By Shannon Boklaschuk
New University of Saskatchewan (USask) graduate Alana Krug-MacLeod says her expeditions to Antarctica and the Arctic “consolidated” her environmental and sustainability interests.
“I fell in love with the poles,” said Krug-MacLeod, who received a Bachelor of Science (honours) degree in environmental biology from USask’s College of Arts and Science this spring.
“I learned about the effect of climate change on the icebergs, the oceans and the ecosystems we encountered; on the food webs supporting the penguins, seals, walrus and polar bears we saw; and on the culture and traditions of the Northern people we met,” she said.
“I learned how scientists, artists, historians, Indigenous communities and activists were addressing environmental issues and fostering sustainability. While riding an ice flow in Antarctica, during five minutes of silence, I accepted the challenge to protect the poles and promote sustainability. That promise kick-started a life-long mission. My studies will help me find a profession that contributes to that goal.”
Krug-MacLeod, who graduated from Aden Bowman Collegiate before enrolling at USask, went to Antarctica after she was awarded a Leacross Foundation scholarship at the age of 14. The scholarship covered the costs of a Students on Ice expedition. She then travelled to the Arctic with Students on Ice a year later.
“I am a member of both the Antarctic and Arctic Polar Swim Clubs,” she said. “Membership is awarded to anyone who witnesses confirm has fully immersed themselves in the icy waters of these regions.”
After high school, Krug-MacLeod started off her undergraduate studies at USask in an exciting way. In 2016, as she was about to begin university, she found out that she had been selected as a Schulich Leader. Schulich Leader Scholarships are awarded to high school graduates enrolling in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) programs at 20 Canadian partner universities.
“This prestigious scholarship recognized my contributions to sustainability and allowed me to make choices to further expand my horizons,” said Krug-MacLeod. “It enabled me to focus on learning opportunities rather than on funding my education, and it connected me with bright and committed students who also wanted to positively influence the world.”
Krug-MacLeod continued to receive numerous scholarships and awards throughout her studies, including a George and Marsha Ivany President’s First and Best Scholarship. To be eligible for that scholarship, students must graduate from a Canadian high school, proceed directly from high school to university and have a minimum high school average of 95 per cent. Selection is also based on leadership and contributions to school and community life.
As an environmental biology major, Krug-MacLeod was also the recipient of two Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA). The awards are intended to help students develop their potential for research careers in the natural sciences and engineering.
“These awards allow promising undergraduate students to gain career-related experience, to undertake academic research with mentors and to share results with academic and broader communities,” said Krug-MacLeod.
“One year, I used GIS to map farmers’ fields and identify opportunities for maximizing the ecosystem services of natural ecosystems. Another year I worked with captive killdeer to evaluate long-term impacts of PCB and temperature disturbances on shorebirds. Through field and lab work, I learned about ground truthing, mist netting, collecting and analyzing samples, Motus tower tracking, bird care, biometric assessment, spectrophotometry and corticosterone analysis.”
Outside of the classroom, Krug-MacLeod has presented at academic and community conferences, published articles and blogs on topics related to sustainability, and maintained polar-themed websites and geocaches—all while balancing her school and research work.
She has also used photography for environmental education—including several winning entries in USask’s Images of Research competition—and volunteered at the Action on Climate Change Through Education Conference held on campus and at an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Congress in Hawaii.
“I have served as a youth advisor for the Lawson Foundation’s youth and environment program and as youth representative at the inaugural Canadian Parks Summit. I was a delegate to the Korean Arctic Academy in South Korea and to the Young Professionals Development Kīpaepae offered as part of the Hawaii Island IUCN Pre-Congress Workshop in Hilo, Hawaii Island,” Krug-MacLeod added.
“These activities allowed me to contribute to important causes, deepen my awareness, expand my horizons and imagine solutions to sustainability issues.”
Now that Krug-MacLeod has received her undergraduate degree, she plans study ecology either at Charles University in Prague or at the University of Helsinki, where she has been offered a €30,000 scholarship. Wherever she goes in the future, she will go with an appreciation of her time at USask.
“What I loved most about studying in the College of Arts and Science was that I was able to learn about subjects as diverse as art history, anthropology, archaeology, geography, geology, ancient and modern history, politics and toxicology while focusing in-depth on biology and learning technical skills in statistics and geoinformatics,” said Krug-MacLeod.
“In every discipline, I found professors whose enthusiasm for their subject, friendliness, organizational skills and commitment to teaching made learning a pleasure. For those professors, I am profoundly appreciative. You expanded my world, filled gaps in my knowledge, gave me inspiration to overcome challenges and enriched my learning.
“Thank you to all the individuals who make the University of Saskatchewan a vibrant and beautiful place to learn.”