The Fulbright Arctic Initiative: Opportunity and Responsibility

By Dr. Greg Poelzer, one of three Fulbright Arctic Scholars from Canada

The challenges facing the people and lands of the Circumpolar North are huge.  So, too, are the opportunities.   Coming to grips with the sheer breadth and complexity of interdependent issues ranging from energy to water, and from infrastructure to health, requires problem-oriented, multidisciplinary research teams, drawing on diverse experiences from around the Circumpolar North.  For scholars who have dedicated their life’s work to research, teaching, and community engagement in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions, the Fulbright Arctic Initiative represents a once-in-a-life time opportunity.


Photo by Acacia Johnson

The Fulbright Arctic Initiative was publicly launched through a panel discussion on the ‘Challenges of Conducting Research in the Arctic’ in Ottawa, Canada on April 22, 2015.  A launch is an exciting affair.  A launch bursts with anticipation of the new possibilities and partnerships, and of life-long working relations among new colleagues and soon to be new friends.  A launch also marks the significance of the event.  In the case of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative, the significance is a public declaration by the participants of their professional commitment to devote their research energies to a greater public good, namely, toward the betterment of the lives of residents of the Circumpolar North.  As one of the panelists on that day, it was impossible not to be struck by the tremendous opportunity and the important responsibility that the Fulbright Arctic Initiative represents.  The launch of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative itself could not have been better timed.  The launch preceded the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Iqaluit, with the handing of the chairmanship from Canada to the United States, but it also took place on Earth Day.

DSC00614The Earth Day panel opened with a welcoming ceremony by Inuk Elder Sally Kate Qimmiunaaq WebsterDSC00643

Opening remarks were given by U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman


Dr. Michael K.  Hawes, Fulbright Canada CEO introduced  the Fulbright Arctic Initiative and the Arctic scholars


Panelists included Ross Virginia, Director of the Institute of Arctic, Dartmouth College, and Co-Lead of the Initiative; myself, one of the three Canadian scholars selected to participate in the endeavor; and Tracy Coates, a Mohawk scholar working at the University of Ottawa, who brought important insights and reflections on the role of Indigenous knowledge in contemporary research.  Ross provided an overview of the Initiative itself, and the scholars involved, as well as his perspectives on the challenges and opportunities ahead.  Ross and his Co-Lead, Michael Sfraga, Vice-Chancellor, University of Alaska Fairbanks, bring tremendous leadership experience to guide this international endeavor.


A few weeks prior to the launch, the Fulbright Arctic Initiative Scholars had an opportunity to meet one another via webinar. Although we are diverse group with unique life experiences and different research career paths, we quickly discovered that we were fundamentally united in a commitment that our research should, first and foremost, emerge through partnerships with Northern communities and, equally as important, serve the betterment of the peoples and regions of the Circumpolar North.


But, perhaps one of the most rewarding moments of the event was when an Inuk young man asked how we can connect Northern youth with our research, and Northern research in general, and how we can build capacity in Northern communities through research.  He reached out to us, underscoring a core value of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative.  We can do tremendous things working together and harnessing all of our talents, energies, and visions.  The future of the Arctic has never looked brighter!

IMG_2429Dr. Greg Poelzer, Michèle Phillips, Program Officer for External Relations at Fulbright Canada, Acacia Johnson, Photographer and Fulbright Scholar, and Dr. Ross Virginia, Co-Lead Scholar of Fulbright Arctic Initiative – Being silly at the vernissage

From Elevator to Fulbrights: A Friendship of Two Countries and Two Cities

By Viva Dadwal and Michael O’Shea, two Fulbright Award winners

We met in an elevator. She was wearing a bright orange beanie, and I a black suit. It was the 20th floor of Constitution Square in Ottawa, Canada. It had been a long day and I was looking forward to the walk home. The doors opened, and we stepped on together. I said, “going down, right?” She said, “Yes.”

“Do we work on the same floor?”, I said smiling.

“Yeah, I work at GlaxoSmithKline, what brings you here?” she said, smiling back.

“Oh, I work at Fulbright, I’m down the hallway from you…”

“Oh, cool, I didn’t know there were other young people around!”

It was a long elevator ride to the first floor.

“Well, pleasure to meet you. Gotta run now!” She pointed to her bicycle helmet and left hastily through the revolving door.

Over the next three weeks we ran into each other everywhere: on the sidewalk, at street corners, on our bikes. We were lucky to have met when we did; her job ended a few weeks later. One day, after bumping into each other for what seemed like the 16th time, we decided to grab coffee. It was the start of a new friendship.

When we were together, we’d often discuss Canada-U.S. relations. Despite the fact that our distinct countries were united through history and tradition, we realized that we still had a lot to learn from and teach each other:

“How do you think that foreign policy is changing under the Harper government?”

“Why is gun ownership such an important issue in America?”

I met her friends at her next job at the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development; she mine at Fulbright Canada and the U.S. Embassy. Our friendship was like the Canada-U.S. relationship: we were close and shared common values and traits (including a wacky sense of humor), but we also had our disagreements.

Part of my job at Fulbright Canada was to encourage Canadians to apply to study in the United States. I had myself come to Canada because of a Fulbright Scholarship to McGill University. For as long as I had known her, Viva had been conducting and publishing research on global health issues. I knew she would make a great candidate for a Fulbright award.

She had spent most of her adolescent years in Windsor, Ontario, where she said she was subject to the typical confusion that Canadians feel living in a border city: Celsius or Fahrenheit? Tigers or Blue Jays? The CBC or ABC? Somewhere between the joint Canada Day and Independence Day fireworks, and the various concerts at the Cobo Arena, she had come to love the special bond between Canada and the U.S. One day, after yet another passionate discussion about the Canada and the U.S., I decided to encourage her to apply for a Fulbright scholarship: she seemed like the right person to represent Canada to Americans and she could easily conduct her research from the U.S.

Michael OShea and Viva in Ottawa
Michael and Viva ice-skating on the frozen Rideau Canada in downtown Ottawa in winter 2013.]

Although skeptical of leaving her full-time job, she finally gave in: “Fine, sure, I’ll apply. What’s the worst that will happen?”

Between ice skating, snow-ball fights, and dance parties, Viva worked on her Fulbright essay. Around the same time, I had decided to apply to graduate schools for a degree in higher education. Through cold fall days at cafés and late nights in diners, we prepared our respective applications over cups of coffee and hot chocolate.

By January we had both heard back. Viva was bound for Baltimore to conduct research at Johns Hopkins University. I was bound for Philadelphia, at the University of Pennsylvania. Somehow, we would be only an hour drive way, or as we jokingly called it, “a 33 hour bike-ride.” A friendship that started in an elevator in Canada was moving to America.

We are lucky to have a relationship that spans borders, a relationship that allows us to learn from each other, especially as we each begin the next chapter of our lives. Our similar but distinct experiences at Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania means that we have a lot to talk about when we do catch up. For example, Viva is deeply troubled by the socio-economic disparities she sees in Baltimore. It has been somewhat of a shock for her to see such conditions in a first-world setting, a setting that is so similar (yet so different) from Canada. For me, I have finally returned from Canada after three years, a country where I saw less segregation, racism, and concentrated poverty than I saw in Chicago growing up. Back in Philly, I was faced that reality of urban America once again.

: Michael and Viva with friends at the 2014 Fourth of July party at the Official Residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Canada.
: Michael and Viva with friends at the 2014 Fourth of July party at the Official Residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Canada.

As we write this, we are realizing how much our lives have changed over the course of a few months. For one, we are both living the stark contrasts between the “haves” and “have nots”, from East Baltimore to the world-renowned Johns Hopkins, from West Philadelphia to Penn’s Ivy League campus. And so, lessons from a friendship that was born in an elevator in Canada, sustained by Fulbright, are now being tested East Baltimore and West Philadelphia. One of us is exploring the sobering relationship for the first time, the other returning to the sometimes troubled country called home.

It’s the story of two countries, two cities, two Fulbright awards, and two curious people who met in an elevator.

Reflections on #UnderTheSameStars Earth Day Art Exhibition

Written by Acacia Johnson, Fulbright Scholar

The warmth of sun, birdsong, sound of water lapping. To think that a few months ago, the idea of warm air seemed utterly impossible, the sun disappeared to some land of no return. Now everything is utterly drenched in it. More in the Arctic than anywhere else, really.johnson_fulbrightblog13

Back in my art studio on Toronto Island, the aftermath of my exhibition Under The Same Stars is omnipresent. Boxes of prints, tissue paper, thumbtacks on the wall and little blue printouts spread liberally over every available tabletop, sorted by depth and shade of indigo and magenta.johnson_fulbrightblog11

I returned last weekend from Ottawa, where I had spent a week presenting the first public exhibition of my series of photographs from Baffin Island. The show was in the shining, granite-walled lobby of Constitution Square, a large office building downtown where someone told me 8,000 people work. On Monday, the framed prints were delivered, and unwrapping them felt like Christmas, all the shades of blue gleaming jewel-like behind glass. The next night, we installed them; by Wednesday the show was open to the public and it was time to begin presenting the work to the world.johnson_fulbrightblog5

It had been a whirlwind, hitting the ground running. Only 53 days earlier, I had returned, bewildered, from an entire winter in Arctic Bay, a place that had become home to me over the course of four months. The immense project of developing and scanning negatives, making a selection of 18 images, printing them and getting them to the framer had consumed all of my energy since returning from the Arctic – to the extent that I had scarcely had time to reflect upon my experiences at all! So it was a welcome surprise that when it came time to present the work in person, to talk about it and explain what it was about, the words came naturally. The wealth of Arctic experiences and stories was brimming under the surface, ready to go before I even knew it myself.johnson_fulbrightblog4

I was stationed with the art work during the three days of my exhibition in Constitution Square, which allowed me to chat with the visitors who came to see the photographs. It was amazing to see the ways in which people reacted to my photographs – the surprise or amazement of those who had never been to the Arctic, and the smiling recognition of those who had (and even a few who knew Arctic Bay). What made me the happiest was encountering people who really engaged with the work and seemed to learn something from it, or at the very least have their stereotypical ideas of the Arctic challenged on some level. “So people actually live up there, huh,” was a concluding remark I heard on several occasions. Yes. Yes, they do.johnson_fulbrightblog3

It was an honor to have the opportunity to display the work to such a wide audience thanks to Fulbright Canada and the Fulbright Canada-RBC Eco-Leadership program, and to be able to meet so many people who are engaged with Arctic issues.

Moving into the future, I look forward to having the time to step back, reflect deeply and continue working with the material from this winter over an extended period of time. I will be returning to Baffin Island as a guide this summer, where I hope to share what I have learned throughout this remarkable experience. And hopefully one day, I will return to Arctic Bay itself, to experience the nightless summer season that balances the winter darkness.


Lessons in Green and Inclusive Growth: What Can Los Angeles Learn From Vancouver

This post was written by the The University of California, Los Angeles, a member of the Fulbright Canada ecoLeadership program.

67c953d177c211576dd32265_280x186 Los Angeles has much to learn from Vancouver.  While both are dense, diverse, cosmopolitan cities bounded by mountains, LA’s sister city to the north is renowned for its compact development and walkable neighborhoods.  Vancouver is a model of sustainability, largely due to planning efforts focused on smart growth and environmental protection.
In March 2015, a group of UCLA Graduate Students from the Luskin School of Public Affairs traveled to Vancouver to learn first-hand about the city’s compact development pattern, comprehensive urban transit network and successful natural resource management.  Students met with over 30 government agencies, non-profits, and leading researchers to understand the Vancouver success story.
Preliminary findings can be found on the trip blog and Twitter.

All The Exciting Things – Our New Intern

Post by Juan Garrido, York Global Intern 2015, originally published on his personal blog

These last few months have been a whirlwind of super fun things. It’s been almost overwhelming at times because of how busy I’ve been, but I realize that any time I get anxious or nervous about everything I’m doing, I need to just take a moment to enjoy whats happening. So check out some super exciting this I’ve done in the last few months, and what I have planned for the summer.

One of my hobbies is watching TEDTalks. Legit. I watch a TEDtalk probably every 1-2 days. And usually I don’t stop at just one. I have spent literally HOURS watching TEDtalks and this year I had the AMAZING opportunity to give my own TEDTalk. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life. I’m pretty sure I blacked out for these 8.5 minutes because I have no recollection of actually giving the talk because of how much adrenaline and excitement was going through my mind.

Another super exciting project I got to participate in, was with the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada youth-led project, the “MS – My Story” video series. It features youth, like myself, that are living with MS or have loved ones that have MS. Canada currently has the highest rate of MS in the entire world so millions of people are affected by it. This is a project to help build a community of stories to help support people affected by MS.

My super exciting news for the summer is that I will be interning with Fulbright Canada as a part of the York International Global Intern program. I’m so pumped to be living in Ottawa this summer to experience a different city and all it has to offer (I don’t know if I’m more excited for Ottawa Comic-Con or Canada Day on Parliament Hill…)!

The end of another year is always bittersweet because I’ve had an amazing year with a lot of amazing opportunities. I’m just as excited though for next year – I’ll be living off-campus (finally!), c0-coordinating GLgbt* and finishing out my Senator term – I also have a super secret project in the works, that I’ll post about next week.

4th year, it’s been a blast. Bring it on, summer 2015!


View of Downtown Vancouver from Stanley Park. Photo credit: Naria Kiani
View of Downtown Vancouver from Stanley Park; Photo credit: Naria Kiani

Post by Naria Kiani and Rachel Lindt, MURP ’15 candidates

Vancouver’s urban design is an urban planner’s dream: dense towers with visual transparency, adjacent green space, and thoughtful spacing between buildings to ensure the preservation of site lines. Perhaps it was the wet weather or the fact that we are analytical urban planners, but we left this day with a critical view of aspects of Vancouver’s urban design. Through engaging conversation and interactive tours, we were left with two takeaways from the day.

Urban Design in Vancouver: Tunnel Vision or Long Range Planning?

Housing is huge in Vancouver. Tall podium style condominiums dominate the skyline. Throughout our meetings we were surprised by the little attention given to what has driven all the housing development in Vancouver. A few speakers made anecdotal comments about how they moved here for the city itself and its high livability. As planners we have to wonder about jobs. If people are coming here strictly for the urban design and livability of the city what sort of employment is there for them? This is a question of ours that is still unanswered, but one thing we are sure of is that people are attracted to this place and we don’t see preferences changing anytime soon.

Public Space in Olympic Village; Photo credit: Ben Kaufman
Public Space in Olympic Village; Photo credit: Ben Kaufman

The Importance of Context Sensitive Public Spaces

Drawing connections between Vancouver and Los Angeles often appears to be a daunting task. How can two cities so starkly different learn anything from one another? Los Angeles is sunny and warm and Vancouver is rainy and cold (most of the year). These two weather patterns have serious implications for urban design. Standing in the pouring rain listening to the design process of one of Vancouver’s parklets, we could not help but notice that no one was using the space. This made us realize how important it is for urban design to be context sensitive in order to allow spaces to be activated as often as possible. Perhaps if the City of Vancouver chose to add an awning over the parklet it would be used more often. Although Los Angeles does not have rain, the beating sun can make an Angeleno duck for cover. So here we have two cities with completely different weather yet both would benefit from an easy adjustment: an awning.

UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students hearing about Vancouver's parklet on Robson Street from Sam Cameron of Vancouver Public Space Network and Livable Laneways Vancouver. Where are the people? Photo credit: Daryl Chan
UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students hearing about Vancouver’s parklet on Robson Street from Sam Cameron of Vancouver Public Space Network and Livable Laneways Vancouver. Where are the people? Photo credit: Daryl Chan
A context-sensitive public space in Vancouver's downtown with an awning to ensure a dry space; Photo credit: Rachel Lindt
A context-sensitive public space in Vancouver’s downtown with an awning to ensure a dry space; Photo credit: Rachel Lindt