Teaching to Learn Interview with Kaitlyn Petrin, founder of Origin Environmental and certified BEAHR Instructor.

Learn more about Kaitlyn Petrin, ECO Canada BEAHR instructor.

All things in life are a matter of timing. Hitting it big on the stock market, missing a massive storm after returning from vacation, meeting the right person after running late in traffic; timing can be everything.

For Kaitlyn Petrin, it was one of those well-timed moments that, as she says, “was life pivoting.”

Today, Kaitlyn is the founder of Origin Environmental. Started in 2018, her company delivers environmental training courses and consulting services for Indigenous communities across the country with a focus on ECO Canada’s Building Environmental Aboriginal Human Resources (BEAHR) program.

Kaitlyn’s passion and joy for teaching are infectious. When she speaks about her students, it’s easy to see why many of them still keep in touch with her after completing their BEAHR certificate. However, if it wasn’t for a lucky series of events, it’s hard to say if Kaitlyn would have found herself in the position she is today.

“I was working with SNC Lavalin at the time,” says Kaitlyn, “and they were giving a large one-off course to a group of Indigenous communities in Prince George, [British Columbia]. But, the presenter ended up not being able to do it and they were scrambling to find someone. I came on their radar and I got a shot. And, I absolutely fell in love with it.”

This presentation changed Kaitlyn’s entire perspective on her career, which up until that point, was focused on contaminated sites and environmental monitoring. As she puts it, “I spent a lot of time walking around in fields and looking at canola.”

But Kaitlyn quickly found that her connection to these ‘fields of canola’ became deeper and more profound after her first few deliveries of the BEAHR program, all thanks to her students.

A Blended Perspective

The BEAHR program, which can vary between one to 20 weeks, provides basic technical environmental skills to Indigenous community members.

Covering topics like research and environmental monitoring, project management, and one of Kaitlyn’s favourite courses, Environmental Site Assessment Assistant, the curriculum helps students enter a role in environmental science or consulting after completing their training.

Before teaching BEAHR, Kaitlyn approached environmental science from a “western philosophy” point of view. Kaitlyn admits that her students have not been afraid to challenge this philosophy, helping her find a balance between teaching technical skills and traditional knowledge.

“All I knew about Indigenous culture was what I learned in school,” says Kaitlyn, “and I was lacking knowledge. My students have always—especially in the beginning—been so amazing at teaching me. We have a good dialogue in the classroom and my students have shown me things that have completely changed my perspective, not just professionally, but personally as well.”

A Different Experience Each Time

Learning from other BEAHR trainers, like Carol Crowe, Environmental Professional and Principal of Indigenous Visions Inc., Kaitlyn has learned to approach her classroom differently than a university lecture hall; rather than trying to teach something, the goal is to learn from each other.

Kaitlyn views all of her students as mentors, helping her not only develop a better curriculum but grow as a person as well.

This relationship starts on the first day when Kaitlyn opens the dialogue learning about what her students are concerned about in their community and what they want to get out of the program. Using the core curriculum provided through ECO Canada, Kailtyn develops a unique program to fit each class.

The true magic for Kaitlyn is when she can see her students make the connection between the concepts taught in the BEAHR program and what they can do in their community. Without hesitation, Kaitlyn listed a number of times her students have come together during class to brainstorm ideas for their community, which will transcend the BEAHR program.

“I keep coming back because it’s a challenge,” says Kaitlyn. “It’s different every day. I see my students triumph and I get to see them grow in the classroom. I find it so rewarding.”

While the BEAHR program provides the sufficient skills and knowledge necessary for her students to get a job in the environmental industry, Kaitlyn’s excited about the potential of the BEAHR program to be a bridge for post-secondary education. While there’s still work to be done for post-secondary institutions accepting the BEAHR program as course credits, Kaitlyn’s excited about the prospect.

“If they [the students] want to go on and pursue a diploma or a degree, I think that would be absolutely amazing,” says Kaitlyn.

Putting Her Heart Into It

As each BEAHR delivery is different, Kaitlyn spends a lot of time “coordinating a symphony” of engaging lesson plans, guest speakers, and site visits. She admits that she puts her heart into each of her students, doing whatever she can to help them succeed, something that wouldn’t be possible without ECO Canada’s support.

“[ECO Canada] does so much to promote the program and tailor a program that’s culturally relevant, ” says Kaitlyn. “They have been invaluable in building a program that is successful.”

The COVID-19 pandemic postponed many of the programs scheduled in 2020, however as vaccinations roll out and restrictions lift, Kaitlyn is starting to plan training dates with her new instructor, José, starting their first program of 2021 with the Tsuut’ina Nation.

Kaitlyn is excited to get back in the classroom and start teaching herself. What she’s missed most during the pandemic has been her students, building relationships with each person and witnessing their growth.

“Sometimes I feel that I get more out of teaching the program than my students have ever gotten from me,” says Kaitlyn. “But [BEAHR] is so important. I see how important it is with every student, with every individual, how it can change a life.”

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