Ellen Whitman (BCD'11)

A day in the life

Ellen Whitman (BCD'11)


The small faculty meant we worked alongside our profs. It also made it very easy to get to know the other students. I knew the names of everyone in my year and we were all close from both working together and hanging out.

Sowing the seeds of learning

Ellen Whitman entered the Community Design program because she thought it would be a good balance of two of her passions coming out of high school: art and design, and the environment. By the time she finished, she realized how much more there was to it than that.

“What I love about community design and planning is that you can identify problems and work on real solutions for them,” she says. “Research and analysis are extremely important, and they’re the basis for much of planning theory, but by being a planner you can set policy and influence how a community develops. I really appreciate how planners can have a real impact on the world.”

Ellen’s interest in the environment was formed while growing up in the tiny town of White Rock, N.S., right in the heart of the Annapolis Valley—a renowned agricultural area that’s just an hour outside Halifax. By choosing Dalhousie, she was able to learn more about environmental planning in a city she knew and felt comfortable in.

“The program was a good fit,” she says. “I continually managed to strike a balance between my interests in ecology and design, which was important to me. And the more the program moved towards spatial analysis and environmental issues in the upper years, the more it met my interests. It reassured me that I was setting out in the right direction with my honours in Environmental Planning.”

Outside the classroom Ellen got involved in the School of Planning’s student organization, the Society of Undergraduate Planners. It allowed her to get to know the faculty better, learn some useful life skills, and make some lifelong connections.

“I learned a lot about budgeting, management, and the structure of the school’s government,” she says. “And at the same time, I got to plan parties and hang out with my friends. The people I met here are amazing, and many of them ended up becoming my best friends.”

After her graduation Ellen spent the summer as a stewardship mapping intern with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). She was able to use the skills she learned in the Community Design program by creating a variety of maps and managing a database of digital spatial data and data from GPS units. The experience showed her that she wanted to learn more in graduate school.

“I realized I wanted to pursue the environmental side of what I learned in the Community Design program,” she says. “I was having trouble deciding where I wanted to go after my summer job ended, and I was still in touch with professors at the School of Planning. Through talking with them I found out about a master’s project for someone with my skill set that also fit my interests.”

Ellen is now working on a Master of Environmental Studies at the Dalhousie School for Resource and Environmental Studies. Her focus is on modeling the probability of wildfires in areas where urban development occurs alongside natural wildlands, and relating it to climate change and policy. She’s also doing some contract work for her advisor and the Halifax Regional Municipality, using skills she learned in the Community Design program.

“I care a lot about the environment, and I’m hoping to learn more about how to manage how development interacts with wildlands,” she says. “Without having done my undergrad in planning, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go into this program right out of school.”