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Britt McKee

Britt McKee

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Britt McKee

Executive Director, EcoSource

Master in Environmental Studies 2011

"We need a groundswell of action to achieve the change required for a sustainable future, so everything you do – no matter how big or small – contributes to the greater good...It is this diversity of perspectives that will help us come up with the best solutions."

What made you choose your program at York University? Why did you decide on your major?

While I was completing my undergraduate degree in visual art, I had the opportunity to participate in the community arts certificate program (now the Certificate in Cultural and Artistic Practice for Environmental and Social Justice) led by the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change. This program encouraged me to combine my passion for the arts with my commitment to environmental and social change and inspired me to use my skills as an artist to help build more sustainable and connected communities.

After graduating with my Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2009, I decided to continue this learning by completing the Master in Environmental Studies. What excited me most about this program was the ability to create my own self-directed plan of study that synthesized my interdisciplinary interests in the arts, environment, and education. This interdisciplinary approach is something I am passionate about and believe is necessary to achieve a sustainable future.    

Britt on the Job

What experiences from York helped shape your career journey?

What was most valuable for me was the on-the-ground experience I gained during my graduate studies. I appreciated having the flexibility to develop my own plan of study which balanced coursework with real world experience putting my learning into practice. I remember having such powerful learning experiences in class, but it was the thoughtful mentorship of my professors, particularly my research advisor, Sarah Flicker, that really encouraged my personal growth and development. I found myself studying arts-based research methods, popular education, and public policy, and I was immediately hooked on exploring the intersections between what I was learning and how these ideas could be applied together in transformational ways. My advisor’s support for my creative approach was also something that really resonated with me. She helped me see how my background in the arts could be used not only as a tool for community engagement but also as a way to advocate for change.

Over the course of the program, I had the opportunity to lead two community-based art projects that amplified the voices of youth in the community - one supporting youth with exceptionalities to make a public mural celebrating diversity and a zine project with tweens about relationships and their school environment. I learned more from the participants in those projects than any textbook. They taught me the value of listening to, learning from, and supporting the leadership of youth and other members of the community in working towards social and environmental change, which is one of the most important lessons that continues to guide my work.

Describe a project you are working/worked on that you feel contributed to positive change. How would you describe the work involved to execute the project? Why are you proud of the project?

As Executive Director of Ecosource*, I apply my diverse skills and passions to promote environmental education in the Region of Peel. It is difficult to choose just one project that I am proud of because there are so many. I have seen the power of community-based action through building new community gardens, working with students on environmental campaigns, and engaging residents in creating vibrant green spaces with multiple ecological and social benefits. When I think back on the highlights of my career, it is this hands-on transformative work that I am most inspired by - tearing up asphalt with crowbars and replacing it with native plants, coming home with soil under my fingernails after planting in our community gardens, sharing food and stories with residents at a community meeting about a stewardship project, and so much more. It is these experiences that have demonstrated to me what we can accomplish when we work together.

What interests do you pursue in your spare time? What are some of your passion projects or hobbies?

I am an avid gardener and love sharing this passion with my two children. We spend our summers growing vegetables in our backyard and recently started a hydroponics garden to grow fresh herbs indoors. We are also dedicated to the stewardship of the urban ravine behind our house and have started working with our eldest to organize community clean-ups. I am passionate about this kind of community service and hope to inspire my children to connect with their neighbours and care for the environment we share. I’m currently Vice-Chair of Green Communities Canada and a member of the City of Mississauga’s Environmental Action Committee which offers advice and recommendations to Council based on the Living Green Master Plan.

Britt speaking at Food Fest

What are your plans for the future? What do you hope to achieve in the next 1-5 years?

We need action now in order to address the climate crisis and I plan to continue to advocate for policies and programs that will lead to a more just and sustainable future. We are facing really big environmental issues that need more than just education to solve. We also know inequities in our communities are deepening and the root causes of these inequities need to be urgently addressed. This requires an approach that goes beyond the conventional non-profit model of service delivery to include more advocacy and policy work. I am personally committed to working toward this kind of systems level change in the environmental sector.

What advice would you give current/prospective students?

We need a groundswell of action to achieve the change required for a sustainable future, so everything you do – no matter how big or small – contributes to the greater good. I’d also encourage current students to think about what skills they have to contribute to the cause. It may be that you have a great technical or scientific background, or maybe you are a passionate educator, or you could be an artist like me. Whatever it is, develop your special combination of skills and apply it creatively to solve the problems you face. It is this diversity of perspectives that will help us come up with the best solutions.

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