Keefer Ecological Services Ltd. (British Columbia)

“Interpreters and gatherers of science”: Working on multidisciplinary environmental projects

Emma standing in front of a wall of wood and cement.

Science Horizons intern Emma Cooke. Photo credit: Keefer Ecological Services Ltd.

Emma Cooke’s application for a position at Keefer Ecological Services Ltd. (KES) arrived out of the blue, says its president and founder Michael Keefer. But it was fortuitous because the Cranbrook, B.C., consulting company was working on a major environmental assessment and needed to hire a biologist.

An outdoor enthusiast, Cooke had recently graduated with a degree in Environmental and Conservation Sciences from the University of Alberta and wanted to move to British Columbia. She had secured pre-approval for a BioTalent Canada Science Horizons Youth Internship, funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada and this information was on her resume.

Being hired by KES was a win-win for Cooke. A keen skier and mountain biker, she had long wanted to live in a mountain town. She was also intrigued by the work the 17-year-old company was doing, especially its wildlife biology portfolio and its partnerships with Indigenous communities. Her internship began in September 2020 and at the end KES hired her fulltime as a junior scientist.

Being pre-approved for the wage subsidy meant that she had a bit of a “one-up” when contacting companies without formal job postings, she says. “I was confident in myself and in my abilities but it was a hard period with the pandemic starting so I was super happy when Mike got in touch with me,” she says. “It was great finding someone who fit so well with my interests and values. We connected off the bat.”

Cooke grew up in a family that valued camping and outdoor experiences and she was immersed in nature from an early age. Those experiences sparked her curiosity for learning more about biology and ecosystems but channeling that interest into a career didn’t occur to her until university. In her third year she transferred into environmental sciences which she calls one of those “Aha!” moments.

KES’s services include multidisciplinary project coordination, research and development, and green business development. Clients include First Nations communities, government and industry—especially the mining sector. Its staff includes wildlife and fisheries biologists, engineers, geoscientists, archeologists, and other professionals.

Emma Cooke doing fieldwork on a snowy mountain.

Science Horizons intern Emma Cooke doing field work in British Columbia. Photo credit: Keefer Ecological Services Ltd.

“We position ourselves as interpreters and gatherers of science,” says Keefer, who is also an adjunct professor at Royal Roads University, in Colwood, B.C. There he helped create the “Growing Our Futures” native plant horticulture training program designed for First Nations students. Because of the pandemic, in 2021 elements of this curriculum were delivered online. It received very favourable feedback, he says.

Cooke thoroughly enjoys the variety of work at KES although she was a bit overwhelmed at first, she says. Her responsibilities have included research, reporting and field work support on projects such as bat monitoring in mines and assessing climate change impacts on plant species valued by First Nations groups.

Recently, she took on the geographic information system (GIS) mapping work for the company and loves it. “It’s such a neat way of visualizing data in a way that’s easily understandable,” she says. She believes her skills as an artist help her appreciate the work from a creative point of view. She is also interested in pursuing further studies in this field.

“It’s been a great learning experience,” she says. I think the independence I’ve been given working for Keefer has really strengthened my confidence.”

KES has hired several interns with Science Horizons support over the past decade. Keefer considers it one of the government’s best subsidy programs because it helps recent graduates get their first jobs. When hiring, he seeks nimble, creative minds with a bit of entrepreneurial drive. He also looks for people who will fit in well.

“Emma’s main contribution is she’s a great member of the team,” he says. “She’s really good on basically everything we put her on.”

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