2019 Master's of Environment and Sustainability Scholarship Winner: Iman Atabani

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Iman Atabani is the Jacob Ross Clemens Foundation 2019 Master's of Environment and Sustainability scholarship winner.  


Q&A with Iman Atabani

Q: Tell us about yourself?

A. Throughout my undergraduate and graduate career, I have had the wonderful opportunity to be a part of several different organizations and initiatives trying to increase the presence of sustainability within our society! By taking an undergraduate path in Environmental Life Sciences, I was able to understand the impact sustainability had on one’s ecosystem within both the environmental and social aspects. I also received several accolades during my time at Queens, such as graduating with Distinction for my last two years of my undergraduate career. As I began to take courses centered around the issues that sustainability faces, I was given several opportunities that allowed me to put into practice, the skills and information that I was taught. One of these opportunities, included my role as Head Manager of the Earth Centre, a not-for-profit organization that sells environmentally conscious products to students. I also had the chance to work closely with other organizations such as Free the Children, Residence Life, Canadian Undergraduate Conference on Healthcare and more to ensure that education on sustainability remained a priority among the general Kingston and Queens communities. After my degree, I enrolled in the MES program at Western to adopt more strategies on how to implement sustainable initiatives in a very diverse community. Within my time in the MES program, I also went on to compete and win a WISE award highlighting my accomplishments in sustainability. Finally, I am currently working with Live Nation at Budweiser Stage and RBC Echo Beach venues in Toronto as their Sustainability Coordinator.

The recreational and aesthetic value of the environment has innumerable benefits that may be difficult to quantify. In recent times we’ve seen a disregard for environmental sustainability in favour of economic return and while this produces short-term gains, the wide range of benefits that the environment brings us can’t be discounted. Since environmental sustainability correlates with mental health, protecting the environment produces both benefits for the environment and human well being. 

Q: Why have you chosen to pursue a career in environmental sustainability?

A: Before beginning my undergraduate career, I had never heard of sustainability, as it was not embedded within our sciences program in my high school. As I continued to learn more about the importance of sustainability, I became an advocate for environmental education during my time at Queens and at Western. I have constantly tried to educate myself and learn new and innovative ways to maintain current public awareness of environmental programs both locally and globally. As I want to make sure that the future generations all have the understanding and development of a concept that I was never familiar with, I continue to evolve my science communication, leadership and time management skills in the hopes of advocating to businesses, governments and the public to receive additional support on advancing sustainability.

Q: Do you have a particular area of focus within environmental sustainability in mind?

A: Prior to me entering into my undergraduate career, I had the chance to visit Darfur. This introduced me to how discrepancies within access to our healthcare are apparent within our society. I aided many of the individuals within the town of Al-Fashir and went on to volunteer with the communities within the region – providing them with basic standard first aid skills. I began to realize the connection that diseases can attribute to the prevalence of modifiable environmental risks and how they contribute to identifying opportunities for preventive measures through available policies, strategies, interventions, technologies and knowledge. I also began to understand how environmentally linked illnesses are among the top plaguing the lives of the populations in particular the very young and vulnerable groups within the area. As malaria is an endemic disease within this community, I saw that many of the individuals in the community suffered and inevitably died, as the medication to treat this disease was unavailable for a majority of the population. It was apparent that the variances in temperature, as it was constantly hot and humid within the community, and the impact of very little rainfall were a contributing factor to the impact these vector-borne diseases were having on the population, and it was not getting better. Therefore, I continue to strive to learn about the incidence and prevalence of diseases that certain communities face and their interconnections with the impact that the environment continues to have on human health.

Q: How will the Jacob Ross Clemens Award help you reach those goals?

A: I believe that the Jacob Ross Clemens Award recognizes excellence in sustainability in the hopes to empower others to learn about different strategies to integrate practices that promote environmental, societal and economic success within their own lives. By providing me with the financial support to achieve my MES degree, this award and the Foundation will continue to promote sustainability for future leaders hoping to pilot more social and environmentally conscious programs locally and globally

Q: What are your thoughts about the interconnectedness of mental health and environmental sustainability?

A: As previously mentioned, mental health and environmental sustainability have a lot of interconnections especially within certain communities such as within Indigenous communities. The sustainability of the environment and our society is meant to support mental well being by providing our community with the tools to utilize the benefits the environment has to offer. However, beyond the importance it has to this community, impacts of environmental disaster such as climate change continue to affect the mental health of everyone in our society. I think that if we continue to prioritize protecting and conserving the environment through sustainable practices, we can begin to see the benefits it will have on the mental health of ourselves and of our community as we continue to face other environmental, social and economic challenges.

Q: Where do you think that major social changes need to take place in order for the JRCF to achieve it's vision of "... a world where all Canadians thrive with healthy minds in healthy environments."?

A: I think that in order to achieve the vision that “... a world where all Canadians thrive with healthy minds in healthy environments?", we need to acknowledge the solutions that all Canadians must go through to resolve the environmental issues that we as a global society all face together. One of the most influential climate change issues, pollution is an issue that ‘knows no boundaries’ however there are notable differences between the way the difference between how it impacts communities. When comparing the Global North including several developed North American communities, the mitigation and adaptation strategies to pollution are far more advanced than in Global South communities, including India and some areas of China. In my opinion, this is one of the largest issues that society should aim to address with respect to how environmental rights play a role in the development and well being of communities world-wide.

Q: Can you tell us about something occurring right now (a current event), that you believe has significant importance to environmental and/or mental health?

A: In the summer before attending the MES program, I acted as an Assistant Program Coordinator for the Roberta Bondar Foundation where I created and implemented several environmental programs for summer camp and school programs run through the program. By using Dr. Bondar’s experiences as a way to connect to the youth of today, I began to find creative ways to engage young students to become interested in environmental education. Through developing new and interactive camp resources, our organization continued to promote STEM education within students of all ages. I became especially passionate about teaching the young girls, aged 10 and over about the importance of having women in science as we continue to be underrepresented in a male-dominated field. I also stressed the importance of maintaining our natural habitats and the importance of protecting and conserving nature. I will advocate and insist that women continue to make waves in the scientific field to ensure that not only is environmental sustainability continuously investigated with new solutions being made, but that social and economic sustainability is also kept a part of the discussion. Furthermore, I will continue to teach others about the inequalities that people may face with healthcare, education and environmental justices in the hopes that I can become an educational leader within the environment and health fields for future generations.