University of Calgary

What’s ahead for award-winning Geography Honours student? ‘Anywhere frozen!’

UToday HomeJune 11, 2013

By Heath McCoy

Geography Honours student Jill Rajewicz, seen here on a research trip on Ellesmere IslandGeography Honours student Jill Rajewicz, seen here on a research trip on Ellesmere Island, will receive a Silver Medallion in Geography at this year’s convocation. Photo courtesy Erik HaagFor most us, the very thought of a frozen summer fills the heart with dread. For Geography Honours student Jill Rajewicz, however, it’s a scenario to strive for, one of both adventure and academic riches.

“I’m really in love with the Canadian Arctic and I also have a longstanding dream to work on the big ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica,” explains the 29-year-old undergraduate, who will be convocating on June 11. “Even in Alberta, I would love to study how climate change is affecting our own glaciers and ice fields.”

She jokes: “I have a lifetime of cold summers ahead of me. Anywhere frozen!”

The fact is, Rajewicz has already gained significant experience with such icy quests, having done fieldwork for the Department of Geography in the Northwest Passage and on Ellesmere Island. Her stellar performance on these research trips has earned Rajewicz the Faculty of Arts Silver Medallion in Geography, the department’s highest honour.

“I would put her in the top two of undergraduate students I have come into contact with in my 13 years with this department,” says professor John Yackel, head of the Geography Department. “It’s her work ethic and her inquisitiveness and quest for knowledge. She’s shown a great depth of understanding and a real breadth of interest.”

When she began studying at the University of Calgary in 2008, Rajewicz planned to pursue environmental science, but a couple of inspiring Geography classes quickly set her on a new path.

“I’m a big picture thinker, I like to know how things work together, and that’s what appealed to me about geography,” says Rajewicz. “It’s not about looking at any one thing in isolation. There’s that interconnectedness, thinking about how the atmosphere and cryosphere interact, and how those interactions impact humans. That’s what excites me.”

Her enthusiasm translated into top grades, which in turn earned Rajewicz three NSERC summer research scholarships. These were put to great use as she volunteered for fieldwork that fulfilled her yen for learning and exploration.

She studied the distribution of endangered Whitebark pine trees in the Canadian Rockies and she sailed through the Northwest Passage on Canada’s Coast Guard ship and Arctic research vessel the Amundsen, aiding scientists onboard with water testing.

Perhaps the biggest test of her mettle came as she studied Arctic climate change on Ellesmere Island. “That was the truly adventurous part of my Arctic adventure,” says Rajewicz. “It was full on winter camping, skiing, hauling sleds full of gear down our glacier.”

On that enterprise Rajewicz took an initiative that greatly impressed her professors. With scientists determining that 97 per cent of the Greenland ice sheet had experienced melt last summer, Rajewicz began analyzing a vast amount of statistical data regarding atmospheric circulation patterns in the region. She identified that the patterns had changed over the years, a major contributing factor to the increased melt on the ice sheet, which effects sea level rise.

Rajewicz says she plans to pursue graduate studies and continue her research in climatology.

There’s certainly more glaciers on the horizon too. As Rajewicz succinctly puts it: “I can’t imagine stopping here. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

 

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