Celeste Welch, 2016 Finalist

Celeste Welch, 2016 Finalist

CELESTE WELCH
AGE: 20    
HOMETOWN: Montreal, QC

When Celeste first arrived at McGill University, she noticed that the student body was unaware of climate change and its impacts. Since then, McGill’s “most active environmentalist”, with six different paid and unpaid positions, has worked tirelessly to change the tide on campus and in Montreal.

"Other people have hobbies. I have this," she says.

As a child, Celeste’s parents exposed her to nature and helped her understand that she was a part of it. She had the opportunity to see amazing sites in Canada, the USA and South America, and was able to learn about the health of the regions she travelled to and lived in.

She also was immediately drawn to research and spent countless hours in her father’s labs, and started volunteering at the Audubon Society at a young age. As early as kindergarten, Celeste would sneak off to the library to read books in the environmental section.

Reflecting on her own childhood, Celeste comments that nature provides children with awe. She believes we are a part of our ecosystems, but that some of us lose sight of the wonder of nature and our connection to it as we grow older. The best strategy for tackling this disconnect and conserving our environment, Celeste says, is first hand experience. Because of this, she has started a new initiative to reconnect Montreal residents to nature.

Recently, Celeste received a grant from WWF Canada with support from other nonprofits and McGill organizations that will help her create this firsthand experience for students on her campus. The grant will fund a project of her own making that helps students to be connected to the environment through scientific observation and naturalism. The project involves educating students and residents about the importance of indigenous species and the maintenance of biological composition of surrounding natural areas by physically getting people involved in research and observation projects. Additionally, a second project with McGill Community Plots helps students to get experience growing their own food.  These programs remind students of their interconnection with their environment and helps them nurture their relationship with nature.

“People always think that you can either be a molecular biologist or an ecologist - you can either look at genes or at trees, but I disagree. I think that environmental and ecological research needs geneticists, biotechnologists and chemists. Until this idea is recognized, we risk discouraging thousands of young people from ever considering applying their talents to ecological and environmental research” she says.

Celeste plans to stay in school and get a PhD in biology, while continuing to work at WWF or other conservation groups. In the future, she would like to work as a professor while doing innovative and creative research. According to Celeste, students often consider medicine the only route when they study the life sciences. She would like to show them that that’s not the case. She believes that environmentalists are on a heroic career path to save humanity in the long run.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Celeste completed research at McGill University that investigated the bioaccumulation and ecosystem impacts of mining and smelting on seals and whales.

  • When she was just 18 years old, Celeste got an internship with WWF Canada, where she is still working.

  • Celeste has also done work for the McGill Ecological and Evolutionary Genomics lab, the Student Environmental Action Network, Divest McGill, Greenpeace McGill, the ECOLE project, the McGill Energy Association, Enactus McGill, the Sustainability Network, Friends of the Mountain, and has volunteered with the David Suzuki Foundation, Equiterre and Greenpeace.


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