Dec. 14, 2020

Student moves to Calgary during pandemic to learn how to address climate change

B&A Group Entrance Scholarship has been supporting urban planning students for 11 years

Megan Horachek is passionate about addressing climate change. While working at the University of Saskatchewan as a research technician, she felt frustrated by the limitations in her ability to make an impact.

“In biological research and ecology, everything comes back to climate change," says Horachek. "The vast majority of research out there starts with climate change and how that will apply — it’s a big focus. But it’s frustrating not seeing the impact of the research work understood by the public. It’s really important for me to address the climate crisis and I see planning as a really important part of the solution — a tangible way to facilitate change.”

  • Photo above: Megan Horachek is grateful for a few moments of respite in the Rocky Mountains. Photo by Hailey Bloom

Horachek just started her Master of Planning degree, an accredited program to become an urban planner at UCalgary's School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. She’s no stranger to academia. After completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph and a master’s degree from the University of Saskatchewan, she worked for almost four years as a research and GIS technician.

This planning degree will let me do something more impactful, more quickly.

When applying for the program, she noted that applicants are automatically considered for entrance scholarship without the need for a separate application, but didn’t give it any thought until she received an email and learned she was the recipient of the $4,000 B&A Entrance Scholarship.

Horachek moved to Calgary from Saskatoon at the end of June, just as the first wave of pandemic was starting to settle. Moving during a pandemic and starting a new graduate program at the same time was stressful.

“I’m lucky. I work part-time as a soil science technician and have flexible hours, but this program is more time-consuming than I’d anticipated," she says. "It’s probably the busiest time of my life, challenging and rewarding. The scholarship allows me to not have to work the extra 10 hours a week, and instead focus on the coursework.”

B&A Group has been offering this scholarship for 11 years (formerly the Gregory Brown Entrance Scholarship) to foster a growing community of talented urban planners.

“We understand the financial challenges students have. We want to provide opportunity and support to help students make it through their schooling, get out into professional life and be successful,” says Vern Hart, partner at B&A Group. With 30 years of experience as a planner, he wants to support students who need financial help and show promise.

“It’s really challenging to balance all the pieces. We definitely have a sensitivity and a soft spot here. We’ve been there and want to help.”

Urban planning is an exciting field of study for Horachek, like learning a new language about urban design, how to make impactful changes and how the pieces of a city fit together. The design process and associated terminology is all new, and she admits it’s a quite a bit of learning curve, but everything makes sense. It’s as if intuitions and unconscious ideas about city building and design have been made concrete and given names.

“Everything’s an exciting discovery," she says. "When I learn something it just clicks because it makes so much sense.”

Megan’s set up for her master’s degree schoolwork in her new Calgary home.

Horachek’s set-up for her master’s degree schoolwork in her new Calgary home.

Hailey Bloom

The scholarship recipient is often invited into the B&A office to present one of their major projects. This delivers another benefit of the scholarship: network-building even before the student has graduated.

“It’s beneficial for us to pull back the curtain on what the profession is,” says Hart. “It’s very interesting for us to see what the students are learning, designing and bringing to the table. [It] always blows our minds. As well, we try to encourage the feedback of theoretical and technological versus the practical pieces of the puzzle. Whenever we can bring that together through a meeting with the students it’s really valuable.”

This year, B&A will invite Horachek to present her work virtually.

Horachek’s words of gratitude to Hart and the team at B&A? “Thank you. It’s been such a game changer. It has allowed me to really maximize what I can get out of this learning experience.”