Passion for water and community building
When you're passionate about what you're studying, it doesn't seem like work at all.
That's what Sarah Gibson learned as a student in the Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science program at Royal Roads University. Gibson achieved the highest grade point average in an undergraduate program in 2011, winning her the Governor General's Silver Medal at fall convocation.
Gibson also won the Chancellor’s Award for having the highest academic standing in her program, the President’s Scholar Award for graduating with distinction in the top 10 per cent of her graduating class and the McTaggart-Cowan Excellence in Project Leadership Award for her strong leadership skills in her program.
"I really love learning and I really love science," says Gibson, who previously studied arts at Simon Fraser University and completed a water quality technology diploma at Okanagan College.
Before attending Royal Roads, Gibson worked at a drinking water treatment facility on the Sunshine Coast, where she is from. It was a family friend working in water treatment who first turned her on to the industry; Gibson wasn't sure what she wanted to do in her career and the friend noticed a lack of trained people in the field. It was a small suggestion that made a huge difference in Gibson's professional path.
"I love chemistry and biology and water treatment has all of that. You have the chemistry of treating the water and you have the biology of what grows in the water," says Gibson, adding that she comes from a family of people who work in social services, another interest of hers and something her chosen field of work allows her to touch on. "You're doing science all day, but you're contributing a huge service to your community as well. Sustainability and community planning is definitely something I'm really interested in."
A desire to build on her education and experience brought Gibson to Royal Roads, where she excelled and left an impression on her professors, her fellow students and members of the community.
"Sarah is one of those quiet leaders in the class. She's not easily ruffled and she has a really nice ability to bring out the best in others," says Mickie Noble, director of the School of Environment and Sustainability. "She brought a calm community leadership to the classroom."
On top of her heavy course load, Gibson volunteered with school's science outreach program, which offers elementary students hands-on learning in the lab. "She had a really nice way of dealing with the kids," Noble says.
Noble and the other professors in the School of Environment and Sustainability weren't the only ones impressed with Gibson. Her work ethic and energy were also noticed by Melissa Piasta, an environmental co-ordinator with Public Works and Government Services Canada, Environmental Services. Piasta sponsored Gibson's major group project at the Esquimalt Graving Dock. The nine-month consulting project for the federal government involved exploring "shore power," plugging in the big ships so they don't have to be running their generators and releasing diesel emissions.
"In all of our meetings, Sarah was always very well prepared, had very well thought out questions and was really willing to listen and take my recommendations," says Piasta, who graduated from the Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science program in 2002.
When a colleague of Piasta's at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) was looking for a keen recent grad for a contract position, Piasta immediately thought of Gibson. "Sarah was very calm and positive and easy to get along with," Piasta says. "I thought her personality and work ethic would be a good fit with the DFO."
Gibson wasn't looking for work right away, but eagerly accepted the job when she got the call while on a biking trip in Kelowna. "Water is something that I'm passionate about," Gibson says. "I'm really excited to check out the oceans side of that."