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Scholarship recipient Natasha Juckes mixes art with community design

University electives are for fun, right? Or so Natasha Juckes believes. She included three art courses from NSCAD University in her Bachelor of Community Design program at Dalhousie University, while also completing a Certificate in Geographic Information Science. Natasha is one of this year’s Esri Canada GIS Scholarship recipients.

All of the Esri Canada GIS Scholarship recipients are excellent students who have demonstrated to the selection committee at their respective institutions that they want to continue developing their GIS skills and are deserving of the scholarship. Some of these students stand out with the sheer diversity of their skills and interests. Natasha Juckes is one such student. Her long list of academic and athletic awards, volunteer activities, and artistic pursuits is inspiring (or maybe intimidating!) and made me curious to learn more about her. I contacted her via email to ask her about her studies, volunteer work – and blacksmithing.

You just completed a Bachelor of Community Design (BCD) at Dalhousie University. Last year’s scholarship recipient from Dalhousie was also in the BCD program, but I hadn’t heard of the program before that. What is it about?

You are not the only one! I think that most people I talk to need some explanation of what “community design” is when I tell them the name of my degree.

The Bachelor of Community Design program is essentially a professional undergraduate degree in planning. The degree focuses on how to manage, design, and protect the spaces where people live, work, and play. Good planning also involves thinking about a multitude of factors including environmental impacts, social wellbeing, and health impacts. In the program, I have learned about everything from how road design affects stormwater runoff to how to create better public housing.

In the honours BCD program at Dalhousie University, you can major in environmental or urban planning. I majored in environmental planning, but wrote a thesis that was more related to urban planning. The degree also allows you to complete a double major in Sustainability or to complete certificates. I completed a Certificate in Geographic Information Science as I enjoy learning about GIS.

What types of jobs or careers would the typical graduate hope to find?

With this degree, people would typically hope to become professional planners and could work for a city, independent design firm, a non-governmental organization, or as a researcher at a university. Have you ever watched the TV show Parks and Recreation? Some of the characters on that show are planners. Planners can also be great project managers and may work on larger projects that are not directly related to planning but involve working with people from many different professions.

BCD graduates may decide to continue their studies and complete another degree in a related field. For example, I am going into architecture and think that planning will provide a useful background for my future studies or work.

I saw that you’ve taken a few courses from NSCAD University as part of your degree. Which courses were they and how do they fit in with the BCD program?

The BCD program is one of the only programs at Dalhousie where you can receive credit for taking NSCAD courses. I like being creative and wanted to take some interesting electives, so I took three different courses at NSCAD University: Foundation Computers, Foundation Drawing, and Foundation Wood and Metal. Metal and woodworking was one of my favourite courses. It gave me access to NSCAD’s metal shop and let me further explore blacksmithing. I would spend at least one afternoon a week working (which really felt like playing) in the shop.

Mostly I chose the courses for fun, out of sheer interest and for my personal enjoyment. Is that not what electives are for? But in all seriousness, the NSCAD courses did help me in my degree by making me more design-oriented and giving me the skills to communicate my ideas visually. They helped me build up my portfolio to apply to architecture school and have also helped me find jobs. Being able to edit maps from ArcGIS in Illustrator has been useful and having a knowledge of both ArcGIS and the Adobe Suite seems to be a relatively unique combination in the workplace.

You already had some experience as a blacksmith before taking the course at NSCAD. Where did you first start blacksmithing?

I started blacksmithing over nine years ago at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I used to do these one-week-long summer camps, where you dress up in period costume and do activities inside Louisbourg everyday. In the children’s program, you do many different activities every day such as dancing or learning how to sew your own bean bag. Once you are 13, you can do apprenticeships where you choose one activity to do in the morning and one to do in the afternoon for the week you are there. I always chose blacksmithing as one of my skills and apprenticed in the forge with some very talented smiths.

At the end of my last year, the blacksmiths who worked there recommended that I join the Maritime Blacksmiths’ Association (MBA) and helped me to continue blacksmithing. I attended day-long events held by the MBA in Halifax that included demonstrations and time to practice yourself. Eventually, I bought my own forge and now have my own workshop to practice in. This past year, I was working on my portfolio to apply to architecture school and blacksmithed leaves for a table that my brother helped me make.

I have had many great teachers over the years and have even taught some youth myself now. It is really a great hobby and one that I thoroughly enjoy. Thank you to everyone at the MBA who has supported, taught, and helped me continue blacksmithing!

Natasha Juckes works at a forge at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, which is a reconstruction of an 18th century town.

Natasha Juckes apprenticing in the forge at the Fortress of Louisbourg.

There are many non-academic accomplishments listed in your resume, including two Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards. How did you earn those?

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards are for youth who participate in sports, volunteering, and learning a skill. I played many sports in high school, including basketball, field hockey, badminton, and soccer, so that part was easy. For my volunteering, I tutored French and volunteered in the Canadian Ski Patrol as a first aid provider. My skill was piano, as I went to piano lessons every week all through high school.

To earn the award, you also have to go on an adventurous journey, which is an overnight journey in nature. For my bronze and silver awards, I was supported by a great teacher at my high school who took us on our adventurous journeys and helped us understand the award process. One of my adventurous journeys was at Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site and the other was at Cape Chignecto. I am currently working on my gold award, and I already did my adventurous journey, which was a one week sailing trip on a tall ship from Quebec City to Halifax to the St. Peters Canal in Cape Breton.

A map of the sailing route from Quebec City to Halifax and then to the St. Peters Canal that Natasha Juckes completed as one of her adventurous journeys for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

Sailing route for Natasha Juckes’s adventurous journey from Québec to Halifax to the St. Peters Canal.

Your volunteer experiences also include GIS-related projects at Parks Canada. How did you become involved in those?

I have worked at Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site every summer since my first year of university and love it. Working for Parks Canada allows you to have a fun summer filled with hiking, camping, and hanging out in the outdoors, while also meeting many amazing people. During my time there I’ve met people who work in resource conservation and care deeply about trees and the local ecology at Kejimkujik.

I had to take ERTH 4850 (Geographic Information Science Research Project) to complete the Certificate in GIScience and opted to take MGMT 4047 (Biodiversity Conservation System Design). In both courses, we were given open-ended assignments where we had to find GIS-related research projects to work on. We were encouraged to utilize our existing networks and I decided to contact Kejimkujik to see if they had any GIS projects. They were very excited to get me to volunteer and gave me two projects to work on. One was on locating black ash habitat in Kejimkujik and the other was on estimating the resiliency of eastern hemlock to the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (a harmful invasive species that has been found in the park). These projects were very interesting to me as I was given the opportunity to conduct scientific research on trees, a topic that I knew very little about beforehand!

I think working for Parks Canada as a student is a great experience as you get to work on many interesting projects, and if you work in a related field, you can also build some useful connections.

View of the sunrise over a lake near a campsite in Kejimkujik National Park.

Back-country camping at Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site.

The project you submitted for the scholarship is your thesis project for the BCD. It focuses on street safety for women, and more specifically on perceived safety. Why did you choose this as your topic?

Last summer, I brainstormed a few topics that I wanted to do for my honour’s thesis and one of my ideas was street safety for women. Videos of women walking through different cities and recording the number of times that they were cat-called or heckled were filling my social media feeds and my head at the time. As a woman studying planning, I have always been interested in how women experience cities and those videos made me wonder just how women felt while walking through city streets. I wanted to learn more. I was also working for Parks Canada’s national office on documents for their LGBTQ2 and Gender Based Analysis Plus Networks and I think that this work further helped inspire me to choose this thesis topic.

While I was really excited about the topic, I was not sure if we would be able to get enough data to complete a GIS analysis on this topic and was worried that I would not have enough time to complete a meaningful survey. My supervisor, Dr. Mikiko Terashima, encouraged me to pursue perceived safety for women and helped me refine my ideas. With her support and guidance, I was able to complete my thesis, which ended up being a complex and interesting analysis with many maps, a story map, and an online application.

Natasha’s story map from her thesis project is just one of more than a dozen shared by this year’s scholarship recipients.

One of the conclusions in your thesis is that media portrayal or stories from friends was a significant negative factor. Can you elaborate on that? What kinds of measures could be taken to counter the effect of negative stories on women’s perception of safety?

We received 90 responses to the survey we conducted on street safety for women in Halifax. Of those responses, people chose media portrayal or stories from friends as the most negative factor on their perceptions of safety 17 times, making it the second most chosen factor after a lack of people on the street, which was chosen 20 times. We also asked people to rate how safe they felt overall on the street block that they were rating, on a scale of 1 to 5, with one meaning they felt very unsafe and five meaning they felt very safe. People who chose media portrayal or stories from friends as the most negative factor on their perception of safety also gave a low perceived safety score, with an average score of 2.5 from the 17 responses. This means that not only is this one of the most common factors, but it is also associated with women feeling unsafe.

Creating measures to counter the effect of negative media portrayal or stories from friends is complicated as I am sure that most of these stories are based on negative personal experiences that people have had.

To reduce the number of negative stories that people have to tell, we need to improve street safety in general. For example, increasing lighting has been shown to be an effective measure in other cities, but our survey results suggested that there are more important factors in Halifax.

The presence of people on the street was found to be a significant factor on perceived safety in our survey, which follows Jane Jacobs’ original theory of “eyes on the street”, which says that having more people watching over a street increases how safe people feel. Encouraging a mix of residential and commercial uses would help ensure that people are present on the street at various hours of the day. Commercial uses attract people during the day, and restaurants can attract people after dark. Residential uses may not increase the number of eyes on the street during the day, but at night people are at home and if they hear a commotion on the street will likely look outside and to see what is going on, hence “eyes on the street”.

A third strategy is involving women in the planning process and asking for first-hand opinions on street designs to ensure that streets meet the needs of women users. In Halifax, we have the Women’s Advisory Committee, which meets to discuss planning issues. I think this committee is a great step forward to involve women in planning.

My supervisor and I are currently working on a paper related to my thesis project that will expand on these findings. We hope to submit the paper this year.

In addition to winning a GIS scholarship, you were a finalist in this year’s Esri Young Scholars Award competition and chose the Esri Press book Understanding Crime: Analyzing the Geography of Crime as your prize. Why did you choose that one?

I chose that book as I have always been interested in how to analyze crime. After completing my honours thesis, I realized that it is very complicated and wished that I had more time (and skills) to be able to analyze it better. I am hoping this book will provide some different insights into how best to manage it and what the shortcomings of crime data are.

Last question: As an Esri Canada GIS Scholarship recipient, you’ve won ArcGIS software, books and training. Is there any part that you are particularly looking forward to using?

I am looking forward to learning more about ArcGIS Online. This year I worked on a great project with two other BCD students at Dalhousie. We created a mock-up of an ArcGIS online application (called Inclusifax) that could be used to report barriers to accessibility in Halifax. We had a meeting with the Halifax Regional Municipality about the app and are hoping to re-design the application to make it more accessible for people using screen-readers. I am hoping some of the books and training from the scholarship might be able to help me with that!

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Krista Amolins is a Higher Education Specialist with Esri Canada. Her career in GIS started when she came across the Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering program at the University of New Brunswick and thought it sounded interesting. She earned a PhD in Geomatics Engineering, focusing on lidar data classification, and now she supports teaching and learning with ArcGIS at colleges and universities across Canada. Krista particularly enjoys interacting with the students who receive an Esri Canada GIS Scholarship or apply for the Esri Young Scholars Award each year. She also enjoys playing with apps and doing a bit of coding when she has time.

Profile Photo of Krista Amolins