into the country's economy.

Congratulations Brett!

What led you to choose your current area of study, and why the U of A for your studies?

While growing up, I was fortunate enough to experience lots of nature through outdoor clubs, family road trips, and from visiting my grandparents' farm. I had some incredibly supportive high school teachers who provided me with opportunities to travel and further my education. These experiences piqued my interest and gave me the necessary background to get into environmental earth science. I ultimately decided to move to Alberta and study at the University of Alberta because of my program's international ranking, my faculty's financial support offer, and because I could drive between Edmonton and my hometown within 10 hours.

What is one of your favourite memories from your time at the U of A?

My favourite memory from the U of A is hanging out with friends on and around campus. I've spent many evenings at Dewey's playing pool and chatting with friends. Campus itself and the surrounding neighbourhoods are beautiful, and there are lots of great restaurants, bars and parks to relax at after a stressful day of classes and assignments.

Tell us about your favourite professor and/or class.

Throughout my undergrad I've completed two geology field schools in the Rockies, one urban planning field school in Edmonton, and one environmental earth science field school in Costa Rica. These hands-on learning opportunities were unique and always a great time. 

The second year geology field school was especially fun, since we spent 12 days camping in the Rockies conducting geologic field mapping. This involved a lot of hiking, sightseeing and learning, all of which I greatly enjoyed. I regularly use the outdoor and geologic skills that I was taught in that field school.

Did you take on any leadership roles while you were a student? If so, please share your experiences.

I've had the opportunity to serve as finance executive for the PS Warren Geological Society, where I managed the club's finances. I was part of the UASU Sustainability committee, where I collaborated with peers to propose a series of environmental, social and economic recommendations to increase campus sustainability. I served as an executive for the Western Inter University Geosciences Convention, however that position was cut short due to the pandemic. I've also been involved with a number of other clubs through volunteering at individual events. These experiences have shaped my worldviews and greatly developed my professional skills.

Did you face any significant obstacles or challenges during your program?

The most significant challenge of my undergrad was the COVID-19 pandemic. It cut my second academic year short and disrupted my summer plans. I had originally planned to spend the summer in the Northwest Territories, as I had received funding from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council to conduct research on permafrost there. However because of travel restrictions, I changed my project to focus on climate change resilience in groundwater sustainability for Epcor Utilities in Edmonton. The following fall, rather than return to online courses, I decided to move to BC and work in Water Quality Research and Development for Teck Resources. This work experience was supported by the U of A's Science Internship Program and ECO Canada. Although the pandemic was a challenging time, I made the best of it by spending it developing my academic and industry skills.

What advice do you have for current and future students?

My advice for current and future students is to try your best at becoming involved in university life; there's a lot more to an undergrad than simply showing up to classes. Join clubs, talk to your classmates, attend networking events, and go to conferences. This is how you'll make friends and really excel at university. The Undergraduate Students Digest has many opportunities that you can be involved in, so make sure to look through it every week; this is how I found most of my volunteer positions. More so, ask your professors for opportunities. Most of them want to help you succeed outside of the classroom, and they often have opportunities and paid research positions available that aren't widely advertised.

Last summer I completed a fully funded soil biodiversity research project at the University of Bonn, Germany. While it was through the DAAD, I only found out about the opportunity by speaking with one of my professors in Canada. 

How do you plan on celebrating convocation?

I enjoy traveling and learning about other cultures, so I'm currently celebrating convocation by traveling around Southeast Asia for a month.

What's next after graduation?

When I return to Canada, I'd like to spend lots of the summer in Saskatchewan catching up with family. I enjoy nature so I have plans to spend a week in the Rockies camping with a friend. I also plan on visiting some friends in Ontario and Quebec. I recently found out that I was accepted to an International Seminar in West Africa; I'll be spending August in Ghana conducting research on how to incorporate green and inclusive development into the country's economy. After that, I'm not sure what I'll do. I'd like to eventually get a masters and work in environmental policy, though that's a long way ahead.