Clara Blakelock is working in San Fernando, Philippines in waste management. This article was recently published in on McMaster University’s website about the work she will be doing. You can find the article in full below.
She has spent much of her life studying mathematics. But a change in studies to public policy has put Clara Blakelock on a flight to the Philippines this week to start a six-month internship on a waste management project with the city of San Fernando.
Clara has been hired by Sustainable Cities International under a grant from the International Youth Internship Program funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). She will be traveling with fellow Hamiltonian, Stu Campana, to help set up a waste services program for an un-serviced neighbourhood in San Fernando.
It’s a new adventure for Clara, one she hopes will help improve people’s lives. She explains that after earning her undergraduate degree in mathematics at McMaster, she enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Michigan but sensed a need for a change in direction.
“After about two years I began to realize that I was unsatisfied by this work,” explains Clara. “I wanted to do something that was much more practical and would directly affect people. I have always been an environmentalist and began to think about working in environmental policy.”
In December 2008, Clara left the PhD program and began applying for government policy jobs. After a few months, she realized that she did not have the right education for the kind of work she wanted to do and began to look for a program that would help her meet her goals. That is when she came across information about the Master’s of Engineering and Public Policy (MEPP) program at McMaster.
“I did my undergraduate degree at McMaster and I liked the school,” said Clara. “The MEPP program looked really interesting to me, and I applied even though I wasn’t sure I had exactly the right background for the program (since I don’t have an engineering degree). When I received a scholarship to cover tuition it solidified my decision to come do this program. I’m really happy with this decision because I met great people and developed a lot of new skills that complement my existing skills.”
Clara and Stu will be the third group of interns to work on the waste services initiative. A total of 12 interns will work on the program over three years. They take over the residence of the previous interns, which is a house on the beach in the nearby town of San Juan.
“I’m most looking forward to getting hands on experience in community engagement and in waste management,” says Clara. “This is also by far the furthest I have ever travelled, so I am really excited to meet as many people as I can and immerse myself in the culture.”
Clara notes that the MEPP program has helped her prepare for her internship.
“I think the MEPP program has given me a good basis in theory which I am eager to apply in practice,” explains Clara. “The program emphasized stakeholder consultation which is going to be a large part of my job in San Fernando. I also think that the decision-making methods we learned in the systems engineering course may be useful in the work I have to do. In general, the MEPP program solidified my interest in working for sustainability by highlighting so many local and global critical environmental issues.”
Clara did her inquiry project for the MEPP program on Ontario’s Waste Diversion Act, so is familiar with waste management policy in Ontario. It is knowledge she hopes to apply to her job in San Fernando. She also has some experience in community engagement through volunteer work with Green Venture in Hamilton.
“I’m interested in waste management because it is such an immediate problem and something that we are all faced with every day,” says Clara. “I feel that waste reduction and proper disposal is an issue that many people can get behind, even those who might not consider themselves environmentalists. Unlike carbon emissions (also an important issue) waste is something you can see, touch and smell, and so I think it is a good place to start when trying to get people to become more environmentally aware.”
Clara spent the week of January 10 at a training session run by Sustainable Cities International in Vancouver to prepare her, and other interns traveling to destinations worldwide, for their placements. The sessions discussed the development philosophies of Sustainable Cities and CIDA, as well as strategies for dealing with cross-cultural communication, community engagement, culture shock, and other challenges interns may face.
Sustainable Cities is a nonprofit organization based in Vancouver. Its focus is on urban sustainability, assisting with projects in a network of cities around the world.
If you are interested in Clara’s work, you can follow her on her blog here. We look forward to hearing more from Clara on her experiences in San Fernando when she returns.