Andrew Orawiec shares Arctic images (like this photo from Sylvia Grinnell Park in Nunavut) on Instagram at arctic_andrew

Towards a sustainable north: Norway's Arctic Frontiers conference welcomes U of T students

Grad students to present papers on food security in Canadian Arctic, shifting ice conditions in Northwest Passage

Two University of Toronto students are among the first North American students chosen to present papers at the prestigious Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway, from Jan. 25 to 29. 

Kevin Jakiela, 24, and Andrew Orawiec, 26, will board a flight on Jan. 22 that will take them more than 300 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.

“This is the largest Arctic conference in the world, and from a career, academic and professional development standpoint, it is a can’t-miss opportunity,” Orawiec said. “The focus of the sub-conference for students has been primarily on Norwegian and European students, but we submitted abstracts and put together a lobbying effort.”

Jakiela and Orawiec are students in the second cohort of the University of Toronto Mississauga's master of science in sustainability management program. 

Both entered the program knowing that they wanted to apply their knowledge in the Canadian Arctic. Jakiela taught high school in Northern Quebec for a year after earning his undergraduate degree, while Orawiec worked overseas and on Parliament Hill after graduation before taking a position as a policy analyst with the government in Iqaluit. The North grabbed hold of their imaginations and hasn’t let go.

“For me, it is a bit like the final frontier,” Orawiec said. “I originally relocated for work, but realized that there was a lot of opportunity and work to be done on the ground floor, building what is essentially a new territory. It’s great.”

Jakiela  says he loves the outdoors, exploring Indigenous culture and benefiting from the personal growth a new setting has allowed.

“The North really opened my eyes to the fact that there is so much more to see and do,” Jakiela said. “I like being a part of helping a community help themselves.”

photo of the two students outside

(from left: Andrew Orawiec and Kevin Jakiela/Photo by Ryan Cerrudo)

Jakiela's research paper for the Arctic Frontiers conference focuses on food security in the Canadian Arctic, exploring the quality and quantity of food now available to the indigenous community compared to what is possible through the use of geodesic greenhouses. Jakiela is working with a group in Hay River, NWT, on growing food hydroponically.

“Not only is food costly in the North, but the quality is very poor,” Jakiela said. “The availability is also hit and miss. Using holistic management, we’re combating sustainability issues and promoting better quality food for health purposes.”

Orawiec’s research looks at shifting ice conditions in the Northwest Passage and how the region is being affected by climate change, exploring the potential for sustainable economic development in the North. As the shipping window increases due to global warming, there will be more trade and more cruise tourism, with the associated impacts on the local residents, the economy and the environment.

“If the ice is no longer present, it introduces unforeseen challenges and we want to get ahead of these things with legislation, preparing communities for a potential influx of tourists,” Orawiec said.

Both students say they are eager to learn as much as they can from other conference attendees.

“We don’t really know what is happening in the rest of the circumpolar world,” Orawiec said. “There are definitely best practices that can be shared. It will be an invaluable experience.”

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