Ten years ago, Chris Rhodes never imagined he’d be doing a PhD. In fact, nobody did. When an old friend’s mom recently learned that Chris was working on his doctorate in Ethnoecology at the University of Victoria, she simply couldn’t believe it. “He WHAT?!?” was all she could say.
As a high school student in Vancouver, Chris says he spent his days playing soccer, skateboarding and “just goofing around.” After graduating, he says Capilano University’s Outdoor Recreation Management program (OREC) seemed like a good fit for a kid who’d rather be outdoors than sitting in a classroom.
“I would say a lot of people in OREC are there because they like to be outside,” says Chris, “but once you start the program, it’s quite eye opening.” Chris says the instructors, especially Greig Gjerdalen and Bruce Wilson, were the ones who really made a difference between just going on camping trips and truly learning about the environment. He also credits Chris Bottrill, dean of the Faculty of Global & Community Studies, for laying the foundations of his academic journey. “These guys really, really stand out,” says Chris. “They provide a lot of opportunity to get out of it what you put in.”
Even after going on to obtain Capilano University’s Bachelor of Tourism Management degree, Chris still finds his years in the OREC program hold the fondest memories. “The Outdoor Rec students all really wanted to be there,” says Chris, remembering the camaraderie that was built through class camping, kayaking and mountaineering trips. Chris also obtained his certification as a sea kayaking guide through the program and found his first job through connections made via his instructors.
Since then, Chris has gone up the certification ladder, has kayaked rivers from Iceland to New Zealand, and now guides expeditions at Yukon-based Canadian River Expeditions and teaches at a whitewater raft guide school in the Lower Mainland. But cruising down the world’s wildest waterways is only his day job.
Filmmaker, Master, Doctor
In 2009, Chris teamed up with fellow OREC graduate Michael Reid to film a 700 km kayaking journey they made over 40 days starting in Alert Bay and paddling north along BC’s North Coast to Kitimat. The film, entitled “Uncomfortably Numb,” provides an intimate look at many communities and ecosystems that are threatened by things like fish farming and increased tanker traffic.
Driven by the environmental challenges facing our own coastline and beyond, Chris then went to Sweden to obtain a master’s degree in Strategic Leadership Towards Sustainability from the Blekinge Institute of Technology. Afterwards, he returned to B.C. where he is now in the PhD program in Ethnoecology at the University of Victoria.
Having recently completed the class work requirements, Chris is now conducting his PhD research on a phenomenon called shifting baseline syndrome, which attempts to explain how new generations reformulate their understanding of a “normal” ecological state based on what people see and experience in their own lifetimes. As the environment gradually degrades, peoples’ standards are also lowered as a result. Chris’s research will focus on First Nations communities he visited during his 2009 trip such as Alert Bay.
“I’m as surprised as anyone!” says Chris about his new career in academia. While he never planned out his future step by step, he says it was through Capilano University’s OREC program, instructors and lifelong friendships that opportunities just continued to emerge, as though “out of the ether.” When asked if he considers himself a role model, Chris just laughs, “probably not yet,” although he says he can picture himself teaching in an Outdoor Recreation program in the future. “Maybe even at Cap!”
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